African Druids: Sangomas, Inyangas, Fetish Priests and “Witchdoctors”.Introduction
This “Seminar” has gone through many forms in the months I have been dabbling with it. It has been a useful learning quest too, mainly highlighting how little I actually know about the topic. I’ve tried a thematic analysis, an anecdotal collection, a factual report, an ethnographic summary and several other approaches. Each has gotten bogged down in details, or sidetracked by less core aspects. With a deadline approaching I figured that a sort of compare and contrast approach based on roles is the easiest. Even since first writing this intro, things have changed. What follows is more of an index on the topic, rather than a seminar. I apologise for my laziness, there is just so much info out there!
A useful starting point would be to list the typical roles associated with Druids, and seek out similar activities within African traditions. Some connections are easy, others are less obvious. As the month unfolds, and if there is any interest, we can drill deeper into any of these aspects of anyone wants to.
I had hoped to embed some video clips, but this is not possible. There is plenty of vid material on this topic of the web. Some is patronising or simplistic, but I like these Al Jazeera “Witness” clips as they seem balanced and comprehensive. They give a bit of background and context for what follows.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqsHBsPMcnghttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRVjsEnRMD4
In the same way that the “What is a Druid?” question evokes many answers, a similar profusion applies to “Witchdoctors”.
The Druidic tradition (in a historical sense) spanned many countries and eras. In a Neo-Druidic sense, the term embraces an even wider range of countries, philosophies and beliefs.
Likewise with “Witch-doctors”. Africa is a big place, with over 3000 tribal / linguistic / ethnic groupings. It would be a lifetime’s work to attempt to document and codify all magical / spiritual / cosmological systems from the continent. By necessity, this will be a mere scratching of the surface, mainly limited to aspects of West and Southern African magical practice. (Here is a link to somebody who has tried this. A VAST amount of related material: http://www.shikanda.net/african_religion/index.htm
Even at this early stage there are challenges. I have used the term “Witch-doctor” several times, and would be having some reservations about this. The term is often used as a pejorative, and does not capture the range of roles under discussion here. A more acceptable term may be “Traditional Healers”, but even this does not suffice. I could be bland about it and refer to “Spiritual Practitioners” but even that does not cover all angles. I have seen a few comments on the internet that “Witch-doctor” is a colonial term used in the context of missionaries or colonial governments wishing to stamp out African spiritual practices. This does not accord with my understanding. As explained to me by a Sangoma, the term refers to Doctors against
witchcraft in the same way that a western cardiac or orthopaedic surgeon counters heart or bone problems.
Generally speaking, the terms “Witch, “Magician” and “Sorcerer” in an African sense are deeply negative, and refer to evil-doers of the worst sort. Known as “Mchawi” or “Mfiti”, these are practitioners of magic (Mtagati) for evil purposes.
See this example: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7523796.stm
A quick internet search of the key-words “Muti Murders” will give you thousands of cases of such evil magic. The fate of such evil-doers was (and occasionally, still is) not pleasant. Execution by bludgeoning, burning, being thrown off a cliff, being stitched up in a wet bull’s skin and left in the sun to suffocate as the skin contracts, being tied to an ant-heap with honey smeared on them, half-buried head first for scavangers to feast on, or having a stake rammed up them, are all documented.
So, just to summarise, good witch-doctors (Sangomas, Inyangas, Mgangas, Sing’ asingas, Fetish Priests etc. ) are generally beneficient people, whilst witches, sorcerers and magicians, tend to engage in quite nasty practices. This seminar focuses on the “good guys”.
Some formal (legal) definitions of different roles are set out here (I'll get back to this. These definitions are from a controversial proposed bit of legislation which had nasty implications for both good and bad practitioners http://www.paganrightsalliance.org/mpum ... onbill.pdf
means a person who knows and uses muti either to cure, protect from evil spirits, etc or to cause damage, suffering, harm etc. without ukuthwasa and does not foretell the future as an inyanga “Inyanga”
means a person who uses muti to cause harm, damage, suffering, bad luck, cure diseases, protect from evil spirits and uses mixtures shells, coins, bones,etc. to foretell the future of people, identify witches, perform spells for good and or evil purposes. “Witchcraft”
means the secret use of muti, zombies, spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, etc, by any person with the purpose of causing harm, damage, sickness to others or their property. “Wizard”
means any person who secretly solicit or uses muti, zombies, spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, baboons, etc. for the purposes of causing harm, damage or suffering to another. Some Parallel or Similar Roles & Activities.Lore-keeper / Historian
Key to both cultures is that of the oral tradition. Just as Bards and Druids were the repository of ancient lore, so it is in Africa. Indeed the role of Praise-singer can be found in both Celtic and Zulu tradition.
