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1 Settings and Samples in African Cults of Affliction
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Settings and Samples in African Cults of Affliction

Do you intend to spend your sabbatical in airport waiting rooms?
A skeptical colleague

Lagos airport, awaiting night flight to Kinshasa: It's 34 hours since I've slept. I wonder if there are any kola nuts to be had. How would one find a kola nut in Lagos airport? Is this still Nigeria, or Africa? In the souvenir sales area I approach a group of gathered men and tell them I've been traveling a long time and need to stay awake—any kola? Several reach into their robes and pull out kola nuts. One shares with me, biting off the end of a nut and handing it to me. They are delighted; I feel at home, officially, in Africa.
Field Journal, July 2, 1982

At a "washing of beads" in a Cape Town township: A cross section of black Cape Town, showing great kindness and hospitality toward us. Indeed, it seemed they were seeking approval of the outside world. We heard unusual statements such as "we're not cannibals, drunkards, and uncivilized people" as the government would have everyone believe. They urged us not to be afraid of them. We assured them we weren't, otherwise we would not have come. They kept asking us if we were happy, and offered us chairs, drinks, food to welcome us ... the men sought constant physical contact, to touch, hold or shake hands, as if to indicate their humanity through vicarious recognition.
Field Journal, November 14, 1982

This ethnographic survey is intended to sketch an impressionistic picture of cults of affliction in Central and Southern Africa, particularly in the contemporary urban settings of Kinshasa, Zaire; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Mbabane-Manzini, Swaziland; and Cape Town, South Africa. These national capitals represent the urban syntheses of four major regions of Africa respectively: the Congo basin, particularly Western Bantu-speaking societies; East Africa, particularly the Swahili-speaking setting; the northern Nguni-speaking setting; and societies influenced by Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, and Khoisan and by South African urban


societies of the Western Cape. In each setting some attention will be given to the historical backdrop of cult-of-affliction origins in these regions.

The impressions assembled here can hardly be expected to be systematic. However, they are firsthand authentic portrayals of the subject of the book. Through the conversations with healers and patients, officials and scholars, they reflect some of the thinking on the role of Central Africa's affliction cults in bearing the load of the caring vocations.

The "Grands Rites" Of Kinshasa

Kinshasa, Africa's largest city below the Equator, with about 3.5 million inhabitants, covers over two hundred square kilometers on the banks of the Zaire River. Local scholarship speaks of "les grands rites," representing numerous regional and ethnic traditions from around the Congo basin.

The local society of Kinshasa, and approximately half of its inhabitants, are of the Kongo-speaking (or Kikongo) society, of Lower Congo, or Zaire. From its beginning as the village of Kinshasa, then as the capital of the Belgian Congo, and after independence in 1960, as the capital of Zaire, Kinshasa has drawn residents from the entire region. The civil wars of the postindependence era and the deterioration of rural infrastructure and standard of living, together with the lure of the city, have led to the migration of many people to the city to seek their livelihood. Population expansion far beyond the ability of the city to provide an infrastructure of electricity, sewerage, and even water, has given rise to enormous suburban villagelike settlements. These population movements into the capital have brought with them the religious, therapeutic, and social forms of the regional cultures. From the Luba area of the Kasai region, one finds Bilumbu; from the upriver Mai-Ndombe region of Bandundu, Badju and Mpombo; from upriver in Equateur Province around Mbandaka, Zebola and Elima (or Bilima); from the Upper Zaire and Kivu, Mikanda-Mikanda; from Bas-Zaire and Bandundu provinces, Nkita; and from East Africa and Kivu, Mizuka.

Buttressing The Lineage In Western Bantu Society

Of the major cults of affliction represented in Kinshasa, the most characteristic of Western Bantu society—coastal Kongo, eastward into


Bandundu—is undoubtedly Nkita. Not only is the focus of its therapeutic ritual, the lineage, at the core of the society, but it is ancient. It is mentioned in early historical documentation on the Congo coast, as well as in accounts from Haiti, where it has become an element in the loa system. Nkita is associated with bisimbi nature spirits, and, as a lineage cult, is often involved in the regeneration and maintenance of lineage government. The bisimbi invest, or validate, lineage authority, which in many regions is embodied in powerful medicinal and religious compositions, the minkisi . Nkita concentrates on the dynamics of the matrilineage and the individual affliction believed to originate from lineage problems. The cult cell is within the lineage itself, frequently originating in the crises of segmentation and the need to renew leadership (Bibeau et al. 1977; Janzen 1978; Lema 1978; Nsiala 1979, 1982; Devisch 1984).

The history of lineage and public cults of affliction is significant in coastal and Western Bantu society. Given the prominence of fairly fixed settlements, landed agrarian lineages, and of markets and trade, and of—especially coastal and Southern Savanna—chiefdoms, this is not surprising. However, few of the early institutional forms have been adequately studied. The close articulation of emblems of authority, social renewal, and healing is common. My work on the historic Lemba cult that emerged in the seventeenth century in the context of the great coastal trade bears this out (Janzen 1982). Lemba represented a ritualized concern for several dimensions of society—the maintenance and protection of alliances between landed and prominent lineages; protection of the mercantile elite from the threat of envy by their subordinates due to their accumulation of wealth; the maintenance of trade routes overland between the Atlantic coast and the big markets of the interior; finally, the resolution of contradictions that resulted from the social upheavals caused by the great trade. There will be occasion to return to Lemba as an example of a public cult of affliction later in this book.

As in many cults of affliction, nkita is at once the name of the illness, the spirit behind it, and the therapeutic rite. The sign of affliction in Nkita is frequently expressed in diffuse psychological distress, dreams, and fevers, or threat to the continuity of the lineage in the form of children's illnesses or deaths, the barrenness of women or couples, or lingering sickness of male leaders. These problems are often associated with the suspicion of inadequate leadership, or at any rate a loss of contact with the bisimbi or nkita spirits in which lineage authority is vested. An individualized version of Nkita therapy concentrates on particular


cases that, if cumulative and serious, may trigger a collective therapy that seeks to renew leadership through the resolution of conflicts and the reestablishment of harmonious relationships with ancestors and nature spirits.

The Nkita rite, following the identification of the individual or collective diagnosis of the cause of the misfortune, requires the "quest for nkita spirits" in a river at the outset of the seclusion of the sufferer. These spirit forces are usually represented in smooth stones or lumps of coral resin found in appropriate streambeds, and they become the focus of the identification of the sufferer with the spirits. The seclusion of the sufferer-novice and instruction in the esoteric learning of Nkita is the first stage of teaching by the Nkita leader. The site or domain of this seclusion, a common feature of all ngoma initiations, is in Kikongo called vwela and refers to the forest clearing or the enclosure of palm branches, set apart and sacralized for this purpose.

Because of the lineage focus of Nkita and simbi spirit mediation, the rites attendant to Nkita have a close connection to, or arc done concurrently with, other rites that perpetuate collective lineage symbols, such as shrines bearing ancestors' mortal remains (nails, hair, bits of bone), leopard skins, chiefly staffs, sabers, or other signs considered to bear the spirit and office of past leaders. In some of these parallel rites, ceremonial couples, such as the Lusansa male and female priests, provide the personification of the continuous spiritual line. Instances of sickness or infertility in lineages associated with these rites may precipitate the nomination of new priestly couples.

In urban Kinshasa, according to psychologist Nsiala Miaka Makengo, who surveyed Nkita extensively in the mid-1970s (1979, 1982), there are an estimated forty to fifty "pure" Nkita practitioners, a figure that does not, however, include those whose practice is limited to their own lineages. The full rites, done with a full-fledged nganga Nkita are expensive and complex, thus beyond the reach of many families. Cost and availability of drummers, musicians, supporting personnel, transport to the site, and coordinating the whole ritual have become problematic. Thus, Nkita practitioners have tended to become generalized therapists for Kongo and non-Kongo people, in which non-kin join the seances, and the rituals become generalized for a range of conditions. Nsiala found that these Nkita healers receive on average five cases per day that require hospitalization, either in their compounds or another hospital, and up to a dozen cases that can be treated and released (1979:11). Of these, 40 percent were male, 60 percent female. They


came in all ages, distributed as follows: Children from birth to five years (15 percent), youths up to sixteen years (50 percent); adults (35 percent). Despite the apparent trend for the Nkita healers to become generic urban healers, their work continues to reflect the dual levels of the individual and the collectivity. Although the majority of cases are individuals, unique family or lineage therapies have evolved in the urban setting. These include mutual confessions, the group confessing to the sufferer, lifting the potential harm of malefic medicines, and holding veritable "psychopalavers" to vent the aggressions that exist within the group. These mechanisms of group renewal are frequently interspersed with divination to seek further understanding as to the internal group reasons for misfortunes.

God, Jesus, The Ancestors, And Janet In Luba Divination

Bilumbu, of Luba-Kasai origin, reflects the same emphasis on the core points of the social structure, in this case the patrilineage. Like Nkita, it has experienced significant changes with the urbanization of its clientele. The kilumbu (singular of bilumbu ) is a medium of the spirits who interprets the misfortunes of others. Bilumbu mediums enter this role after having their own possession or disturbances, and having been told by diviners that they have bulumbu , that is, the gift of prophecy or divination. The bilumbu, as well as the chiefs (balopwe ) in Luba society, are the individuals who legitimately interpret buvidye , the quality associated with bavidye , the founding spirits of the Luba nation (Booth 1977:56; Roberts 1988).

Observation of a Makenga variant—"to work for those who need it"—of the Bilumbu rite in Kinshasa in 1982, however, makes very plain that the urban rite, at least this one, has changed significantly from what it was earlier. After many generations of male mediums in a particular patrilineage, a woman had become the central medium of this particular cell. The "generalization" of divination and therapeutics, which has already been mentioned in connection with Nkita healers, was also evident in this instance of Bilumbu.

Kishi Nzembela, a woman of about sixty years, mother of eight, grandmother of twenty-two, carried on her lineage's Luba divinatory and therapeutic tradition. Zairian psychologist Mabiala ma Ndela, who accompanied me on this visit, had known Nzembela for some time and regarded her work as somewhat atypical within this tradition.


Nzembela "owned" or "managed" the spirit of her deceased daughter Janet, although all buvidye holders within the Nzembela line of mediums and spirits had been males for at least four generations before her.

Nzembela prefaced our discussion of her ancestors, and her daughter Janet, with emphatic affirmations that she was a devout Catholic and believed in God and Jesus, and that these must be named before any ancestors in an invocation. The walls of her small chapel featured two painted portraits, one of the Christian Trinity, the other of her daughter Janet.

Nzembela's entry into this work had begun in 1956, eight years after the death of her daughter Janet at age eighteen. Janet, a cripple, had been a talented, dynamic person and a leader, having been elected to head a group of handicapped children. She was also a gifted singer and had wanted to pursue a career as a singer. She had been possessed by spirits and claimed the gift of spiritual healing, as well. At eighteen, in the course of a pregnancy that seemed to the family to go on interminably, she died of complications. The family had also at that time had trouble with the police at the market.

