Erin writes . . .
Today a complete stranger walked up to me on the street. Without saying a word, he handed me a leaflet advertising his willingness to lengthen my penis! I didn’t know whether to die of laughter or embarrassment. Then I decided to blog about it because that wasn’t the only service he - Dr Banda - had on offer. For a small fee he also promised to speak to my ancestors, remove the evil spirits from my house, find my lost possession, put a hex on my lover’s girlfriend, fix my kidneys, cure my HIV and Aids, and give me a lucky amulet guaranteed to help me win at the horse-races! All in a day’s work if you’re a sangoma.
A what? I hear you ask.
In southern Africa, a sangoma is a traditional healer. They claim to have supernatural powers, which they use to communicate with ancestral spirits. These spirits of the dead, who discern the causes of illness or misfortune, hold the key to healing. If placated by animal sacrifices, they'll communicate their wisdom to the sangoma. In times past sangomas were disparagingly called ‘witchdoctors’.
Now in South Africa, where I come from, sangomas are considered to be part of the legal medical fraternity. In fact, it is estimated that 80% of the population will go to a sangoma first, using allopathic medicine only once the traditional healer has failed.
Many people in southern Africa believe illness is caused by witchcraft. Something like a lightning strike would often be blamed on a witch. Occasionally, during my childhood, we would see footage on the news of old women being accused of witchcraft. My Mom usually sent me out the room when the ugly visuals came on, but we all knew about it.
Enemies are also a possible source of illness and bad luck. Nothing stops an enemy from paying a sangoma to put a hex on you, or, alternatively, on an object you use everyday – thus your cooking pot could be cursed to make you ill. Or worse, the ancestors themselves can take a virulent dislike to their decedents. Sometimes they just get ticked off if the family forgets to remember them. The result is the same: sickness and misery. So, for happy relations between the living and the dead, the ancestors must be shown respect through ritual and animal sacrifice.
So why am I sharing all this with you today? (apart from my brush with Dr Banda?) It gives me a great opportunity to introduce you to Vukani. He’s a sangoma who speaks to the dead in Shenaya. Why? He was hoping one of them would tell him where the diamond Seer-Stone was buried. Luckily, Seth and I found it first.
Okay, this picture actually comes off Wikipedia, but the resemblance is close enough to give you a very good idea of what Vukani looks like.
And me, do I go to sangomas? No way. The closest I get to herbalism is my local homeopath!
Later this week I'll post some more on how the sangoma actually talks to the dead. Watch this space.