Possibly the most famous Sangoma in this respect is Credo Mutwa who has done much over many years to document, explain and perpetuate Africa lore. http://credomutwa.com/about/biography-01/Creative Artist
Just as the Bardic grade of OBOD emphasizes creativity and the exploration of cultural activities, so too is this part of the African tradition. This can be physical art (see carving in link: http://realstoriesgallery.com/gallery/h ... ani-mkhize
and this site about Ndebele art: http://www.courtney-clarke.com/Ndebele.htm
) as well as drumming, singing and poetry.Judge / Detective
I comment on this from both sides of the fence; both from the perspective of investigating the murder of an alleged Witch being tied across train tracks, and from using Sangomas to help hunt down bombers and arsonists. Generally, not pretty stuff. “Smelling out” is the process of a Sangoma going into a frenzied trance for the purposes of identifying a malfeasant. The fly whisk replaces the Druidic staff or wand in this process.
This book is good: "Zulu Thought-Patterns & Symbolism”http://books.google.ie/books?id=9mdimVC ... navlinks_s
It may seem strange to some readers that the following Act should exist in this day and age, but well it needs to “G Crim Code 315(1) The trial by ordeal of sasswood, esere-bean, or other poison, boiling oil, fire, immersion in water, or exposure to the attacks of crocodiles or other wild animals, or by any ordeal which is likely to result in the death or bodily injury to the proceeding is unlawful”.
A detailed study on the legal aspects of African magic is here: “Witchcraft or Statecraft”: http://www.georgetownlawjournal.org/iss ... /Tebbe.PDFMagician
In this context I am referring to “good” magic. The best explanations of this may be found in James Frazer’s concept of “Sympathetic Magic” (See here for Golden Bough, thanks to Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext03/bough11h.htm
Frazer proposes two kinds of magic; that of the “Law of Similarity” and that of “The Law of Contact” and both of these may be seen in African magical practice. An essential element of Sangoma practice is the aura of drama, suspense and mystique associated with consultations, rituals and rites. Even a visit to a Sangoma / Fetish priest’s hut is enthralling and creates a sense that “special things happen here”.
Examples of similarity magic are seen in rain or fertility creation sessions (e,g, rain dances and harvest rituals) whilst contact magic is seen in fetishes and sacrifices.
One aspect to both African and Druidical magical practice is to transfer something (a wish or desire, or illness or malaise) into another object and then to dispose of it by fire or water. Commonly an animal may be sacrificed, certain parts eaten, and the remains ritually disposed of. In this way a problem is disposed of as the Gods / Spirits are appeased, revered or “replenished”. Pouring a libation reflects this process too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5pqBh0QM ... re=related
Dolls, carvings and poppets are often used in contact magic. See here for a useful collection of such ritual objects: http://www.lotzdollpages.com/lafwest.html
These gentlemen carry a talisman around their necks. The "muti" inside the pouches renders them bullet-proof. I was once involved in a protracted law case involving such bullet-proofing procedures. The case ended up being a bizarre instance of cultures at odds with each other. Western legal systems have little capacity to deal with "magic" being tendered as proof of criminal intent!Story-teller / Teacher
Apart from the role of training new Sangomas, Sangomas are great story-tellers, and use illustrative tales to explain lore, law and traditions. A “must read” book for anyone interested in such tales is “Indaba, My Children” by the afore-mentioned Credo Mutwa http://books.google.ie/books?id=ocZaJMc ... &q&f=false
. A contemporary Western translation might be “Listen Up, kids”. Great stuff here on African cosmology, lore and tradition.
See here for a MA thesis on: Sangomahood and narrative: http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/ ... tation.pdf
More on the training of Sangomas etc. to follow. Here is a useful set of introductory insights:
Mautse Valley of the Sacred Sangomahttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO63BL2w ... re=relatedConsultant / Advisor
As in the Celtic tradition of Druids advising their rulers, so it is and has been in Africa. An example of this was seen in 1998 when (the then) President Nelson Mandela was stung by bees. A consulting sangoma subsequently advised that a feast should be held to right matters with upset ancesters.
But it is not only rulers who seek out such advice. The attached advert lists a range of typical advisory services a Sangoma may offer.Healer / Therapist
Much like the healing role of an Ovate, both Sangomas and Inyangas (Ingangas) provide healing for ailments physical and spiritual. Malaise and illness may be brought about by both natural and supernatural triggers. Often a dual approach to treatment is required resolving issues in both the spiritual and ancestral domain as well as the “here and now”.