Janet's spirit visited the family in 1956, when her brother, a soldier in training in France, was possessed following a sickness he could not overcome with help in hospitals. In his dreams, Janet instructed the family to give her a proper burial, to construct a beautiful tomb. Her brother did not wish to become a medium, so Nzembela, the mother, offered to do it for him. In a family celebration, a beautiful tomb was dedicated (in the byombela rite with the ngoma drum), and a feast was held following the sacrifice of a goat and four chickens. Having done this, Kishi Nzembela received a vision in which her mother, Madila, told her there was no conflict between the work of Janet and membership in the Catholic church. She was instructed to continue attending church, although on hearing of her possession, the church threatened her with excommunication. She went to the priest with her dilemma. After her presentation of her visions, and the priest's affirmation of how beautiful they had been, she received his blessing. If her work was evil, it would destroy her; if it was good, she would be blessed.[1]

She has continued working with the spirit of Janet and has had many mostly Luba clients from within and outside the family, including a few whites. Nzembela does not divine and heal on Sundays, the days she prays and worships. Weekdays, she is very busy. Some clients enter into trance quickly, others need pemba , white powder, sprinkled on them to achieve it. Nzembela offered that her own behavior may affect the


degree to which Janet will come to clients. If, for example, she has done wrong, Janet will hesitate. Sometimes Janet journeys to Europe to visit her siblings, in which case she will not respond to singing and chanting in Nzembela's seances.

As we arrived to visit Nzembela, she was singing and shaking two rattles. Five other persons were seated on the floor inside the chapel, either singing or in trance (fig. 1). Nzembela had already taken care of one healing case earlier in the morning. Mabiala and I were invited to join those seated before her. All present were given white powder to put on their foreheads and at each temple, so as to be able to "see clearly" the things of the spirit. Nzembela and an assistant were wearing white coats with a red cross on the lapel. As the singing and rattle shaking became more intense and Nzembela distributed dried tufts of an aromatic plant to inhale, several of the participants began waving their hands about. Nzembela was leading the rhythm, but it was her young assistant who first became fully entranced and provided the central mediumship role for the seance. This woman was a client of several months, about twenty years old. She had been married, but her husband had not paid her family the bride price, and he had left her with a young child. Her family was angry with her and the young man. She was under great stress. Nzembela had taken her in to work and counsel with her.

When the young assistant, following the singing, became possessed with Janet, she announced—in an altered voice—Janet's greeting. Thereafter, "Janet," in a painfully distorted voice, spoke about each case before her, in turn, interspersing her comments with addresses to "Mama" Nzembela, telling her what she was seeing in the cases. The case of another young woman's affliction, she said, resulted from her "witchcraft" of having lured her sister to Kinshasa. Her abandonment of her rural parents had generated conflict in the family. She would need to be cleansed and reconciled with her parents to be whole again.

The young medium, possessed with Janet, turned to me and asked about my marriage. When I assured her it was good, she wanted to know with what problem I had come. I decided on the spur of the moment to mention a work-related problem. "Janet" said, and this was confirmed by Nzembela, that there were indeed persons or spirits who were trying to hurt me, even though they had not succeeded in doing so. The medium gave me some pemba powder to put on my forehead and temples, and under my feet and under my pillow, to help me in dreams to see the truth about my situation. This would also return the evil intentions back upon their perpetrators.


Figure 1.
 Kishi Nzembela's compound in Kinshasa, Zaire: (a) Nzembela's
therapeutic chapel decorated with paintings of Jesus and the angels, and
daughter Janet; (b) storeroom; (c) patrilineal ancestors' shrine with wooden
figures depicting particular persons; (d) matrilateral female ancestors'
shrine; (e) tree shrine with base painted with white and red dots; (f) water
tap; (g) latrines; (h) living quarters.

Another seance began with Nzembela, shaking the rattle, singing her hymnlike song about Jesus and God who had saved us and Janet who would bring solace. A young man was in deep prayer, as if trying to enter trance to see his problems. Nzembela picked up a second rattle to intensify the rhythm and to bring the young man into trance, but he did not come. Later she took up his case in a semiprivate counseling session and listened to his complaints and miseries. Presently the young woman assistant entered trance, "Janet" again greeted "Mama" and the others and then turned to the young man to divine his case. Through the assistant, "Janet" said she could not see his problem behind his dizziness and loss of memory. She then turned to her own child. "Janet"


began thumping on the child, holding it between her legs, rolling around, while the child screamed. "Janet" said the child had a bad spirit of death in it. The child's mother (in trance) was evil, and the child was in terrible shape. I feared that this outburst of self-negation by the young woman would hurt or even kill her infant. However, this did not happen.

Further cases were more mundane. There was the woman who wanted to find out why her husband's Mercedes had crashed. He had seen bad spirits, said Nzembela. A woman whose husband was roaming around unfaithfully, "Janet" accused of wrong actions toward her husband.

The voice of "Janet" lapsed and Nzembela, as herself, began listening, occasionally offering advice, to the quiet young man who had been sitting in the corner throughout all this. She moved close to him, "in therapy" now, and spoke softly to him, prohibiting him from thinking of suicide. She encouraged him to pray, to take white powder, and to return next day for cleansing. The others present also received similar counsel and attention from Nzembela.

She also told of a case of a white man's family that had come to her for the presentation of their problem: his failing business and a marriage that was breaking up. During the divining and therapy session the family's daughter went into trance and revealed that her husband, a Latin or Italian, was from a people who had something against her own people, the Flemish. Her ancestors were against her marriage to him. After some confessions and the revelation of other problems, this family was helped to resolve their differences.

Apart from the young apprentice who had entered possession several times, it was unclear how many of these clients would eventually be drawn into a network of similar Bilumbu medium-healers. The session ended when all the clients had been dealt with for the morning.

Urban Changes In Cults Of Affliction

This brief account of two urban cults of affliction from the Western Bantu setting, both emphasizing lineage or family mediation, does not exhaust the range of types and regions represented in Kinshasa. It hints of some of the changes that cults of affliction undergo with urbanization.

Zebola, which originated in the upriver Equator region, manifests itself in physiological and psychological sicknesses of individual men and women. In its historic rural context, Zebola affliction is usually traced


back to possession by nature spirits. A regimen of seclusion, counseling, and ritual therapy brings the clients, mostly female, back to health through therapeutic initiation in the Zebola order. In its urban setting, especially Kinshasa, Zebola possession is frequently diagnosed in cases of women who are pathologically affected by isolation from their peers or families in their urban households. Becoming a Zebola sufferer and neophyte puts the individual into permanent association with a peer group of fellow sufferers, and through therapeutic initiation, eventually gives the individual a leadership role in the wider Zebola community and network.

Ellen Corin's penetrating study of Zebola (1979), both in Equateur Province and in Kinshasa, demonstrates that the women and (a few) men who enter Zebola are increasingly from a variety of cultural backgrounds beyond the upriver Equator region. She notes that the therapeutic initiation, which lasts for months or years, brings the isolated individual into close bonding with others, and from obscurity to a recognizable ritual position in the society. Trancelike behavior inspired by Zebola spirits is less marked in the city than in the countryside.

Mpombo and Badju (Bazu) originate from the Mai-Ndombe region a few hundred kilometers upriver. Zairian psychologist Mabiala, who is studying these cults, notes that a variety of ill-defined signs and symptoms are the modes of affliction here, including dizziness, headache, lack of mental presence, skin rash, lack of appetite, difficulty in breathing, heartburn with anxiety, rapid or arhythmic heartbeat, fever with shivers, sexual impotence, dreams of struggles, or being followed by threatening animals; weight loss or excessive weight, especially if accompanied by spirit visitations; and a variety of gynecological and obstetrical difficulties. Therapeutic initiation also characterizes the entry into the cult of the afflicted.

Mizuka in Kinshasa is a cult of affliction brought to the city and represented largely in the Swahili-speaking community. Men and women are initiated following psychic crises, hallucinations, nervousness, weight loss, weakness, dizziness, and bad luck (Bibeau et al. 1979). Other cults of affliction in Kinshasa include Nzondo, Nkundo or Elima of northern pygmy influence, Mikanda-Mikanda, and Tembu.

Mabiala (1982) has summarized the recent trends in Kinshasa cults of affliction in both negative and positive terms. The high cost of living in the city has driven many people to become healers to earn an income. Many of these individuals are not well trained and have promoted widespread charlatanism. In the village, where most people knew one another and where authority was more intact, this was not so common.


Many people, seeking solutions to their problems, fall victim to the charlatans who hide their incompetence behind a mask of anonymity and fakery, claiming to be competent in whatever their clientele seems to need. This willingness to broaden the competence of the therapeutic focus for increased business, Mabiala and others call "excessive generalism." This, however, also reflects the continued adaptability of traditional medicine in the face of a changing variety of problems, including the broad and vague conditions that may lie behind specific organic symptoms. The importation of a therapeutic tradition into an urban setting far from where it has been learned or originated may lead, in certain circumstances, to a greater degree of abstraction of the principles involved in the selection and combination of medicines and techniques. If specific plants or materials called for in the recipe are not available in the city, substitutes may be selected based on the dictates of underlying principles. A final, negative development Mabiala sees is the trend of African healers to mimic Western medicine. They may modify their practice with technical items such as stethoscopes, microscopes, syringes, and of course the white coat and the "doctor" title.

On the positive side, Mabiala notes the progressive detribalization of therapeutic rites. Clients' willingness to consult healers of language and cultural traditions other than their own permits a greater adaptability to urban conditions and circumstances. The exchanges of therapeutic knowledge that result from healers themselves receiving treatment in cultural contexts other than their own, or being in "isolation" with another tradition's care, has the effect of spreading and enriching the knowledge base available for all. At the same time, there tends to be a rejection of those techniques that seem irrelevant or obsolete. A very positive development in African therapeutics is the addition, to this therapeutic base, of ideas of hygiene acquired by reading, from mass media, or through more focused programs by agencies promoting public health. The encouragement of healers' organizations by the government and the formation of a variety of such groups has also been a positive development, giving greater visibility to healers and bringing recognition by scientists and health-care agencies.

Ngoma On The Swahili Coast

One of the foremost common characteristics of the cults of affliction of Kinshasa and Dar es Salaam is that they are rituals imported by immigrants from all regions of the nation. In Tanzania these cults of afflic-


tion from the coast and the interior are differentiated around particular themes and issues; they are also ethnically diversified. In the urban setting, their practitioners continue the particular emphasis of the classic rite. But they also are sensitive to the changing expectations upon healers in the urban setting and may shift their emphasis to new issues.

Despite the diversity of cults from across Tanzania and the tendency for them to become generalized to the urban setting, there is a sense in which cults of affliction are more homogeneous in Dar es Salaam than in Kinshasa. The term ngoma is widely recognized as connoting performance, drumming, dancing, celebration, and ritual therapy. This understanding of ngoma means that the performances are independent of the healing functions, leading to a distinction between ngoma of entertainment and of healing (ngoma za kutibu ).

