I’m one really lucky guy. At least that’s what my sangoma tells me. What is a sangoma, you might ask? A traditional Nguni healer, seer, counselor and shaman. The native peoples of South Africa have been practicing the profession for thousands of years and many still do today. While visiting Khula, a rural Zulu township on the outskirts of St. Lucia, I was invited into the home of the local sangoma to consult with my ancestral spirits.
Men always enter the sacred ndumba (healing hut) before the women, in order to protect against snakes. Luckily, the small thatched room was snake-free. Once seated inside, I was given a smoldering bundle of Imphepho (perennial herb) twigs and was told to inhale the smoke while reciting my name. This ritual act would summon my ancestors with whom the sangoma would consult.
The next step in the process is to throw shells or bones and interpret their positions to understand my fate. The sangoma threw a bundle of seashells onto the floor of the hut while reciting chants in the Zulu language. My spiritual ancestors would determine where the shells landed, and the sangoma reads these positions and applies their meaning to my life.
The verdict? I’m a very lucky man, with a close-knit family who loves me. But to ensure a bright future, I would need to prepare a traditional braai (South African barbecue) in honor of my ancestors. Who can blame my ancestors for craving tasty grilled meat in the afterlife? I think I’ll easily be able to accommodate them with that request.
African sangomas have many different roles in the native community. Not only are they spiritual healers, but they can also heal physical ailments, provide personal advice, protect warriors, recite oral history and even find lost cattle. Both men and women can become sangomas if they are called to the profession by the spirits.
These consultations are part of an ancient tradition that continues to live on in the modern world. Visiting a local sangoma will provide a traveler with an interesting and entertaining South African cultural experience.