Matters psychological or spiritual are normally the remit of the Sangoma, and indeed some Sangomas are also Clinical Psychologists. DHP members in related healing professions may find this dissertation of interest. http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/bitstream/ ... sequence=1
The “Traditional Healers Organisation for Africa” has a wealth of information on various aspects of these activities and supports proper training, registration and best practice for traditional Healers. Several categories of healer are recognized;: Diviner, Herbalist, Traditional Birth attendant / Umbelethisi, Traditional Surgeon (performs circumcision on initiates), Faith Healer, Sangoma, Igedla, (uses muti to cure ailments caused by evil spirits), Umkhiphi Wengoma (Advisor), and Mporofiti (no idea).
In South Africa the profession is governed by the Traditional Health Practitioners Act, 2004,http://www.doh.gov.za/docs/legislation/ ... /act35.pdfSome related resources
Short clip of a healing ceremony: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Au398F40Gxw
Debate on the health efficacy of traditional healers: Sangomas: Problem or Solution for South
Africa’s Health Care System http://www.nmanet.org/images/uploads/Do ... /OC261.pdf
And another: The Sangoma and the MD: The clash of Western Medical Science and Traditional Medicine in South Africa http://www.up.ac.za/dspace/bitstream/22 ... gomal(2004
A reasonable summary here (with an explanation of various roles): http://www.hst.org.za/uploads/files/chapter18_99.pdfHerbalist
Herbal remedies are the speciality of Inyangas. There are several sources of ethno-botanical studies on the web and these may be visited for further details. “Muti” is the generic word for traditional Southern African medicine. Defined legally as ““Muti” means any mixture of herbs, water, wollen cufs etc, used by wizards, igedla, inyanga, African Churches, Foreign traditional Healers, etc for the purposes of curing deseases, helping others who come to consult to them for whatever purposes and including causing harm to others or their properties.”. See here for a basic Zulu / English Medical guide: http://www.wolfescape.com/WebPages/ZuluDict.htm
Apothecaries supplying medicinal herbs and other preparations are found in even the smallest of African towns. The most famous of these is here http://www.southafrica.info/travel/cult ... museum.htm
Remedies for all manner of complaint are to be found. In some cases traditional African herbal remedies have been pharmacologically investigated and found to contain substances similar to mainstream Western drugs. Of course this is an area of great interest to the pharma industry as traditional medicines may hold the keys to the discovery of “Wonder Drugs”.
Fairly basic overview of some medicinal plants: http://library.thinkquest.org/C007016/h ... lants.html
National Reference Centre for African Traditional Medicines: A South African Modelhttp://www.sahealthinfo.org/traditional ... lpart1.pdf
A very famous guy was Khotso. http://www.flickr.com/photos/booksa/2266891486/
Although very wealthy, he had no locks on his house, nobody would dare to rob him. Once, after some severe flooding a 44 gallon drum of money was washed away. Nobody touched this until he retrieved it.
He preempted Viagra by his invention of Ibangalala (that which prevents “sleep”) and I quote from somewhere on the web "In the 1970s, the late Khotso Sethuntsha of Kokstad - South Africa's most famous witch doctor and a millionaire as a result - produced a powder claiming to rejuvenate sexual potency which he called Ibangalala. Samples of the powder were analysed by industrial chemists and the University of Witwatersrand's department of botany. The scientists were baffled by Ibangalala, they were unable to prove its composition or how it worked. Sethuntsha, however, offered his clients simple proof of its effectiveness. He was then 90 years old, had 23 wives, 200 children and eight more on the way."
More about this amazing character: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2008-01-25- ... stery-tour
BUT, and this is a big but…. There are also serious issues with traditional medicine. See this detailed report on the topic: http://www.gaiaresearch.co.za/trads.html
I don’t know enough about the clinical stats to enter this debate, but I do have personal insights into part of this. Some “Muti” is highly dubious. In West Africa I came across a situation whereby children would be brought to our hospital “in extremis” after being treated by traditional medicines. Many died, and this was not from malaria or the original fever or disease. It was from being poisoned through the treatment. Typically, treatment was administered by enema i.e. potentially huge doses of toxic herbal potions were being administered. The problem was this. No matter what the efficacy of any active ingredient in particular leaves, bark or roots was, there was no control over the concentration. Seasonal variations may have been an explanation. Thus optimum, weak or lethal potions may have been delivered. Symptomatic treatment was the only option without precise knowledge of what "active ingredients" were at work.
Our solution was found by using this book (a Chrismas prezzie!) : http://www.amazon.com/Medicinal-Plants- ... pd_sim_b_1
We spread the word that if anyone gravely ill attended the hospital, their relatives had to bring samples of the ingredients (preferably leaves) of the traditional remedy. In this way we could ID the active ingredients of the poison and the Doc could attempt to reverse the toxicity with an appropriate antidote. This book saved many lives! The introductory video clip describes a similar "arrangement" being made between Western and traditional medics.
My personal feeling is this. Undoubtedly there are excellent traditional herbal remedies. Many plants have substances which work for a range of conditions. But cooperation between Western and African knowledge systems is needed to obtain the best results from such substances.