The dominant community of ngoma therapies in Dar is that of the coastal Zaramo and Zigua peoples. An important work devoted to the subject by Finnish ethnographer Marja-Lisa Swantz (1979) identifies the major indigenous ngoma as Rungu, Madogoli, Killinge, and Ruhani. Many other distinctive ngoma rites have been identified among immigrants to Dar from coastal cities and the islands. A Kilwa healer practices ngoma Manianga and Mbungi. Another ngoma cell group of healers practices Msaghiro and N'anga. In addition to these ngoma of coastal societies, one also finds ngoma of inland groups in Dar. The BuCwezi cult of the lake region is found in the city, as are those of other Western Tanzanian societies such as the Nyamwezi, the Sukuma, and even some Nilotic groups such as the Maasai. The extensive writing on ngoma in Sukuma society near Lake Victoria may be summarized briefly for its excellent portrayal of a backdrop to some of the national activities that occur in ngoma today.

A Classic Profile Of Ngoma In Sukumaland, Western Tanzania

The Sukuma people, studied extensively by Hans Cory earlier in this century, offer a rich and elaborate array of historic ngoma comparable to that described among the Ndembu by Victor Turner. Cory, an Austrian ethnologist who worked for the British colonial government, left both extensive published and unpublished archival notes, now housed in the African Studies Center Library of the University of Dar es Salaam. These documents illustrate varied approaches to classify and understand the ngoma associations.


According to Cory, some ngoma were devoted to ancestor worship and divination: Ufumu, on the paternal side; Umanga, on the maternal side; Ulungu and Luwambo specifically belonged to particular clans. These ngoma Cory called "non-sectarian churches," since individuals could belong to several at once, and they were never intolerant of one another. Mabasa was joined by parents of twins and was concerned with the ceremonial cleansing of twin children. Other ngoma Cory saw as guilds for the study and practice of particular arts and occupations. They formed strong, disciplined fraternities, involved in mutual assistance and the protection or perpetuation of professional and technical secrets and obligations. These included: Uyege, for bow-and-arrow hunters of elephants, which had evolved into a fraternity and dance society; Utandu, a type of guild for rifle hunters of elephants; Uyeye and Ugoyangi, for snake handling and treating of snake bites; Ununguli, for porcupine hunters; Ukonikoni, a guild of medicine men devoted to witch finding; and Usambo, a thieving or thief-catching society. Ugumha (or Ugaru) and Ugika were ngoma societies without discernible function other than performance in dance competitions. Salenge was a mutual aid and dance society into which only the leader was fully initiated. Uzwezi (or Bucwezi), which had come to the Sukuma from Usumbara, and Migabo, which had come from the Swahili coast, had, after being concerned with the ancestor worship of certain clans, evolved into generalized dance societies (Cory 1938).

Cory, the colonial ethnologist, thought that the ngoma orders among the Sukuma had a positive role because they did not meddle in politics. In the absence of other Sukuma initiations, they instructed the youth in respect for elders, provided social solidarity, and instilled fear of the consequences of neglected social obligations. Thus they contributed to social stability. They also offered outlets for artistic and histrionic expression. The dance competitions he saw as generally positive, although they took much time away from the peoples' work in the fields.

Ngoma Of The Land, Ngoma Of The Coast

The particularism of naming in the Sukuma ngoma setting suggests that there is much innovation and adaptation in the overall idiom. In ngoma of the Dar es Salaam Swahili coast, the proliferation of orders arises at least as much from specific spirit classes as from particular functional specializations. Whereas the ngoma association names appear to offer a particularized view of ngoma, spirit classes diagnosed


to possess afflicted individuals are generalized into two or three groups. Among the coastal Islamized peoples, spirits are called masheitani or majini, both Arabic-Swahili words. The distinction between the two is not as important, apparently, as that distinguishing spirits of the water from those of the land, with some occasionally identified with the beach or coast. Thus, Msaghiro is an ngoma for sufferers of chronic and severe headache caused by a combination of Maruhani, Subizani, and Mzuka spirits, all coastal or beach spirits. Each of these classes is subdivided. The Subizani, of whom there are ten, are beach or rock spirits; some are male, some female, who have to do with children, both making them ill and helping to raise them to health. N'anga ngoma is a manifestation of Warungu spirits of the land, hills, baobab trees, and mountains; their mode of affliction is chronic severe headaches. Frequently each spirit type will be "played" in an ngoma ritual by a particular type of instrument. Not surprisingly, it is the major inland spirits that are usually represented by the classic single membrane ngoma drums.

Emmanuel Mshiu and I. A. J. Semali of the Traditional Medicine Research Unit had arranged for me to see Botoli Laie, a healer they knew from their surveys, to work with ngoma. Botoli was a Mutumbe from coastal Kilwa who lived in the Manzese locality of southwest Dar es Salaam, not far from the main road but back in the villagelike area filled with houses surrounded by banana and palm trees and lush gardens. Botoli was home, with his two wives and children, and yes, he would gladly talk. And yes, he did work with ngoma: Manianga and Mbungi. His house was large for the area, with a raised courtyard suitable for ngoma performances and a mazimu ancestor shrine in one corner (see fig. 2).

Botoli had become an mganga (healer) in 1952 and had obtained the ngoma dimension of his work apparently without sickness having drawn him into it. I asked him whether he had suffered prior to his initiation. "No," he said, he hadn't been sick, but he was called to do ngoma Manianga and Mbungi after he was in practice. He resisted it, but then went ahead anyway.

Botoli was a vigorous man who talked in an authoritative voice. He willingly answered my questions, ready to show me the basic lines of his work with ngoma. He was a full-time healer, established with a well-built house, exuding a cohesive ambience. His children and two wives listened attentively to our conversation.

"Ngoma Manianga," he said, is used to deal with spirits of the interior of the country, that is, from Tabora and other regions across


Figure 2. 
Compound of Botoli Laie in Dar es Salaam; (a) house; (b) ngoma
drums kept here; (c) ngoma performance area; (d) mazimu ancestral
shrine; (e) tomb; (f) consultation and medicine room; (g) stream lined with
banana trees.

Tanzania and East Africa. These masheitani are ten in number: Makogila, Ali Laka, Akiamu, Akolokoto, Akimbunga, Amiyaka, Akitenga, Ananditi, Chipila, and Ndwebe. When people are affected with these masheitani, they have bodily weakness, loss of weight, or general bodily swelling; they get shaking of the body, headache, and loss of appetite. They need then to be treated, to be taken through the course of treatment including specific materia medica from the mkobe (medicine basket), as well as dancing.

For his work with ngoma Manianga, Botoli uses a simple costume consisting of a red blouse and matching skirt, with designs sewn on the blouse (see plate 7). His paraphernalia include a small ngoma drum (musondo , also used in puberty rites) sometimes a smaller double membrane drum, and about ten sets of gourd shakers. There were also sets of cloths in red, black, and other colors, associated with various spirits. The strings Botoli wore around his shoulders had red, white, and black bags sewn onto them, which symbolically articulated cosmological oppositions such as the domestic versus the wild and land versus water. Each of his ngoma included a medicine basket (mkobe ), in which he


kept a collection of a dozen or so small jars and tins of medicines specific to the ngoma. (This set of ritual items is strongly reminiscent of the nkobe of western Kongo.)

Ngoma Mbungi has much the same paraphernalia: drums, shakers, and mkobe . The five ngoma drums of Mbungi represent five up-country masheitani: Mchola, Matimbuna, Mbongoloni, Chenjelu, and Kimbangalugomi, each of which is roused and manipulated by its own drum. The instrumentation also includes two wooden double gongs, which Botoli demonstrated. The resemblance between this ngoma kit and those of the Southern Savanna-to-Kongo region is striking and raises questions about their common history. Further research is needed to establish the approximate historical connection in the spread of these rituals across the mid-continent. Were they products of the coast (Kilwa)-Tabora-Kigoma trade route in the nineteenth century and earlier? Or were they the product of an even earlier common framework?

Botoli said he works with five to seven other waganga (healers) in the ngoma rites when the performance is at his house and he is the leader; elsewhere the host for that event is the leader. He noted that he has had many novices and was still in touch with them through ngoma events, although he could not give their precise number.

Although Botoli owns the instruments that are part of the paraphernalia of each ngoma of which he is healer, he is not the expert drummer in the rites. For major rites he hires drummers who are noted for their skill; they need not be novices or patients. The performers who do therapeutic ngoma are thus the same as those doing secular ngoma, or ngoma for circumcision, or any other festival or ceremony. It is the context and content of the songs, then, that identifies ngoma as therapeutic.

Ngoma Dispensaries, Fee-For-Service Ritual

Further insight into the organization of ngoma in Dar es Salaam was afforded by a visit in Temeke District of Dar es Salaam with the Hassan brothers, who are prominent in the Shirika la Madawa ya Kiasili, a coastal organization of healers. I was accompanied by E. K. Makala of the Ministry of Culture, whose music and dance section not only sponsors ngoma dance competitions around the country but also is conducting research on the song-dance aspects of therapeutic ngoma.

Mzee Omari Hassan's house is also his clinic. The main hall and sev-


eral side rooms and the back court were loosely filled with sick people and Omari's family. In this family all three wives helped care for the sick, as well as the two sons. The wives were introduced at one point, then disappeared; the sons were allowed to participate in the talks and even asked questions later. Omari's brother Isa, who is also a healer, came by at one point to say hello.

This particular tradition had been transmitted from one generation to the next in the patriline for a long time, well before the time four generations ago when the family had converted to Islam. Omari and family are of the Wazigua tribe, of the Bagamoyo District. He had moved to Dar in the 1940s.

Omari Hassan spoke of the way he had learned the teachings of healing from his father. His father, like himself, had involved his children in the work. The children would go along with him to search for medicines in the forest, and he would explain details to them. Similarly, Omari involved his family; the children play the ngoma drums in the rites.

As in the case of Botoli, Omari's ngoma techniques had been picked up as part of his occupation, rather than in connection with an ordeal of sickness and possession. He specifically denied having been sick with the diseases that were treated through the ngoma he knew. All six had been learned from his father, and were very old: Msaghiro, for persons suffering chronic headache, if no other cure is forthcoming (small drums resembling tourist drums are used); Madogoli, for treating mental disturbances in persons with a high state of agitation; N'ganga (or N'anga) for incessant, severe, migrainelike headaches; Manianga, for persons with numb or paralyzed limbs, especially on one side of the body (shakers are the instrument here); Lichindika, for lower-back pains, when persistent; and Kinyamukera, for those suffering from an affliction whose signs include partial loss of eyesight and twisted mouth or face. When asked how many ngoma he had performed the previous week, Omari indicated that it had been about fifteen, that is, several per day. This occurred in the context of up to fifty patients per day frequenting his clinic.

This picture of ngoma differed from the one I had encountered earlier. Rather than a sufferer-novice being initiated to a cell or network, this style of treatment resembled a clinic with a doctor and many public clients. Was this the result of urban complex society, or of professionalization, in which the rituals are taken over by a specialist and dispensed to patients?


