The Sangomas of Mthatha, South Africa

Mthatha, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

The Sangomas of Southern Africa are the traditional healers, the respected guardians of knowledge and traditional African medicine. They play an important role in society, as they are responsible for the healing of physical, emotional and spiritual illness, for rituals concerning birth and death, for narrating the history, cosmology, and myths of their tradition as well as counteracting witchcraft.

Central in their work is the belief in the power of the ancestors over life. The Sangomas not only represent the knowledge of the community but are guides helping to maintain the balance between nature, man and the spiritual world. They form the link between the living and the forebears, acting as the spirit mediums between this world and the next. Authorities in the channeling of ancestral powers, they can summon them for symbolical treatment. These complex rituals are part of festivities, by ceremonial dances, drumming and chanting the ancestors are called. Their spirits will possess the Sangomas when they work themselves into a trance, accompanied by the rhythm of the drums and the echoing of songs.

Traditions and beliefs that transcend time are now co-existing and converging with the modern world. Through their cultural practice, their ceremonial dances, their trance rituals, the Sangomas are the keepers of a differentiated identity, maintaining the survival and presence of indigenous music, songs and traditions of the rural Xhosa communities.