Becoming a Sangoma

Nothando Kubukeli shares how destiny called her to become a sangoma.

Nothando’s Calling

©Eric Miller

As a teenager, I became very ill. One night, during this sickness, I had a dream that I was walking in a forest with a lot of sangomas. Another night, I was in a circle of sangomas and a voice came to me, the voice of my ancestors, telling me, 'This is your teacher.'

A tall sangoma stood up, holding a stick with the long hair from a cow's tail on the end of it, the sangoma's stick. He put it down in front of me, saying, 'From today, your name today is not Nothando. You have a new name now, a sangoma name now. It is Nomagqirha.' In that dream, the voice of my ancestors told me that the sangoma who spoke to me was called Solomon Gomono, that we would find him in Uitenhage and that he would be my teacher.

I told my father about the dream. It was a call from the ancestors that I should become a sangoma. We set off on the train journey to Uitenhage to look for Solomon Gomono. After asking around, we found the place, iGxapa, where he worked.

As soon as I walked through the door, I started feeling better. The sangoma was the very same teacher as the man in my dream. He looked me in the eyes and said to my father, 'This young lady does not have health problems at all. She is being called to be a sangoma.'

Cleansing Ceremony

©Eric Miller

To prepare for the training to become a sangoma I had to take part in a special cleansing ceremony, along with eight other young men and women. We had to use several special herbs that the sangoma gave us.

One was some bark of the maphipa tree, which we had to leave in a bucket of water overnight. Another was the leaves of the impepho bush, left in another bucket of water. In the morning, we washed with the water from these two buckets.

We also ground up a white root called isilawu, which you find in the veld put it in water, and used a stick to stir it until it became foamy. We drank that foam. Then we burnt more impepho and each of us covered ourselves with a blanket to absorb the aroma.

This is when hidden things, the special visions that only sangomas see, start to be revealed. Before this ceremony, I had often dreamt about my grandfather, who had passed away.

But now, after absorbing the aroma of the impepho, I felt a cool wind on my face and there, before me, my grandfather appeared even more clearly — as clearly as if he was a real person. He gave me his blessings for my future. 'You approached the right person to train you,' he said.

Strong and Free

©Eric Miller

At the end of the cleansing ceremony, an important event took place. 'Dance, dance, all of you must dance,' my teacher said and, with hundreds of friends and relatives all around us, singing and clapping for us, we danced for joy, in a great celebration with the ancestors.

I was 16. I felt strong and free. It was one of the happiest times of my life. Now, as an adult, I can't do any work other than sangoma work, because that is not what I am meant to do. Being a domestic worker is not an option.

Sometimes I have no work for weeks because no one comes to me, but there are times when they do come, and once a month I go to work at a wellness centre in the suburb of Observatory. White, black and colored people come to consult me there.

I throw the bones for them and tell them what's not right in their lives and some of them ask me, 'Mama, I need you to cleanse my house of the bad spirits.' My dreams are very powerful and many of the things I dream come true.

This is one of the talents of being a sangoma and I can't say any more about it, or describe these dreams. Sangomas don't speak of such things.

By Jo-Anne Smetherham