Omari treats a variety of cases with herbs and mineral medicines. When asked what his most frequent cases are, he mentioned cancer, diabetes, asthma, gonorrhea, hemorrhoids, headaches, backaches, mental disturbances—in other words, he tries his hand at about anything. Makala told of how Omari Hassan had treated a boy with a distended eyeball, after this child had been to the State Hospital at Muhimbili and they could not do anything for him. A picture taken by Dr. Emmanuel Mshiu had been in the newspaper with a write-up of traditional medicine as a resource. The eye had been put back, or had retreated back into its socket, following Omari's treatment. When asked what cases he would refer to hospitals, he said, "ordinary sickness" but not sheitani (spirit) sicknesses.

I tried to determine how Omari related his work as mganga ngoma to Islam. He had studied in Koranic school, as had some of his sons. When asked which order he belonged to, he said "Muhammadiyya," unwilling to commit himself on whether he was Sunni, Shi'ia, or Sufi. When asked about those Muslims who believe their Islamic belief will not permit them to practice ngoma rituals, he said that was an indication of their not being well trained. They do not know about ngoma. A competent Muslim doctor has to use ngoma, if one is confronted with sheitani -caused illnesses. Ngoma, he said, helps the patients to express their anxieties and to perceive treatment methods from the sheitani as they speak through the sufferers.

Omari's guidance for his therapeutic work came from another source, an Arabic text. He showed me a thick book, "from Egypt," without title or author (it had been rebound and started on page 15). He also kept notebooks in which he recorded some of his own techniques and interpreted them for his sons. He said that he had not added to the very old ngoma his father had taught him, but that he had improved on some of the methods. He also showed me notebooks (Swahili in Arabic script) in which he copied and interpreted medical practices from the book, as well as his findings about plants and ngoma techniques. This gave evidence of the active codification of African herbal and ritual therapy in interpretative writing, alongside whatever version of Islamic medicine this book offered.

Omari's involvement in the Organization of Traditional Medicine, Shirika la Madawa ya Kiasili, meant that he could practice in an authorized ngoma dispensary. The organization, with branches in Dar, Bagamoyo, and Morogoro, utilized these dispensaries for their meetings and their therapeutic sessions. Omari showed me a file of corre-


spondence with the government, dealing with the Shirika's organization and with government authorization. One letter authorized him to practice on condition his place be checked annually by someone from the Ministry of Health.

During another visit I was witness to performances of ngoma Msaghiro and N'anga. We received the same welcome as before; little children came to meet us and took our bags from us for the last part of the walk. We again received Pepsis. Omari came in and welcomed us, although he dashed off again to make preparations for Msaghiro and N'anga. We sat for a time, and Makala of the music section of the Ministry of Culture chatted with an Msukuma fellow and with another man, dressed in a suit and dark glasses, who said he represented the political party in power. Another individual was a patient, and a second said he, too, was a patient, but he also turned out to be involved in a healers' organization with the Hassan brothers.

Presently we were ushered several houses away where about twenty-five to thirty men and women and many children were seated or stood around the open courtyard that led to the roofed and partially enclosed ngoma dispensary. One part of this area was a dance or performance area. Beyond this, accessible by a door from the performance area, was a medicine room on whose door was posted the doctor's hand-painted shingle (see fig. 3).

When Makala and I entered the courtyard we shook hands with nearly everyone, amidst much excited pushing and positioning. Then they began Msaghiro, an ngoma for sufferers of chronic and severe headache caused by a combination of Maruhani, Subiyani, and Mzika spirits, all coastal or beach sheitani . The Subiyani, of whom there are ten, are "beach" or "rock" spirits. They are male and female, and have to do with children, both with making them ill and helping to raise them to health. If a male spirit appears, the healer treats the right side of the body; if female, the left side.

The female patient of this session was told to sit on a small stool, before which were placed three small gourd medicine containers covered with strands of red, white, blue, and yellow beads. Omari's brother Isa took one of these and spread the medicine, with a form of swab or tube, atop her head, and at several symmetrical points on her face, and down her limbs, and on front and back, thus "outlining" her person. As the singing continued, with five small double membrane drums and a rattle, the men and women danced and sang in pulsating movement toward and away from the patient (see fig. 3). Then Isa brought out a


Figure 3.
 Ngoma dispensary in Dar es Salaam, as used by Isa and Omari
Hassan of the healers' organization Shirika la Madawa; (a) street entrance;
(b) open courtyard; (c) household rooms; (d) roofed ngoma performance
stage; (e) medicine room. Stage shows locations of performers in session
witnessed by author and described in text.

big antelope-horn container, and circled it around the patient several times counterclockwise (looking down).

Following Msaghiro, they announced they would do a traditional greeting of the visitor, first one of them being the subject of attention, to show how it went, then it would be me. The greeting pattern, similar to the therapeutic ritual, was that all adults present would dance-shuffle toward me, first a row of men, then women, and thrust themselves close to me, then back off in the same shuffle. After a number of these group advances, each one in the row shook my hand three times. It made me feel I had become the event's center, that they were affirming me. I felt strengthened and focused by their attention. Surely there was iconic power in the healing dances around a sufferer, although it was difficult to analyze the components or even the source of this power.

Then came the N'ganga (pronounced "n'anga") dance, again for chronic severe headache, a manifestation of Warungu sheitani , spirits


of the land, hills, baobab trees, and the mountains. The instrumentation was limited to shakers this time. Singing was led by Isa, in a call-and-response manner. The patient was the focus of the dance. The short "fee for service" dance was a highly eliptical version of ngoma compared to what I had seen in Southern Africa, or in the historic Western Equatorial African examples. It was closest in comparison to one ngoma unit I observed in the Western Cape (see chapter 4). The patient did not enter trance, although this had probably been done previously.

Evidently each of the ngoma sessions follows a divination that identifies the spirit utterance and that then leads into the therapeutic response. M. L. Swantz speaks of the healing rite in the coastal ngoma as "exorcism." This may well fit the situation in which there is no initiatory follow-through. This may be related to the very low rate of persons treated (exorcised) going on to be trained as waganga, which, according to Isa Hassan, is only three to four per hundred, a rate confirmed by Lloyd Swantz (1974). The implications of this pattern for professional control of the resource, as well as of the model of therapy, are taken up again in chapter 6.

Ngoma And Islam

Not far away in Manzese-Kwadjongo lives mganga Mahamoud Kingiri-ngiri, a Sufi Muslim of the Matumbe people from Kilwa. Unlike mganga Botoli, described earlier in this chapter, Mahamoud works with Kitabu (the book), magi (water), and nzizi (roots), and with Ruhani and Majini spirits of the sea. Unlike mganga Omari Hassan, who is Muslim and uses ngoma, as does non-Muslim Botoli, Mahamoud does not use or relate to ngoma, on grounds of his adherence to Sufism. The matrices of Bantu-African and Muslim culture, and the use and nonuse of ngoma by waganga, are clearly illustrated by these three healers.

Mahamoud has a well-built house near a stream, with banana and palm trees surrounding it. The two-story house contains his study, where he has his books; it also features a consultation bench, a place of prayer, a purification-bathing room, and an outdoor treating area.

When I visited him with a guide from the Traditional Medicine Research Unit, several of his four wives were seated in the hallway, with children on their laps. Mahamoud has had fifteen children, twelve of whom survive. He impressed me as an ambitious, intelligent, religious man, who took his work seriously and cared for his family. When asked whether he had been to Mecca on a pilgrimage, he said no, he could


not leave his wives and children that long, they needed him; anyway, he did not have the money.

With his several interrelated treatments, Mahamoud works with afflictions as diverse as polio (for which he has a compound of twenty-one medicines, to be taken with water over three days), excessive or irregular menstruation (I observed him treating one such patient; he read to her from a book), convulsive fevers, diarrhea and vomiting, and the preparation of aphrodisiacs for the impotent. He also works with Majini (of which seven are good and help treat, and five are bad and bring disease), and Maruhani (all seven of which are good and help treat). These spirits all stay in the ocean, but they come out or are found in other places; the Maruhani at clean places, the Majini at dirty places like latrines. When he treats, he begins with the name and other aspects of the life of the patient based on the birth date. Following a reading of his Arabic (geomancy?) texts, he goes to sacred places, starts to pray, and the spirits come forward, telling him what to do with the patient.

The Arabic text Mahamoud uses most is by the Egyptian Abdul Qattah of Macina. It tells of all types of diseases and treatments, including Maruhani and Majini. He also uses the Koran and has numerous other Arabic books in his study. He spoke Swahili and English. His father had insisted on sending his three sons to Koranic school, but he was the only one who had followed this line of work in the family tradition from his father and grandfather. One of his sons was being groomed to succeed him.

The family (patrilineal) therapeutic tradition began in the context of village protection during the Maji-Maji revolt earlier in this century against the German colonialists. Mahamoud's great-great grandfather had been head of a Matumbe village near Kilwa. In the thick of the Maji-Maji struggle, his grandfather was sent to the Arabs to learn of better medicine, for they felt inadequately protected. When his grandfather died, the work was passed on to Mahamoud's father, then to him.

When Mahamoud became mganga, he locked himself in a room and read books. Thus in isolation, the Maruhani came to him and asked, "What do you want?" "To be mganga ," he replied. The Maruhani explained cleanliness and emphasized purification with water. His house, especially the areas for prayer and healing, was immaculately clean; a floor of white porcelain tile was visible beside the "bath tub."

I asked Mahamoud Kingiri-ngiri why he did not use ngoma, when some others—Zaramo, reported in Swantz, and Zigua such as Isa Hassan—did, especially with Ruhani spirits. He emphasized Islamic restric-


tions but also that ngoma was just "happiness," not real medicine. Perhaps a further answer lies in his being part of a Sufi brotherhood, which is in effect a ritual community that functionally substitutes for ngoma. This Sufi brotherhood did not have a saint, he said, but they had a tradition of sheikhs.

The three Tanzanian waganga profiled here represent a continuum from classical ngoma practitioners to degrees of Islamization. In the coastal association in which the Hassan brothers are instrumental, Islamic brotherhood structure and urban professionalism have changed the ngoma tradition. The symbolism and the rituals have been affected less. With Mahamoud Kingiri-ngiri, the etiology of ngoma is addressed from within an Islamic framework. Plant lore has been retained, but the legitimation has become that of folk Islam and mysticism. A similar continuum could be traced from classic ngoma to independent Christian churches in Tanzania, which, however, I could not pursue.

Ngoma Of Healing, Ngoma Of Entertainment

The distinction between "therapeutic" and "entertainment" ngoma is an important one in understanding the larger dynamics of religion and ritual in Dar es Salaam society. This distinction already seems to have existed in early twentieth-century Sukuma ngoma, as described by Cory. It was implicit in the observation of Botoli Laie that the ngoma drumming-dancing is distinct from the medicines and is done for the exorcistic or therapeutic initiatory seances by hired musicians. Here the definition of ngoma as "performance" comes into its own. The sacrality or secularity of ngoma depends not on the music or dance form as such, but on its function or use, its context. Ngoma performances in night clubs and folkloric events put on by the national dance troupe do not, thus, differ in their form from possession or exorcistic rituals conducted by waganga. However, the secular ngoma "for entertainment" possibly reflects an evolution of the particular ritual from its original context, focused on a sufferer in the midst of personal crisis, to a more generalized performance outside that focus and the timing of a crisis.