Here are some interesting studies for the “herbologists” amongst you: http://www.academicjournals.org/ajb/PDF ... t%20al.pdfhttp://www.fao.org/docrep/t9450e/t9450e0f.htmhttp://old.iupac.org/publications/pac/1 ... 5x0653.pdf
There are conservation issues too, as this Unesco report on balancing conservation with the use African medicinal plants shows. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0009/0 ... 96707e.pdf
Useful work is being done by several ethno-botanical research gardens. http://www.sanbi.org/
and here http://www.bcb.uwc.ac.za/envfacts/facts/traditional.htmDiviner
Sangomas are famous for “throwing the bones” to divine the future. The bones are not the only means of establishing the future or the causation of events, but are certainly the best known. Each Sangoma has a collection of bones and other items which have certain correspondences. Some are generic whilst others have a unique meaning imparted by the Ancestors. As with a Druid's Crane Bag, the bones (Izintambo) and other items used by a Sangoma have a sacred status. You can buy your own here: http://www.rrtraders.com/Crafts/wichdr.htm
Sheep knuckle bones, cowrie shells, dominos, semi-precious stones, animal teeth are common items in the medicine bag. It is not only the correspondences and configuration of the bones that aid the divination process, but also the voices and advice from the spirit world (Lidloti).
Short clip demonstrating bone “throwing” in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhPcAq5p ... re=related
(Part of a series of clips – quite good)Visionary / Shaman
A key role of both African and Celtic Shamans is the journeying into “other worlds” to meet with spirit guides and take notice from the ancestors. Accounts of such activities from both cultures. Entering into an altered state of consciousness and recounting the encounters in obscure speech. One is reminded of Diogenes laertius “Druids make their pronouncements by means of riddles and dark sayings, teaching that the gods must be worshipped, and no evil done, and manly behaviour maintained”. Drumming and animal totems are also common. Familiars and animal guides (with shapeshifting) are documented in both traditions.
View this clip:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij8GLRDgU_kPriest
Fetish Priests have the ability to communicate with specific deities and other ancestors. This clip shows one in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofmXtcQ2ZQo
The white powder is myrrh, and the pungent aroma, together with the noise, action and visual effects make for a dramatic experience. Enough to “wake the dead” as we might say.
There are a vast number of African gods. For details of over 150 of them, visit “Godchecker”: http://www.godchecker.com/pantheon/afri ... _gods-list
As with Celtic pagan practices being blended seamlessly with Christian / Catholic rituals in modern Celtic countries, so it is in Africa. The Western / Christian God has often been incorporated (individually or jointly) into the panoply of African deities. Especially in Southern Africa it is not uncommon for Sangomas / Inyangas to incorporate / merge Christianity into traditional activities. In fact, not just Christianity, but other Abrahamic faiths, and several African Doctors have Islamic or “Zionist” beliefs underpinning their activities.
The “Zion Christian Church” is an interesting blend of both cultures (Overview here, although a bit polemic: http://www.tkm.co.za/doc/zcc.html
) The ZCC (or “Bush Baptists, as they are commonly and incorrectly known) is probably the largest church denomination in Southern Africa and would share many superficial similarities with modern-day Druidry (outdoor ritual in circles, use of staffs and other ritual implements, herbal healing, blue, green and white robes, pentagram symbolism, divination etc.)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug5Nt8vT ... re=related
Trauma of ritual murder in Venda. A pastoral care approach: http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/ ... tation.pdfTraining
Both Druids and their African counterparts undergo (underwent?) several years of rigorous training during which traditional lore, relationships with the other-worlds, herbalism, rites and rituals, divination and other mysteries are studied. Progression through different grades is attained by passing “tests” and marked by various initiation ceremonies. A key difference is that anyone can chose (at least now-days) to become a Druid, whereas one needs to be “called” to be a Sangoma.
Many of us here at DHP have described feeling a call of some sort, and “finding a home” in Druidry. This is a bit similar to that of a Sangoma. Although several Westerners have undergone the “Kutfwasa” (training and initiatory process – Swazi) as a “Litfwasa” (Apprentice or trainee) there is some debate as to whether a Westerner can truly become an African Sangoma.
The argument is that Sangomas are connected to the African spiritual or ancestral world which no White person has a nexus with. A flavour of this debate is here: http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1 ... 189H460337
A story about the process is here: http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1 ... 360C594654
And an interview with an initiate here: http://20-somethingincapetown.blogspot. ... white.html
OK, that's it for starters. More topics to address if anyone is interested include HIV/AIDS, training & education, shamanism, lore, cosmology and symbolism, several personal experiences, legal aspects etc.
Ultimately, we may end up with some areas that may be worth incorporating in our personal practice.