A Sangoma in KwaZulu-Natal

December 31, 2009
By truelyLOVED BRONZE, Big Timber, Montana
truelyLOVED BRONZE, Big Timber, Montana
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Mud crusted sneakers, worn leather sandals, color-faded slip-ons, assorted shoes lay in a heap, leaning against the hut’s walls. They slight round building made of grass, mud and cow manure sits among others of it’s kind, tucked into KwaZulu-Natal’s lush rolling hills. It’s thatched roof hangs low, making the doorway come to just below my chin. I slip off my shoes and add them to the mound of footwear. I stoop to avoid hitting my head. Its dark inside, and there is a faint odor of dirt and chicken scat. I leave a gift of two boxes of juice, and a small pineapple on the woven blanket near the entrance. Making my way across the room, I shuffle, shoulders drawn forward and knees bent, hunching my body in respect. I sit on a grass matt the culturally appropriate way: my legs stretch out in front of me and cross at the ankles. I inhale sharply as I look up to see her.

She stands at the front of the room, her green patterned headdress gives her an extra four inches of height. He wide figure is wrapped in vibrant shades that scrunch when she moves. She is who we have come to see; a sangoma.

Sangomas are highly regarded amongst the Zulu tribes of South Africa. They have the power to talk to the ancestors for the community. They ancestors play an important role in their descendants’ lives. If they are angered, they have the ability to bring misfortune and sickness, but if they are pleased, they can provide luck and healing. People come from the village and surrounding towns to ask the sangoma to contact the ancestors on their behalf. Requests range from curing an illness, to protecting against evil, to reining in a cheating boyfriend. My classmates and I have come to witness this weekly ceremony, much like a church service, and possibly make a few requests of your own.

People stream in, walking on their knees or crawling on all fours to reach their places. It takes fifteen minutes for the flow to become a trickle. Men, women, and children cover the floor space, packed in close.

The c0ongregation has settled in. our group is instructed to stand, and we are lead out into the cloudy day. A woman kneels behind a bucket of water. She takes our feet in turn and washes them with her bare hands.

We return to our places on the floor, and the sangoma begins to share her gifts. She picks up a cluster of banana and lifts them to her head. This blesses them so they can be distributed. Beverages must have a small amount poured on the ground as an offering to the ancestors. This ritual shows the sangoma’s generosity.

The gifts are eaten by the congregation, and a lime forms. People begin to make requests of the sangoma. A safety pin is given to each person to attach their payment to her headwrap. I have been trying to come up with something to ask the sangoma for. I search my thoughts, desperate for something significant. Only, the things I come up with are tragically unimportant, and possibly repulsive in the middle of this tiny village: a boyfriend, a new car, or to lose weight. As the queue diminishes, I finally decide that what I want is protection, and a blessing over my brother who is about to begin college, but I’m frightened. I can’t bring myself to rise and join the line. I look up at the sangoma. She stands at the front of the room. Her head dress is covered in bank notes. Her face holds a light sheen of sweat. She is a sangoma; a wise woman’ a healer. She is intimidating and powerful. She looks back at me and I can’t help but stare. Our guide signals us that it is time to leave. I have lost my chance. We cross back out into the cloudy day and I’m surrounded by a feint layer of regret.

The author's comments:
My name is Mariel. Fo the the past three months I have been traveling through Southern Africa with a traveling high school. I firmly believe that experiencing the world is important; there is nothing better than living life to the fullest.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Jan. 12 2010 at 10:51 pm
I absolutely love this article. I was held by the great descriptions and honesty in the author's emotions.


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