On a particular day during my stay in Dar es Salaam in 1983, the following ngoma, licensed by the Ministry of Culture, were performed. Mungano, its name derived from the Sukuma snake dance ngoma, was performed in a bar, and later in the week at the Village Museum; Tanita; Utamaduni, an ngoma group sponsored by the Tanzania Rail-


way Corporation; DDC Kibisa; Zinj Dancing Troupe; and Kikundi Cha Sanaa, sponsored by the National Textile Corporation. At the urging of the staff at the Ministry of Culture, I attended a Sunday evening performance of the Baraguma ngoma group from Bagamoyo at the Almana Ilala nightclub (see plate 8). Over thirty such groups were registered in Dar es Salaam alone, in addition to dance bands and jazz groups (Martin 1982). This richness in entertainment music reflects not only the musicians' openness to new idioms such as jazz, but the diversity of musical offerings in the historical culture of East Africa.

E. K. Makala at the dance section of the Ministry of Culture, who concentrates on ngoma, noted that ngoma in the "traditional" setting is used for a range of occasions, including circumcisions, weddings, and mourning, not to mention healing and dance competitions. The songs are about the occasion, thus highly contextualized. Every performance features extensive improvisation. The size of the group depends on the wealth of the promoter or sponsor. Makala found it impossible to speak of a "typical" ngoma group. However, groups are distinguishable by criteria of song, dance step, distinct rhythm, and sometimes costume. In the village, he noted, one would hire a local group; in Dar one might be obliged to hire one from another ethnic background. All of the thirty ngoma groups in Dar derive from rural areas. In their hired events these groups might perform a song-dance (his term) that had been used for healing, such as Manianga, but this would be a "mistake," that is, a misapplication or change of the pure form of the rite from its original purpose. Makala feared that these kinds of changes meant the real meaning of the dance was getting lost in the city. He lamented the lack of good teachers and a loss of awareness of the dance's history. However, the standard of staging in the urban setting is better, he thought, with lights and amplifiers for live performances, performances on Radio Tanzania, and even promotion for overseas tours. In 1983 the ngoma groups rarely made recordings for resale.

Mungano, the name of a historic Sukuma and Nyamwezi ngoma for snake handling, had been adopted by Norbert Chenga of the Ministry of Culture as the name of the ngoma group he organized. He had studied with a Sukuma mganga for about six months but had not completed his apprenticeship. His Mungano troupe performed regularly at the national Village Museum in Dar es Salaam for an audience of Dar residents and a few tourists and foreigners. The troupe consisted of fifteen young men and fifteen young women, who donned a different costume for each dance, mainly arrangements of colorful African print


cloths. They were accompanied by about twelve—mostly ngoma—drums and two xylophones. An amplifier was rigged so that the microphone could be shifted from one instrument to another. Prior to the performance, it was propped against a cassette recorder playing Congo jazz with Lingala lyrics.

The troupe began with ngoma Msewe, which originated in Zanzibar, and it used to be performed at Islamic festivals. The dress was appropriately Islamic, with white caps for the men and print aprons for the women. Men and women danced separately in two long lines. This was followed by Masewe, a dance originating in the Lindi region of southern Tanzania, performed on "happy occasions," for which the dancers whitened their faces.

Ukala, a "hunting" dance from Tanga, depicted a hunting expedition and glorified hunting as a reputable activity. It was preceded by a pantomime of two hunters stalking game, shooting, cutting up the meat, finding honey. Then they were joined by troupes of men and women with bows and arrows and baskets.

After an interlude of acrobatics, the group performed ngoma Sindimba from the Makonde region of coastal Tanzania and Mozambique. Sindimba is done when the youth return from initiation camps, having graduated into adulthood. It is a lively dance with sexually suggestive movement.

This was followed by Chitumbo, Lingwele, and Ngongoti masked stilt dancing. Then came Bugobogobo, a "social realism" ngoma in which the dancers used hoes and baskets, shields and guns, as props. It was a rigidly choreographed depiction of work with these tools that took the ngoma work-song idiom and applied it to national consciousness. Everyone must take up arms and be vigilant, just as farmers work together with hoes. The ujamaa cooperative spirit that has always been evident in productive work is pointedly applied in this dance. The big ngoma drum used here is an original instrument used as pacer in communal farming among the Sukuma, even today.

Finally, at the close, came the snake-handling dance, Mungano, after which the troupe had been named. It was preceded by skillful acrobatics by members of the Directorate of Culture. As the drums beat their special Mungano rhythm, a large chest was opened in the public circle. Two pythons were taken out by the dancers and released to slither around and frighten the crowd. Volunteers were sought to let themselves be bitten by the snakes. A man and a boy came forward, and when the lethargic python finally did strike the boy in the buttocks, the


crowd roared. Chenga, the director, told me later that these snakes are very tame and have short teeth, and are not, of course, poisonous. The principle being demonstrated was, however, a very serious one. In western Tanzania, where there are poisonous vipers, this exercise is intended to educate the public about snakes, and to teach them not to fear snakes. Within Mungano, members of the ngoma have knowledge of antidotes and are themselves immunized with the venoms; they allow themselves to be bitten during the performances.

The "folklorization" of ngoma, as seen here, reflects the process of bringing together ethnically and regionally diverse dances that are performed in a rather different context than originally intended. This process is to some extent guided by the governmental units. Competitions are organized, just as in earlier times; song-dance is sometimes utilized, as in the Bugobogobo, for nationalistic emphasis. Some of these same dances were performed by Baraguma—actually the teaching staff of a secondary school—at the night club, where the audience had paid at the door to see the show. Therapeutic ngoma are thus, in Dar es Salaam, a small part of all ngoma, but a very central and formative part.

Sangoma: Divining The Stresses Of Rapid Industrialization In North Nguni Society

Far to the south, the Drakensberg range divides the interior plateaus from the coastal flatlands, in what is now South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. The mountains also separate two major cultural historical groupings: the Nguni-speakers of the wetter, more tropical setting; the Sotho-Tswana on the drier, highland interior. Major sociocultural distinctions separate these groupings in a way that influences our subject. The Nguni-speakers, through the eighteenth century, lived in decentralized small homestead settlements of cultivators who also kept livestock. Their social and political organization was lineage-based. The Sotho-Tswana, by contrast, had larger town settlements, with strong centralized chiefdoms. Their cattle remained at outposts in the and regions to the west; their fields were arranged around the towns and cultivated seasonally. Social life and most public affairs were conducted in the towns, particularly in the chief's court, the kgotla .

At the beginning of the nineteenth century social and political up-heavals—known as the Mfecane—among the Nguni gave rise to the centralized states of the Zulu, Swazi, Ndebele, and Pedi, and those of


the diaspora groups to the north in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania. These states were not so deep-rooted as to offer the stable, courtlike context and type of public life that had evolved gradually among the Sotho-Tswana. Therefore, among the Nguni, ngoma as it is being studied in this book was the major way of dealing with adversity, misfortune, and sickness. It is largely among the Nguni-speaking societies of southern Africa that this story may be found.

However, the setting of ngoma in Southern Africa requires fuller contextualization than simply a contrasting of Nguni with Sotho-Tswana. The Mfecane was followed shortly by the incursion of Afrikaaner wagon trains into what is now the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The societies that had newly formed as states were engaged in battle and defeated; their proud citizens were reduced to servants of the Afrikaaners on their own lands. This was followed, late in the nineteenth century, by the discovery of gold and diamonds and the emergence of the major labor migration pattern that engulfed the entire subcontinent. Africans, deprived of their land, needed to work in the mines and farms of the white man to make a living.

Thus the story of ngoma in Southern Africa also needs to be situated in the context of a divided society, of broken homes, of labor camps and mines, and in the twentieth century, of the urban settlements and the townships. For these reasons the two Nguni-related sites that came to be of particular interest in this survey were the Manzini-Mbabane corridor in Swaziland, an industrializing, urbanizing setting in an independent country, and the townships surrounding Cape Town, where the various cultural threads of South African society come together in the context of apartheid rule. These two settings allow for comparison between several contrasting situations, both across the middle of the continent and in the region of Southern Africa.

Ngoma in Southern Africa is far more unitary in its institutional organization than what we have seen in Kinshasa and Dar es Salaam. It is not organized into several dozen functionally specific ngoma orders as among the Ndembu or the Sukuma. Nor is it as frequently, nor as extensively, used for entertainment. The unitary structure of ngoma in Southern Africa combines both divination and therapeutic network building.

The Mbabane-Manzini and Cape Town comparison permits us to see contrasts between a setting outside South Africa and one inside South Africa—within the framework of a single cultural-linguistic grouping,


the Nguni-speaking societies: Shangani, Thonga, Ndebele, Swazi, Zulu, Xhosa, and Pedi. One of the most startling contrasts in ngoma expression across this region is the shift, from south to north, of increasingly elaborate technique and demonstrative trance in divining-healing. Among the Xhosa, undramatic meditative and counseling techniques are used between healers and their clients. The spirits who are called on are usually ancestors, or vague evil or nature spirits. Among Zulu diviners, mechanistic bone-throwing techniques prevail. The Swazi, however, although the same holds true for a part of their work, have recourse regularly to far more demonstrative possession trance behavior as they are visited by a series of increasingly powerful and distant nature and alien spirits. The reasons for this marked contrast in ngoma within a single cultural-linguistic region will be addressed later in this chapter after the introduction of ethnographic material.

A Swazi College For Diviner-Healers

My major exposure to ngoma activities and institutions in the North Nguni setting came through several extended visits to the ngoma training college and clinic of Ida Mabuza of Betani, midway between the industrial center of Manzini and the capital of Mbabane.

Ida Mabuza had trained in the Tshopo area of Mozambique. She enjoyed royal patronage from King Sobhuza II to follow through on her therapeutic initiation. When she experienced kwetfwasa , the call from the ancestors to enter a life of ngoma, she was ill for five years before beginning her training, suffering from back pains and difficulty in walking, as well as other serious problems that included vomiting blood. As her illness progressed, she became solitary, hostile, and withdrawn. She had many dreams of people with sangoma-type hairdos. Her condition worsened, leading eventually to daytime visions, so that others and she herself feared she would become totally mad. When her condition became unbearable, her husband took necessary steps for her to be healed. As she began to train, the spirit literally "came out" in her dancing; a song was given to her by the spirit. Her family and healer realized she was possessed by a Thonga spirit; indeed the spirit had announced itself. In due course she, a Swazi, became the channel of Thonga, Zulu, and Shangani spirits. These spirits drive you about, she said, they possess (femba ) you, speak through you, particularly the Manzawe spirits. The Benguni spirits are the main ones behind the div-


ination with bones; they are mainly Zulu (victims of Swazi wars), although some are Thonga. Others give insight as well, including Thonga and Shangani spirits.

