MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN NEWSLETTERS
MAY 2015

 

 

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Which Witch

By Carina Vermooten

 

Traditional healers constitute a significant part of South Africa’s history and culture. While some may consider them to be old relics from a bygone era, 80% of South Africans still consult with healers on a regular basis today.

 

Many confuse traditional healers (nyangas) with witch doctors. There is a definite difference between the two.Witch doctors have no interest in serving the community in any positive way and are 

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generally believed to only place curses and hexes on innocent people. Traditional healers, on the other hand, help the community by providing healing and herbal medicine. Traditional healers can be divided into two categories, namely diviner-mediums and herbalists. The diviner provides a diagnosis through spiritual means while the herbalist chooses and applies relevent remedies. Patients often demand that a traditional healer be both types of healer, which has led to the lines between diviners and herbalists becoming increasingly blurred. 

 

It is also believed that the dead are always around us. Good spirits are often referred to as ‘shades’ while bad spirits are considered ‘lost’ and are doomed to roam for eternity without ever finding peace. Early Christian missionary settlers in South Africa discarded this belief and encouraged people to believe the Western and church’s belief that when an individual passes on they are no longer with us. 

 

‘Shades’ are regarded as similar to saints in the Catholic church, except that they are always with us some way or another. Traditional healing is also considered to be very holistic in its approach. A healer will attempt to find the root of the problem and heal all aspects of the patient’s life it has affected instead of just getting rid of the cause.

 

Sangomas can practise being sangomas full time or just over the weekends, if they prefer. However, it is critical that those who are called to be a sangoma  need to ensure they keep their ancestors happy and at peace. 

 

Dr Kentse Makgae is a female traditional healer who provided answers to some common questions posed about sangomas.

 

The Path to Successful Healing

Asked how one would go about becoming a nyanga Dr Kentse says: “You do not choose to become a traditional healer. It is about your heritage. It is passed on from generation to generation. It is something that is in you but it can differ from person to person. For me, it was there from inception. My aunt trained to be a sangoma and before and after school I would beat the drums for her. When I finished school, I became a teacher and always gave my students assignments to bring cultural artifacts to class. I also organised dramas at school. I taught the students and the students taught me. At some stage, I developed problems with my bones which I first thought was arthritis, but the medical doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me so I went to a traditional healer who told me that  my illness was my forefathers’ way of telling me I need to start training properly to become a healer and help my community.” 

 

Dr Kentse’s road to becoming a traditional healer was a long and hard one. After starting official training in 1999, she became frustrated when she could not find the correct sangoma to continue her training. “If you have discovered your calling to become a traditional healer, you cannot go to any existing healer for training,” says Dr Kentse. “There is no set syllabis to follow. You have to find a healer who knows your history and family. If you go to a sangoma who does not know anything about you or your family, you will not see any results.” Dr Kentse had to move around for years from healer to healer until she found the right one.

 

Dr Kentse’s road to becoming a traditional healer was a long and hard one. After starting official training in 1999, she became frustrated when she could not find the correct sangoma to continue her training. “If you have discovered your calling to become a traditional healer, you cannot go to any existing healer for training,” says Dr Kentse. “There is no set syllabis to follow. You have to find a healer who knows your history and family. If you go to a sangoma who does not know anything about you or your family, you will not see any results.” Dr Kentse had to move around for years from healer to healer until she found the right one.

 

The Life and Times of a Sangoma

Asking Dr Kentse what a typical day involves she responds that she sees patients and finds out what their ailments are. This involves speaking to them and asking a variety of questions about the ailment and their ancestors. The problem can often be caused by the fact that the patient has been neglecting the ancestors by allowing too many external influences from other cultures to influence his or her life. Therefore, the ancestors have sent bad luck or even worse, a curse to make sure the patient does not forget them or ignore their culture. External influences can include anything from television to having friends of other cultures.

 

The most common requests Dr Kentse receives from patients is for formal employment, marriage and to win the national lottery.

 

Dr Kentse does not believe in the use of ‘muti’ because she is of the opinion that 99% of the problems or ailments are because the patients are being punished for neglecting their ancestors. The patients will continue to have bad luck until they acknowledge their ancestors.

 

Western Medicine

Dr Kentse firmly believes that medical doctors and traditional healers need to work together by referring patients to one another. 

 

Another tip Dr. Kentse offers is that if you are destined to be a traditional healer, you must accept it. Fighting the calling will anger your ancestors and they will bring bad luck upon you. “You have to understand your calling,” she says.

 

Dr Kentse says there are various signs to look out for that indicate you are cursed. These include nightmares, being accident prone, sudden illness and unexplained pain. Dr. Kentse says that the occasional nightmare is normal but should any of these symptoms reoccur, you should consider consulting a traditional healer to help find the root of the problem.

 

Traditional healers form part of our medical community and it is important to recognise their influence in our society. Traditional healers help many citizens mentally and spiritually, so there is no denying their good influence in creating a healthy and happier South Africa.

 

 

 

Sangoma savvy terms

Another name for a sangoma = nyanga

The difference between a traditional healer and a nyanga = Nyangas have no divination abilties and are purely herbalists

A sangoma’s mentor = thwasa

Traditional hut where the traditional healer heals = ndomba

The place in the hut where the ancestors stay = umsamu

Ancestral hut = indlu yamadlozi

Some ritual names = intlombe, xhentsa, jabulisa

Choice parts of a slaughtered animal as sacrifice = Umbeko

Muti = Medicine/ herbs that cure

 

 

 

 

 

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