The black magic edition
. its timE to
vE on no
POL 3 black magic issue
. its timE to
vE on no
whitE is thE nEw black
For a ten year old white boy who hears the voices of those long past, resistance is futile. Unless this peculiar trait is as hereditary as grandmothers sharp nose. Then resistance is unnecessary. Botswana born Niall Campbell and his brother, Colin, have grown up knowing that traditional healing was their future. For those who can talk to the dead, it was either become a Sangoma or practice necromancy. Fortunately, they chose the former.
Upon our arrival at Nialls farm in the upper crust of Tokai, I anticipate an average guy draped in straps of goatskin and red beaded overalls, who possesses an air of mystery and stares too intensely. What I got was a giant in jeans and a t-shirt. With a warm welcome and a firm handshake, we enter his home. Disappointingly, his stares are of the ordinary kind.
POL 2 The black magic issue
As I take off my shoes and sit down, I wonder what tales he may regale me with, of where his life following the path of a Sangoma has taken him. You dont spend a month in a monastery in Nepal without picking up a few stories. To break the ice, he ties a plain red scarf around his waist and jokingly asks us if it would suffice for traditional Sangoma attire. Ice broken, we laugh. Although a beaded African headdress with some goat gallbladder attached would have been nice.
Having been raised on a rural farm in Botswana, Niall was exposed to a vastly different Sangoma culture; one entirely dissimilar to that of South Africa. In his community there was less of a stigma people viewed the practice as an alternative means to treatment rather than associate it with black magic.
With four generations worth of healing knowledge and spiritual interaction passed down the Campbell family line, Niall understands the difference between what a Sangoma is and what others perceive it to be. Unfortunately in South Africa, many still remain under the impression that the term Sangoma is to be applied to any Tom, Dick and Sipho that practices with muthi. In this case, one might as well assume that all who work in a hospital can perform surgery.
At the mention of ancestors, curious, and a little sceptical, I bluntly ask how, as a white man, he could communicate with his clients ancestors when he didnt initially have a relationship with his own. Is there an ancestral loop-hole? A How-To-Guide on building ancestral relationships in 10 days? However, upon further discussion Niall reveals that his family has, in fact, always had a relationship with the spiritual world, only it isnt in connection with Sangoma practice but rather based on a more Christian faith. It seems the spiritual connection trumps all, transcending
religions, faiths and beliefs.
POL 4 The black magic issue
Traditional healing leading to the suburbs. Yes, Sangomas have driveways too.
The concept of spiritual connection confounds many, the mere thought that some have this gift is met with trepidation and more than a little fear. Society hardly seems eager to acknowledge the notion of spirits roaming free as that might force them to admit the existence of another dimension. Based on Nialls clientele, those once-sceptical urbanites have begun to accept traditional healing and divination as a plausible practice. With new crowds come new responsibilities and Niall has taken it upon himself to make more traditional concepts accessible to city slickers like ourselves so we are not left dumbfounded and spooked. So, no live chickens then? No. Good news for those with a sensitive stomach.Following this lengthy discussion, Niall states simply:
In South Africa, the culture is tarnished and disfigured. By the media. By society. Its easy to blame these two institutions but one thing is clear, a crucial part of South Africas identity is at risk; the culture that defines who we are is being engulfed in a swarm of misconceptions and narrow mindedness.
A Sangomas identity is defined by what they do. And what they do does not merely delve into the world of feelings as many see it. Its an equal balance of logic and that which transcends logic; the physical and the metaphysical.
We all adapt. Its not tightly bound.
Its a culture
There are two sides to every curtain.
Therein lies the private room where
Niall conducts his readings.
ExcusE mE whilE i wipE thE firE &
brimstonE off my chickEn bonE
POL 8 The black magic issue
Hes going to bubblegum-pop-out another bible verse, I know it. He always puts his lips together like that when hes about to inflate the good word for the congregation, but theres no one else is here today so he keeps snapping it back into his mouth. Here it comes. Genesis 2:7; Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. I wait for clarity. The Lord has created each of us in his image, and it is an image finer than any artist you or I have ever known. I wait for clarity. There are things that God has put in each of us that are simply awe inspiring when tapped into. I take a piece of his metaphorical gum, Things that Sangomas have tapped into? His eyebrows become his hairline. He looks into my soul, probably disappointed with what he finds. Hes worn-out. The bags under his eyes exceed any aeroplane allowance. No.