The main points here seem to be that these shades that aid in divining and heating are alien Nguni ancestors, and that they speak directly through the medicines and diviners. This is in contrast to most Zulu (and other) tangoma, who work with or in power of their own shades, and seemingly the Xhosa, who work similarly. Harriet Sibisi, who was with me and interpreted the interview, pointed out that Zulu tangoma would try to get rid of an alien spirit and try to bring in a person's own shade to inspire divination work. They would not work exclusively with alien spirits.

The contrasts between Zulu tangoma and Mabuza's approach seemed sufficiently pronounced that when I asked about the meanings of the term ngoma she noted that, although they accept the appellation sangoma, technically they call themselves takoza mediums, distinguishable by their red ochred and oiled dreadlocks, whereas tangoma wear their hair black with beads woven in them. According to Mabuza, the takoza have spirits speak directly through them, whereas the tangoma listen to spirits (or sometimes their ancestors or deceased grandparents) and use their own judgment. Thus the difference is in methodology. The takoza's spirit sees right into the cause of illness; for example, one may be limping today, but the cause is an ancient childhood injury. Tangoma are more skilled at reading the present, or they tend to restrict their work to present-day issues. The takoza, because they are mediums, get much more excited, said Mabuza, who sat there before us with great composure, looking very professorial through her glasses. The takoza combine mediumship (ukufemba ) with bone-throwing, or inspire their bone-throwing with mediumship from spirits directly. The tangoma learn divination from other tangoma. The tangoma figure out the problem and refer more readily to other types of practitioners.

One of Mabuza's twenty apprentices explained her own training and her introduction to the hierarchy of spirits. Novices learn many songs, both those taught by their teacher Mabuza, as well as their own, which they receive in visions and dreams from the amadloti (ancestor shades), the Manzawe spirits, and the Benguni "victims" of wars, killed by one's paternal forebears. These several spirit or shade categories were represented by the bead strings across the novices' shoulders (see fig. 4). White beads represented the Benguni autochthonous victims; the red, the Amanzawe (nature spirits); the mud-colored, the amadloti (lineal


Figure 4. 
Body and neck strings as used in ngoma to represent categories of
spirits. This example is from Swazi takoza mediums: (a) amadloti (lineal
ancestor shades), mud-colored beads; (b) Amanzawe (nature spirits), red
beads; (c) autochthonous Benguni victims of Swazi wars, white beads;
(d) Tinzunzu victims of drowning, white beads.

ancestor shades); another white string, Tinzunzu (victims of drowning). She had other necklaces and beads that had been donned at points in her training. The fuller bead bracelets and anklets indicated her completion of training.

Teaching and practice in this tradition, which combined the sangoma and takoza, appeared to consist of the two standard components, divining and singing rituals. The former mainly consisted of "throwing bones" (pengula ), the latter the singing-pronouncing of the affliction or announcement of spirits (ukufemba ) in which drums were used. Ma Mabuza had twelve tigomene drums for these ukufemba sessions (see plate 6), although not all were used at any one time. The drums, made of cowhide membranes on oil barrels, were huge and sonorous, recalling the sacred royal drums of the north Sotho, Venda, and Luvedo, or the


Luvedo tigomene initiation drums. Ida Mabuza's own patron spirit was a male iloti , which was why whenever a request was made, the apprentice who was our guide had to go ask "him" (through Mama Mabuza) for permission.

Mabuza, when asked about the prevalence of types of cases brought to her, noted that daily she has about ten clients. Even though she does not keep records, she noted the following types of issues brought to her in order of frequency. There are both "African" and "non-African" problems. She has both African and white clients. The most common African problem is vague pains and anxieties, explained by umbelelo or mego , harm or sorcery resulting from interpersonal tensions. The next most prevalent illness is amakubalo , resulting from broken social or moral precepts, such as illicit sex with a protected married woman. The first type of problem brings both men and women, the second mostly men. Further, there are many young people who come to her wishing to learn of their fates, seeking good fortune in job applications, exams, and love.

Whites' main concern, she said, is fear of poverty—that is, their inability to hold on to their money and property. They also come for help in promotions and other work-related matters. They come with illnesses not properly diagnosed in the hospital or not effectively treated, such as especially high blood pressure, whose root cause frequently can be traced to tensions or conflicts with domestic workers or subordinates who, they fear, have retaliated against them.

Mabuza told us of a case she had recently done that illustrates her approach. A white woman came in, accompanying someone else. Mabuza divined for her that she was involved in a struggle with her family. The woman did not believe it. Two weeks later she returned, acknowledging that, indeed, in their purchase of a farm, payments had been embezzled by another family member, and they had been doubly charged.

One day as we arrived we saw another car parked below the compound. It belonged to a well-dressed Swazi couple who had just emerged from one of the divination rooms and a consultation with Mabuza or an apprentice. Later, as we were waiting on a mat outside the rooms, another car drove up with a grandmotherly Swazi woman at the wheel. She had come for a consultation, either for herself or another family member. She waited on a mat beside us while one of the staff prepared to see her. Clients who do not have their own vehicles, or who cannot


walk or take public transportation, may call Betani by phone and be picked up in one of the center's vehicles. Since Betani is midway between the industrial center of Manzini and the capital, Mbabane, and not far from the royal Swazi capital, Mabuza's work is tied into the vibrant pulses at the center of Swazi society.

The narrow line between conventional clients and those who eventually become apprentices is articulated by the etiological category kwetfwasa , to be called by a spirit to enter the life of the sangoma. Although she commonly diagnoses cases to be of this type, it is an article of emphasis in ngoma circles that the master-novice relationship must be entered voluntarily. The diviner-healer who makes the diagnosis is not necessarily the one with whom you apprentice. Clients are quite free to go elsewhere, with whomever they feel comfortable. Those who do come to Mabuza stay in residence five to six years; for the first four they are counseled and participate in the sessions. Then they become involved in intensive training. During this time she delegates responsibility in pengula bone-throwing divination and in the femba mediumship. Anyone who is available gets an opportunity to learn through practice. If one's spirit cannot read a case, another helps out or takes over.

The novices must be sexually abstinent throughout their stay with her. They do not shake hands with others; they are ritually apart. Mabuza was surprised at the pictures of the Cape Town novices who held wage-labor jobs, wondering how apprentices could be part-time or intermittently in isolation.

The presence of clients who stay in residence overnight or for longer periods (in addition to whom there are up to twenty apprentice diviner-heaters) suggests that Mabuza's establishment at Betani is very much an institution, with anywhere from thirty to fifty people "in residence" at a given time. The institutional dimension of ngoma at this place was apparent to us one day when, driving up the steep road to Betani, we came upon two young apprentices working to get the Datsun truck, heavily laden with groceries for the college, up the hill. They had to unload some of the flour sacks so the vehicle could drive up a particularly steep eroded passage. Later, I saw them unload thirty dozen eggs, a fifty kilogram bag of mealie flour, bags of wheat flour, cartons of canned condensed milk, sugar, and the like—food for twenty novices and their families, as well as the inpatients. Six times a month they send to town for such a load of groceries. It was reported that the tazoka


novices, conspicuous in their red ochre and sand hair-dos and loin-cloths, are frequently seen in the bank in Mbabane drawing money from the Betani account for their shopping.

Pengula: Divination By "Throwing The Bones"

Throughout northern Nguni society and among Shona and Sotho-Tswana society, the most common method of divination is called "throwing the bones." The diviner sits opposite the client, with a mat between them (plate 9). In a small bag the diviner has a set of bones, usually vertebrae of an animal, which are thrown out upon the mat. The constellation of bones, their relationships and profiles, are "read" in a manner similar to divination methods of the Southern Savanna Ngombo basket ingredients, or the Ifa oracle's shells when cast. Constellations identify areas of social life, personal problems, and cultural emphases. Accordingly, in Betani, divination "bones," which include dominoes, dice, coins, shells, stones, as well as the standard vertebrae, are interpreted to include not only luck (good if dominoes turn dots up, bad if down) and various interpersonal relational profiles and bewitchment (vertebrae in various positions), but also the presence of tuberculosis, diabetes, and other conditions. One constellation of bones refers people to the hospital. Another constellation tells the diviner that the client has come in bad faith.

A third individual, in addition to the diviner and client, is often present in sessions of bone-throwing as a type of interpreter or mediator. This individual may be part of the divination staff, as was true in a number of cases at Betani, or may be a friend of the client or a family member. The mediator's role is to know the case, to have gotten acquainted with it, just as the expectation upon the diviner is that clairvoyance will be used to "see" the truth of the case with the help of the bones or the spirits. As the bones are thrown and the diviner begins to interpret, using a format like "twenty questions," the mediator responds with "I agree" (si ya vuma ) or "I disagree." Such sequences of questioning reveal whether the issue is in the paternal or maternal family, whether it is a family- or work-related issue, or whether it has to do with the client's own responsibility or with another's involvement. If the constellation does not seem appropriate, and the diviner reaches a dead-end in the incantation of questions, another throw may reveal a new constellation with another sequence of questions.


Clients who come to Betani for good fortune stay overnight to take emetics, which Ma Mabuza teaches them how to administer it themselves. Emetics and purification are important for people who have taken in contrary medicines (what Kongo call intoxification). The medicine "releases them"; the spirits allow them to change. Those who stay overnight receive free meals prepared by the apprentices or other staff. The overnight fee is fifteen emlangeni ($12, in 1982), whether the client is African or white. Pengula divination has grades of elaborateness, beginning with the simple bone throw for two emlangeni for a basic outline of the issue, which tells whether one can count on chance or has no chance (as in a court case). Sometimes lengthy counsel apart from the bone throw may increase the rate. The maximum fee for pengula, an overnight stay with a meal, and an extended femba possession session by the entire hierarchy of spirits is thirty-five emlangeni. A diviner as skilled as Ma Mabuza can earn a good living at these rates.

Ukufemba: Divination By Mediumship

We had been told that in Mabuza's school, divination by mediumship (ukufemba ) was held about every other day. The exact timing, however, depended on the spirits. One evening we arrived at Betani unannounced at about five o'clock. The resident novices were eating and drinking in front of Mabuza's house. One of them came to us and welcomed us and spoke with us, and another brought us a well-sifted container of beer. Another male novice came with a similar bucket of medicine (ubulau ) to an area before the seance house, and the entire group of about twenty novices gathered around him and the ubulau. He raised the froth with his stirring stick, then knelt over to take some with his mouth, spitting it out in the four cardinal directions as if forming a cosmogram. The others did the same one by one as the leader sang. Then they knelt in a circle and prayed.

We continued speaking with the novice who had come to us earlier. She spoke about her health (her sore foot, bilharzia) and health education, about age (our graying hair, her impression of our youthfulness), about doctoral degrees, including her sister's. A child walked by carrying a shirt on its head. She observed that when a child holds something on its head in that way, "someone will soon come." We had no idea what she was talking about. Suddenly one of the young takoza bellowed out from the seance house in the now familiar sound of spirit trance.[2] "There you are," said our companion, "the amadloti [ancestors] have


come." Others moved to the seance house and began drumming almost immediately. We were invited to sit down on a mat with them. Several of the male novices were grunting and spluttering and crying out, possessed, we were told, by the Benguni spirits of the victims of Swazi wars. Presently, to drumming-singing of six tigomene , four of the men who had donned white waist cloths and patterned loincloths over their other loincloths, began to rush in and out of the door. In the minutes that followed these Benguni-possessed men went through a threefold routine: (1) initial trance met by drum-song response; (2) suddenly rushing out and disappearing (to present themselves, we were told, to "him," i.e., Mabuza), then returning to greet those present. A definite call-and-response pattern was apparent here; the drumming-singing occurred only while the possessed entered the room.

