*Note: I use the word "sangoma", which is the way I found to spell it when I was researching, Nokulinda uses the word "isangoma" and "izangoma" to describe the practitioners, which is probably the right way.
How did you become a sangoma?
To become isangoma, firstly, one must be called to it. It’s a vocation and the spiritual gifts of plant medicine healing, divination and clairvouyance are passed down in your blood line. One is born with the calling to ubungoma (the practice) and there is a process of apprenticeship that one has to go through (ukuthwasa) in order to be initiated as isangoma.
For people who don't know, what is the role of the sangoma in the community and what type of issues do people come to you with?
iSangoma plays the role of a healer, counsellor and mediator. They provide more than just spiritual guidance for clients; they are also called upon to mediate in family and community issues, provide psychological support and counseling, as well as intercede between the physical and spiritual worlds, connecting people to the ancestral realms and higher realms to provide clarity, guidance and healing.
People visit izangoma for virtually all life issues, from professional, spiritual, personal, inter-personal, psychological and even physical health (but in terms of pyshical health issues, people also ttend to use western medicine in conjunction with the medicine from izangoma, much to the chagrin of doctors and nurses.)
There is a debate about the legitimacy of caucasian sangomas. What is your opinion on the argument?
I believe that Caucasian people may be called to divination and healing work within the contexts of their own histories, beliefs and spiritual practices of their ancestors. I don’t believe that they can articulate that calling in the context of ubungoma because that is a very culturally specific. I don’t believe that there is an authentic Caucasian sangoma, unless they are saying they have an African ancestor who bestowed the gift and calling upon them.
It is possible for a Caucasian person to go through the motions of ukuthwasa and on that basis be regarded as isangoma. White privilege allows for white people to infiltrate, consume and appropriate the beliefs, practices and cultures of people they have no ancestral, social or even political connection with.
Many people interrupt being a Sangoma as being some type of witch, how would you explain the difference between the two of them?
Off the top of my head, I understand the general, colloquial definition of witch to mean a woman who practices dark arts and sorcery. I know of course the patriarchal, misogynist and religious roots of such a derogatory and violent definition. A similar connotation exists for izangoma as well. The colonial, racist term has been witchdoctor and it has long been normalized and accepted as the English definition of isangoma.
The similarities between the practices of izangoma and witches is that they are nature centred spiritual practices.
A defining characteristic of the practice of ubungoma is the connection with the ancestral realms to provide guidance, protection and clarity. Izangoma channel messages from ancestors and spirit guides using different methods. I throw bones. Others use a mirror, others are guided by audible whistles which they translate, others use a bowl of water – there are so many methods, and they depend on the cultural and familial practices of the sangoma.
With the rise of fake sangomas in South Africa, how would you tell people to be able to tell the difference between a real and fake sangoma?
There is no real way to discern a “real” sangoma from a “fake” one because virtually anybody can go through the motions of ukuthwasa, even if they don’t have a calling to ubungoma. It is possible to go through the motions of ukuthwasa because there are a wide range of ways in which people can thwasa, and there is a lot of “creative license” around the practice of ubungoma.
A lot has been lost over generations because of urbanization, assimilation into Christianity and other eurocentric influences, so the relegation of the practice to the realm of superstition and myth by colonization, has created huge grey areas that people can and do exploit.
We tend to view our practices and beliefs from a colonial perspective that says our ways are subjective, primitive nonsense, so we can do whatever we like; as opposed to viewing them as structured, ways that are underpinned by ancient principles and order.
With modern technology and modern medicine, do you find the practice of going to see a sangoma has increased, decreased or stayed the same? Do you still feel like people have the same desire to connect with the spiritual world to help them through life?
I am not sure if there has been an increase or decrease in the desire to seek out spiritual guidance, but I have observed that people are no longer afraid to be open about their spiritual quests and explorations.
Perhaps the desire for spiritual guidance may increase as the grip of white supremacist capitalism tightens. The myth of meritocracy has people believing that their poverty, oppression, exclusion and suffering are due to some individual, magical or spiritual interference or issue. So people seek out spiritual guidance to understand the structural realities that govern their lives.
Also, people are realizing that there is really more to life than their limited sense of self and the Eurocentric obsession with individualism, so they are seeking other world views and frameworks through which to understand their humanity.
Her mom blog: www.homiematrimony.wordpress.com
Patreon Page: www.partreon.com/noksangoma