I see my reflection in the bottom of a chipped teacup, swig a soggy heap of sugar and swallow hard. Pastor, would it not be fair to assume that Sangomas have a God given gift, being that they are able to see and heal people? There is nothing fair about assumptions. I take off my 1950s reading glasses, which I know he hates (he even asked me if they were necessary) and close my laptop screen which has been baking on my cheeks like a never setting sun. I need to open the floodgates if Im going to fish out an actual opinion. Equipped with my kitchen sieve, I rest my recorder on a stack of bibles and a pamphlet for women who want to learn about, The Pleasures of Missionary Work and ask, Do you think Sangomas are evil?
POL 10 The black magic issue
Four awkward silences, another chipped teacup and a spontaneous baptism later and the churchs views on traditional healers was as clear as day, a day that the Lord has gave. Punctuation aside, the belief is as follows; Sangomas are Lucifers right hand men and women. They do devil work and dance with demons around false fires of faith. They will be going to hell on a one-way ticket with a string of mind readers, mediums, modern medicine magicians and Madonna.
This was the part of the interview where our thirsty disciple invited me to join him at that evenings church service. Unfortunately I had a prior engagement: my dog needed a bath and I needed to buy a dog. The age of the atheist is dying young man, believing that when were dead were gone is changing. And its changing because we are constantly surrounded by spirituality. No reference? There is only one true form of spirit though, the Holy Spirit. And it is becoming very hard to tell the difference between the counterfeit and the real that is Jesus, because we live in a world that has become so good at counterfeits. And the Sangomas are counterfeits, yes?
Lets just say knowing the Lord is like shopping at Woolworths, where talking to a Sangoma is like waiting in a line at Shoprite. One is good and one is evil. Im not sure which one he meant though, he really should have specified. Ill leave it up to you.
partying with sangomas
When my neighbour, Thabang, extended his hospitality to me and my family as a form of apology for the noise that would be going on for the next three days, I wasnt entirely sure how to respond. Not because I was dumbfounded by his courtesy, but
because my neighbour is a sangoma.
Intrigued by the idea of experiencing a completely new culture, especially one with such a negative stigma attached to it, I decided hell, why the fuck not. After all, its not every day you get invited
to a sangomas house party.
On arrival we were greeted by a toothless gogo brewing something that emitted a pungent off milk smell. After trying to swap dialect with granny, she called over - I will be honest, I was surprised an extremely trendy, young woman by the name of Nandi who simply explained, [it] is a soup that consists of pig hooves, chicken feet, and goats testicles I like to think that if I wasnt a vegetarian I would have tried it.
After all, I was here for an experience.
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Nandi led us to the double garage, which had around 30 people that came and went as they pleased. Welcomed as if we were long-lost relatives from hugs to handshakes that became ice cold beers we soon did the rounds meeting the entire family: aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters with the list going past second cousins twice removed. With that said, thank fuck I got completely slotted, because I would have never remembered all their names.
However, I feel the need to address the fairly large elephant in the garage why the fuck was there a girl having an epileptic fit on the floor with nobody doing anything about it?
It was only when I noticed the sangomas chanting and drumming, that I realised she was in a state of trance. Thabang explained that part of the initiation to become a sangoma is to go into this deeply spiritual state. This allows the initiate to transcend the realms of consciousness and become enveloped in the most intense state of self-reflection.
We were then taken on a tour to the back of the house to find a rather unfamiliar scenario unfolding. The first thing I noticed was, once again, another off putting odour that had begun to occupy my air space. This time it was the not-so-fragrant scent of burning hair. Lo and behold, there, next to a goat being slaughtered was a kraal with plumes of smoke exuding from it. Clearly theyve never heard of hot-boxing.
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The kraal is where they get high beyond measures by inhaling burning hyena hair. Whether or not this actually happens is disputable. Regardless, it sounds seriously interesting. As for the goat, it doesnt get much fresher than that.
After three hours of intense drinking: the girl seizing on the floor was still seizing and I was absolutely and unequivocally fucked. However, from the time I arrived to the point of my unruly departure I have never felt more welcomed by a group of strangers. Whoever said sangomas are evil is pulling shit out of their arse. They are the most openhearted friendly group of people I have ever met.
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