When this was finished, four women followed suit in approximately the same way, also possessed with Benguni. Several other persons danced, including some very agile boys and girls, who apparently were not possessed. Each of the classes of spirits—the amadloti , Benguni, Manzawe, and Nzunzu—is said to have its distinctive dances and songs, although I could barely discern them. The drum rhythm was a heavy regular beat on six drums; the dance was a heavy pounding step a little like that of Cape Xhosa amagqira healers, only faster and more vibrant, interspersed with leaping jumps.

At the very close there entered a "senior" graduate sangoma-takoza, the woman who had done the pengula divinations. She was dressed in her full set of beads and carried her beaded baton and cow's tail whisk. She held a stick under one armpit and a knobkerrie under the other. Then the session was over and the group moved outside to go through a seance with Manzawe spirits. We left.

The next afternoon we drove to Mabuza's place again to seek a better understanding of the relationship between individualized pengula bone-throwing and the collective mediumistic ukufemba approach. The case we would see treated was that of a small child, several months old, who had been sickly and weak. Mother and grandmother were present with the child and all necessary diaper bags, aprons, clothing, even a bottle of diaper softener. They had taken the child to the hospital, as well as to an African independent Christian faith healer, but it was still sick and weak. They had come to determine what was causing its affliction, since hospital medicine in their eyes had failed.

Another case came to our attention after the femba session began. A young woman, a university student, offered to translate the proceed-


ings for us. She had had a nervous breakdown shortly after the term began. The hospital doctors had diagnosed her persistent headache, nosebleeding, vomiting, and nausea as due to "nerves" and "heart failure," although a further consultation with another doctor had revealed "nothing wrong." She came to Mabuza feeling miserable. After divination and treatment in residence she began to feel much better, saying she was now fine, although she continued staying at the center.

The sick infant was the final case of the evening, after several cases that kept them busy until about eight o'clock. Then the floor was covered with matting and the drums were brought in from the courtyard where they had been tightening in the sunlight. Children came in and sat down along the wall opposite the door. A pressure lamp had been brought in to illuminate the room. While another femba session was continuing in the other house, the mother, infant, and grandmother entered with their baggage and sat down. A young male takoza from Mozambique brought in the straw basket of medicines with which he would femba the case (fig. 5). Although the book definition of femba is that of trance or possession to identify the spirit cause of an illness, the beginning process here seemed more like positive medicine to prepare the patient.

At first the infant was held on the grandmother's lap; the mother sat aside against the wall, looking on. The diviner-healer began by kneeling before the basket of medicines. While praying, he took off his body beads and donned another set of necklace beads; he donned a new cloth and over all this put on a waistband of six cowrie shells, as well as a headband of two rows of cowrie shells. Then he took several small medicine containers out of the basket. From one he took a grease or ointment and rubbed his face with it. Nearby he had a pottery shard with coals of fire through which he passed some of the medicine. Then he washed his face in a bowl of water. Throughout the next stages he regularly partook of a snufflike substance that may have been hallucinogenic.

The diviner-healer then went to stand before the grandmother, his back to the door. He gestured with his hands to the child, then at one point rubbed medicine on various parts of the child's body soles of the feet, top of the head, temples, chest and back, wrists and ankles. He pulled the child's limbs out taut. He repeated some of this for the grandmother. Throughout this segment of the session a young female assistant brought him the ointment and helped him take the snuff substance. Then he seemed to go into a semitrance and gave the following expla-


Figure 5. 
The arrangement of participants in the ukufemba divination ses-
sion at Betani, described in text. Left diagram: (a) participants including
novices, family, and guests; (b) active trance performers, who enter and
leave as spirits; (c) tigomene (drums) in performance. Right diagram, in
same space: (d) healer kneeling before medicines during case of sick child;
(e) grandmother with grandchild; (f) mother of child.

nation of the causes of the illness, as translated to us by an English-speaking patient.

The first cause was put in the form of an exegesis of family history. The family cattle had strayed onto the fields of others, and those others had taken revenge on the child. Vengeful ancestors were working through living persons, who were trying to hurt the child and its mother. The falsetto voice in which the medium spoke, possessed by the spirit, was said to impersonate the one who was behind the injurious work. The clients would know from the sound of the voice who it was; the person could not be mentioned by name. A further cause was the vengeance of a war victim killed by a family member. Third, there was the matter of the unmarried mother and displeasure by spirits over this. The vengeful forces had already stolen the child's "soul," and unless the forces were neutralized the child would soon die. There followed the blessing of the child's effects, first piece by piece, then a whole bag full, and finally the bottle of diaper softener. The child was now moved to the mother's lap, and was given some emetic fluid to drink, as well as a bit of the snuff in its nose. At one point there was also a brief exorcism near the door, with the comment that the spirits were not all will-


ing to leave but wanted to hide in the room. Then for a while there seemed to be a calm.

A Manzawe spirit struck in the back corner of the room with a powerful cry through another young medium, who rushed up to where the mother was seated with the child. Several other novices and observers took drums in hand and quickly provided rhythmic accompaniment to the spirit's song. This was a "white" Manzawe, evidenced by the possessed medium's controlled gesture of donning a white cloth from the wooden cross beam above him, where all the cloths were draped.

After dancing about for a while in his characteristic manner, this "spirit" went out and came in several times. Then he came before the mother of the sick child and harangued her for several minutes, in a heavy, intense voice, about her case: She had sought help in vain from other places, including the hospital and "church"; she was the victim of dissatisfied spirits because of the family affair and the cattle; there was a victim of the family's involvement in past wars. He appeared to repeat some of the earlier findings. Perspiration poured down his face and body; it was a most impressive effort, for which another two or five emlangeni note was produced. Then this white Manzawe spirit left the room and the medium returned, composed.

Several other male diviners took up the work, donning this time red cloths over their shoulders. These were again Manzawe spirits, more bizarre and strange than the earlier ones. They voiced very strange, incomprehensible, animallike grunts. Their "dance" was as odd as their appearance; they "stood" on all fours before the door, tossing their heads about wildly, their long red clay dreadlocks thrown this way and that. These spirits left as they had come, through the open door. Each time a spirit-medium would enter the door, the drumming would begin anew; each time it left, there would be silence. Someone said the drumming was needed to "bring out the spirit."

Finally, the two mediums who had performed the "red" and the "white" Manzawe moved on to host Nzunzu spirits of those who had drowned. This time they danced upright, but their voices were so strange that our interpreter said, "if you don't know the words of the spirits you can't understand this." After a time the drumming came to an end, and all present dispersed.

I found interesting the decreasing involvement of the mediums with the case at hand, as if the latter spirits made their appearance simply to articulate their niches in the spirit cosmology. It was a kind of


"gloria" to the farthest-out spirit world. At an earlier point, the first Manzawe spirits had done battle with the lingering evil forces around the child. The final spirits proclaimed an uncontested victory over them.

Mediumistic Trance Versus Mechanistic Technique

As noted at the beginning of this section on North Nguni, this exaltation of the spirits and the emphasis on a hierarchy of ancestral, alien, and nature spirits stands in sharp contrast to the absence of these features in South Nguni settings within South Africa, that is, Zulu, Xhosa, and Pondo. I will not develop this issue in any great depth here, but will explore several hypotheses that will be taken up again in subsequent chapters.

One of the external factors that may influence divination and healing bears on the contrast between South African and Swazi society, from the perspective of Africans. In the Republic of South Africa, laws are clear-cut, rigid, and oppressive. South African pass laws, work restrictions, and hardship have not succeeded in eroding the basic worldview of people in African society; it has rather hardened it, so to speak. In Swaziland, on the other hand, which has an intriguing mixture of sociopolitical organization combining an ancient kingdom with modern bureaucracy, and a per capita income that is near the highest in black Africa, there has been a middle-class revolution of rising expectations and realizations. The middle-class work force of both men and women is in an upwardly mobile current that has shaken family and religious values to their core. The boundaries or limits of society and worldview have been exploded open. Divination regarding work opportunities, social crises resulting from individual decisions, and marital or non-marital arrangements all lead to an enormous clientele for the sangoma (or the takoza, as they call themselves). This is the setting in which ngoma roles and activities are associated almost exclusively with divining. Lydia Makbubu (1978), who has been a student of Swazi healing, emphasizes that several decades ago neither the sangoma nor the takoza used drums at all, and that there was no possession or trance in connection with divination. The progression from the pengula (bone-throwing), to the femba "smelling out" mediumistic exercise provides a hierarchy of resort from dealing with the known, controlled world of the lineage, to dealing with the unknown and unclear realms beyond the family.


The new divining did not, however, appear from nowhere. Oral reports and references from Tanzania, Mozambique, and Swaziland trace the takoza mediumistic divining, as well as the N'anga ngoma in Tanzania, to the Thonga in Mozambique, more specifically the Vandau, a group that was a part of the Ngoni diaspora following the early nineteenth-century Mfecane. Harriet Ngubane, a Zulu South African anthropologist who has lived and worked in Swazi society, suggests that the distinctions between the sangoma, who practice only pengula, and the takoza, who practice pengula and ukufemba (mediumship), are the signs of an ideological emphasis in Swazi divination rather than the result of distinctive structural characteristics in society and culture. Although mediumship is emphasized by the takoza, like all Nguni diviners their training period is extensive—five to six years. Clearly the bone-throwing and pengula questioning techniques are learned and require disciplined practice. According to Ngubane, this mediumistic divination and the emphasis on the spirit world reflects an ideological emphasis or predisposition in Swazi thought. Reliance on alien spirits in divination—alien Nguni spirits—is in character with Swazi reserve, with their pacific character, according to Ngubane. Just as they have historically accommodated strangers and are extremely charitable toward strangers, so in the spirit world there is a very considerate memory of those they killed in former wars (Benguni) and those who drowned or were not properly buried (Nzunzu). The spirits are the cutting edge of a sensitive worldview that includes collective guilt toward warfare's victims and care for strangers among them. This view contrasts to that of the Zulu, who have a history of much more bloodshed but who in their spirit worldview try to replace alien spirits with their own, and in divination rely on their own spirits.

Further evidence of an ideological emphasis in the Swazi takoza approach to divining lies in the point Mabuza made about her own patron spirit. When she began her training, and her teacher began to hide things for her to find, the spirit-shade who took over for her was that of an inyanga diviner, very much a particular ancestor. Mediumship is thus for her an added element of her training as a general healer and diviner, not the primary core of her practice.

