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Common Songs And Personal Song In Ngoma Narrative Tradition

The distinction between the therapeutic song and the coming-out song suggests that within the complex symbol "ngoma" there are at least two levels of narrative or performative understanding. The first is the importance of song-dance in defining and coming to terms with the suffering; the second is the importance of moving the sufferer toward a formulation of his or her own personal articulation of that condition.

In Victor Turner's account of Chihamba, a cult of affliction devoted to Kavula, the White Spirit, a doctor named Lambakasa "sings an ngoma " to Kavula on behalf of another woman asking to be relieved from barrenness:


Completely white is that white clay
You yourself grandparent [nkaka ]
All of you, you Nyamakang'a
All of you, our dead.
Today if you are making this person sick
Today we will sing your drum
This person must become strong.
Completely white is that white clay. (Turner 1975:63)

This appears to be a generic ngoma, not Lambakasa's special song. Yet it fits the format of intercession of one ngoma participant for another, seen already in the case of the young Cape Town novice who could barely do his ngoma, or of the senior healer whose sister sang of her grief at the death of their mother, or of the participant who turned the song over to a particular woman who was very sick. This format is the quintessential act in ngoma, for it bonds the singer to the one being sung to, and shows the second how, when he recovers, he may begin to reformulate his own self with a creative new song.

Ngoma may take another form in which the individual begins to present self in a more active and articulate manner. This leads to the special personal song. An example of this is found in the work of psychoanalysts Vera Buhrman and Nqaba Gqomfa, who have studied Xhosa healing in the Transkei, South Africa. Every igqira (sangoma) and trainee has a personal special song that "came to him" during sickness and training (1981:300). Mrs. T., an igqira who is the main figure in the article, was healed by and trained with her igqira husband. She dreamed her song at the beginning of her sickness, when she was twasa:

Ho, here comes an animal,
It is clapping for me.

This song, like many among the amagqira, represents figures of the water or the forest ancestors, thus having an outer cosmological linkage. Further dimensions of Mrs. T's song, or songs, demonstrate her inner self-image, and the immediate events in her life, most recently a death in her family:

I am sick, I am sick.
News is bad about me in this location
Things are bad with me,
I am living by prayer.
All things have gone wrong at my place.
I am going.
Things have gone wrong at my place. (1981:309–310)


Her husband's "special song" dwells on his medium, a horselike figure that he calls Vumani:

Here comes Vumani,
I divine with him,
My horse of news.
I will die calling
 Ho! It is coming!
Ho! My horse of news
 Is coming.
Vumani. (1981:303)

An example of a strong, fully developed song comes from the Lemba order of early twentieth-century inland Kongo society. Here entire polygynous households were initiated to Lemba following affliction or draft by the household head. Lemba's characteristic sickness afflicted this mercantile elite, striking them with fear of the envy of their subordinates and the urge to redistribute their wealth to their lineage communities. The Lemba initiatory treatment created especially consecrated polygynous households that served as nodes on the regional fabric of alliances and routes through and over which the caravans moved on their way to and from the ocean and the big market at Mpumbu above the rapids on the Zaire River. One of the few personal Lemba songs that has survived follows:

That which comes from the sun
the sun takes away.
That which comes from the moon
the moon takes away.
Father Lemba,
He gendered me, he raised me.
Praise the earth,
praise the sky.
For I have been enhanced,
I have gone far,
From far I have brought [Lemba] back.

The initiate Lemba couple has taken a pilgrimage into contact with the ancestors to bring back its Lemba insignia. It is also a symbolic pilgrimage song, declaring successful emergence into full Lemba status. A further verse of the song addresses the sufferers this successful therapist works with.

Search in the ranks
of the patrifilial children


of your clan.
KoKoKo [of the drum] ... Ko! [response of drum]
Will you gain Lemba? E [yes] Lemba!

The presiding healer refers to the source of initiatory revenue the client may bring, and the lineages of the matriclan's sons in whose ranks one may find preferred marriage partners to enhance community stability. Addressing the spirit, the healer sings:

Let go of the sufferer so he may be healed,
He will bring goods accordingly
Thereby offering a gift to your priests. (Janzen 1982:120–121)

A final example, from historic Sukuma in western Tanzania, from ngoma Ndono, shows that the ngoma song can take a collective, almost national turn. Here, a Christianized song from the time of World War I laments the drought that is raging and draws some wider implications.

We failed in our duty to Jesus the redeemer.
Our God, he is cross and sends no rain.
We see the clouds but they move away.
God hides the water and lets us die,
even the child in the womb of the mother.
What is our crime, O God?
Men arrived who taught us lies,
not to make the right sacrifices.
All countries are sad;
everywhere the sun is shining with such force.
Our God is very cross about adultery, witchcraft, lies, and
the crimes of theft.
The Mtemi Mkondo of Bulima has a good name,
but he does not succeed in making rain.
I hear that far toward lake Victoria there is rain.
The rain there moves stones,
it drives them quickly in front of it along the ground.
O Mother, wait, I shall sit on a log and
look at the world to see from where the rain comes.
Where is my father to teach me?
I am alone.
Though the ax of the rainmaker Migoma can be noticed,
I am alone, but not afraid. (Cory n.d. a )

The study of songs such as these in African healing has not come very far, since most scholars who have looked at them have concentrated on lyrics or on nonverbal symbols. They have not usually associated the content of these songs with social and cultural concepts. Yet


the distinction between common and personal song appears to be very widespread in ngoma-type rituals. The significance and the role of self-presentation, or of others helping the sufferer learn to articulate self and ultimately compose his or her own song or song repertoire, have barely been outlined in field studies and in scholarship.

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