Thus, although direct mediumship is emphasized in current Swazi divination, there is plenty of evidence of structural comparability with Zulu and Xhosa divining-healing. This structural comparability bridges the apparent distinction between spirit possession, on the one hand, and the learned skills of an apprenticeship, on the other hand. Mabuza and


other takoza of Swaziland are equally adept in discourse on exotic spirits and on types of cases, case load, methods of analysis, and other empirical issues. One has the impression, in visiting ngoma in Swaziland, of an ancient institution in the course of constant evolution, very much tied into national life and in tune with the stresses and strains of individuals.

The Amagqira: Surviving The Townships Of South Africa

In the townships of Cape Town—Guguleto, Langa, Nyanga, Crossroads—are the scene of much civil disorder and police and army repression in recent years. The work of the amagqira-sangoma is to a far greater extent than in the other urban settings that of providing solace and encouragement and social network support to the many who come to them. African society of the townships has very little genuine authority. A survey taken in Guguleto found one in four households was involved in one way or another with an ngoma network: as sufferer-novice, mid-course-novice, or graduated and practicing healer-diviner (igqira-sangoma). In addition to the churches, trade unions, legal or illegal political groups, and the mistrusted township committees, the ngoma structure is one of the most pervasive dimensions of the social fabric.

As already noted, the institutional structure of ngoma in Cape Town is unitary, that is, without disparate, named ngoma orders, as in Kinshasa or Dar es Salaam, despite the varied ethnic backgrounds of the Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, or Tswana participants, and without the hierarchy of modes of divining and possession, as in Swaziland. Divination is done without any discernible paraphernalia, more as a Western social worker interviews clients. The third party who "agrees" or "disagrees" with the divination is, however, on hand.

The participants of ngoma in Cape Town, when interviewed about their own histories, reveal the usual accounts of headaches, weakness, disorientation, and other afflictions; of dreams of ancestors or of healer-dancers with furred and beaded costumes. There are many novices, but not all make it through the therapeutic initiation to become builders of personal networks. Yet those who do make it through the initiation, the "course through the white," far from fitting the classic image of the psychotic healer, strike one as very strong individuals who have overcome psychological and social contradictions to act out their calling and to be pillars of society.


The following case illustrates some of the characteristic stresses of life for blacks in the Western Cape, where there is chronic anxiety related to jobs, in view of the pass laws and a 42 percent illegal worker presence. There is extensive tuberculosis in the black population; frequently an outbreak of TB accompanies joblessness and malnutrition. The incidence of broken or fragmented families is very high, as is the rate of single mothers and working women living alone.

A Case Study In Initiation To Ngoma

This was Ntete's second initiation-therapy undertaken after a two-year lapse and much suffering since the first attempt to come to terms with his twasa (call) and affliction. He had gone to the north Sotho homeland Qwaqwa to "accept his illness" (invuma kufa ) and to take over his grandmother's beads (i.e., the family line as healer). He had done the initial steps, the goat sacrifice, but he continued feeling bad; it had not worked out. So he had returned to Cape Town, to his wife and children, and his job with a stainless-steel pots-and-pans company, and—accordingly—a house permit. But sickness had followed him; he could not continue the instructions and therapies. Headaches, nose-bleeding, and most recently what he had feared was a heart attack had brought him into the hospital.

Yet he continued dreaming of a particular woman with beads. After two years of this, he decided to take up his case anew. He had gone to Elsie, an igqira (healer), whose judgment was that the figure in his dreams was really igqira Adelheid Ndika. So he came to her, and a week later they were holding the goat sacrifice and the nthlombe celebration that inaugurated his novitiate with her.

Adelheid, his sponsoring igqira, was accompanied by several other fully qualified healers. In characteristic Western Cape manner, they represented a cross section of Southern African societies. Of the seven fully qualified healers present, four were Zulu, three Xhosa. Their training had been with Swazi, Sotho, Xhosa, and Zulu healers. Ntete was Sotho. Present also were the dozen or so novices of the head healer of this event; they would participate in ngoma therapy sessions and in the welcoming of Ntete to their cell group. This event, like most ngoma activity in South Africa, had to be fitted into the work schedules of the participants. Whereas custom called for those entering their apprenticeship to be in continuous seclusion, this was not possible in urban South Africa. Thus the fragmentation of life extended to this area as well. Ritual mat-


ters had to be dealt with on weekends when others could get free from their jobs and when the principal figures themselves had the time to deal with their personal conditions. Of the women present, some were domestic workers in whites' homes, nurses, and teachers. The men were factory workers, drivers, or in one case, the owner of a fleet of vehicles.

This initiation nthlombe was held in one of those standard South African government houses for blacks with four cramped rooms and a small backyard (see fig. 6). This rectangular space was transformed, according to some informants, into ritual space corresponding to the Nguni homestead: the street became the courtyard, the front room the rondevaal house, and the backyard the cattle kraal. The ritual spaces also corresponded to Central and Southern African categories dividing the human or domestic from the ancestral spaces. Throughout the weekend event, next-door neighbors ignored the nthlombe, attended at times by up to 150 people.

The first stage of the event on Saturday morning, calling on the ancestors and preparing the novice for "entering the white," was held in the "living room" with the presiding igqira and two colleagues. Several signs of whiteness were prepared. Ntete was dressed in a white toga over his white undershirt. His face was smeared with white kaolin. Medicine (ubulau ) in a bucket, made from several plants, was stirred into a froth and smeared on his face and body. This was done during a series of songs that invited the ancestors to come and be with the initiate (plate 16).

Now thoroughly "white," the novice, led by his sponsoring igqira and his father, and followed by the amagqira and others present, proceeded to the backyard to construct the ceremonial kraal out of old boards and some twigs, both substitute materials, since the appropriate plants were not at hand. The goat was brought into the kraal beside the kneeling novice. The pails of medicine and beer were placed before the goat. It was made to kneel and also drink from the liquids. The animal about to be sacrificed was taking the same substance, taking the sufferer's old person upon itself, to die vicariously. As the goat was held down it bellowed loudly, and the singing increased in volume and tempo. The goat's bellow was a good sign, indicating its consent to die for the novice's life and health. The goat's jugular vein was cut and the blood spilled out onto the ground. When the goat was still, the drumming and singing stopped, and the skinning of the carcass began. A fire was lit nearby within the enclosure. A strip of meat was cut from the


Figure 6. 
Plan of house, compound, and street in Cape Town township setting
where Ntete's therapeutic initiation was held, as described in text: (a) living
room and intermediate ritual space where all ngoma sessions are held, as
well as "calling down ancestors"; (b) kitchen; (c) bedroom; (d) storage
room; (e) backyard and transformed "cattle kraal" for most sacred site
where sacrifice is performed; (f) secular public space where "coming out"
is held and where darkness of pollution is "thrown away."

right side of the animal and roasted, representing the umshwamu , the last place to twitch near the heart, indicating the life of the goat. Ntete ate bits of this meat in a solemn communion with the sacrificed life.

I had to leave shortly after this because dusk was failing and it was illegal for me, a white person, to remain in a black township overnight. My hosts did not want an incident and urged me to drive to my home without stopping or opening my car window or door in the township.

Later the other novices would begin to "do ngoma" together, the short presentations followed by singing in rapid sequences (discussed at greater length in chapter 4). When I returned late morning of the following day, it was apparent that they had gone on most of the night, for there were novices asleep in chairs. One was slumped back with feet


on the drum and head against the wall. In the kitchen three pots of goat meat and potatoes and cabbage were cooking over a gas fire, preparing the sacrifice of yesterday for today's feast.

At noon the presentation of novices and the dancing continued for a time, as others came: family of the novice, some neighbors, other diviner-healers and their novices. Novice Ntete's family spoke in gratitude and encouragement for the session. Again, the medicine and beer pails were put before the novice, who was still dressed in a white blanket with white face, hands, and feet. The entire group moved in procession to the "kraal" for the first donning of the novice's beads and bits of the goat's hair. He would also now receive his new ngoma name.

The first string of white beads went around his head. The goat's gallbladder was attached to the string at the front of the forehead. Just as the gall is bitter, so this bladder would ward off danger. A second string of beads around the head would "hold his head," for that is where his sickness was. A string of beads and goat hair around his neck represented his acceptance of his "called" (ntwasa ) condition. Other strings with goat hair were put on his wrists and ankles. These were the beginnings of his igqira costume, which would grow and become elaborate over time as he dreamed and developed his own identity. His stark, plain white robe and beads contrasted markedly with the colorful beadwork of the full amagqira and their elaborate wild animal skin dresses.

Mid-afternoon, Sunday, the entire group moved through the house onto the street to present the new novice to the public. The crowd of onlookers grew around the assembled full amagqira and novices, and the family and friends of Ntete. In a speaking and song-dance pattern reminiscent of that used in earlier sessions by the novices, here the full amagqira and sangoma took their turns exhorting Ntete, then breaking into song-dance, which was joined by everyone around (plate 17). After thirty minutes for this presentation, novices gathered inside and continued with self-presentation and song-dancing. For the first time Ntete joined them, one of a dozen white-clad amakwetha (novices) under Adelheid's supervision.

This event, typical of the ngoma networking in the townships of the Western Cape, combined several key features of the ngoma institution: the entry of a troubled individual into a cell under the supervision of a senior healer; participation in what we might call an ngoma working session in which novices present their thoughts, dreams, and anxieties


and join the other novices with singing; commemorating critical passages in this career of an ngoma participant with a sacrifice and a communal meal. Moments in these careers, and constellations in the networks, bring together fully qualified healers and their novices to listen, counsel, console, share, sing, dance, and commune.

The Western Cape extension of this widespread African institution offers both some apparently basic features of the historic institution, as well as some unprecedented changes having to do with the uniqueness of the South African urban setting. Many of the ngoma participants are "illegals"; others are legal residents and can host events such as this. The migratory labor situation requires working residents in the townships to collapse their ritual status into weekend moments in order to meet the expectations of their jobs. The strains of pass laws and residence restrictions in South Africa make the dominant distresses those of families breaking up, of being paid meager wages for difficult work, of chronic diseases such as tuberculosis, and of being told by whites and by the system that they are worthless. Against this, the sodalities of ngoma and the longings for family ancestors are a haven and a coping resource.


The foregoing cases and resumes of problems typify those brought to ngoma diviners and therapists. Most cases of this kind are dealt with on an individual or family basis and are referred to a range of other therapists as well. Only a few of the cases are diagnosed as appropriate for full therapeutic initiation by ngoma dance and song. In both Nguni and Sotho-Tswana societies the diagnosis ukutwasa characterizes these latter, meaning they have been singled out by the spirits or ancestors, and afflicted. As in the Central African examples cited above, so the Southern African "twasa" cases demonstrate very little symptom-sign specificity. The question of who is singled out or called in this manner needs to be answered in connection with a more general study of contextual issues. It is not appropriate to assume that the twasa diagnosis, or call, corresponds to Western psychoanalytic or therapeutic labels. In fact, there may be better reason to suspect that this diagnosis singles out individuals for recruitment to ritual leadership roles on the basis of characteristics of greater sensitivity, ego strength, and cultural receptivity in a time or situation of stress.


Affliction cults in Central and Southern Africa have thus expressed the classic theme of identifying and utilizing marginality, adversity, risk, or suffering for the ever-necessary task of renewing society in the face of profound economic and social change.


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