Cultural healing

Elles van Gelder | April/May 2010 issue

Chris Ntombemhlophe Reid cuts off the neck of a chicken. Its blood drips into the river that winds through the Pondoland region in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It is a gruesome act, yet one that is carried out with respect and ceremony—an offering to his ancestors. Reid must remain friends with them; the South African is a so-called sangoma, a spiritual healer who helps his clients thanks to medicinal herbs and advice he says was passed down from his forefathers.
South Africa has hundreds of thousands of sangomas. Most are black, as are the clients who come to them with physical, psychological or emotional problems. According to the South African Traditional Healers Council, an association of shamans, some two-thirds of the population regularly goes to a sangoma, sometimes supplemented by a visit to a Western physician. During the apartheid regime, many whites considered this black tradition frightening and dubious. But that is slowly changing.
Reid is part of that change. His arms are draped with white, red and blue beads. In his hand he holds a cow’s tail, the sign that he is a sangoma. Becoming a sangoma is not a choice, he emphasizes. “If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be sitting here like this, I would have laughed at you,” he says. “But I was called to do this and had no choice.”
Reid exchanged his luxurious villa in Johannesburg for a hut made of cow dung and straw, without electricity or running water, in a remote part of the country. For years he was taught all about herbs and plants and learned how to go into a trance and communicate with ancestors. Now he helps others learn and has trained three white South Africans.
According to Reid, whites still have a lot of ignorance about his “profession.” That will change, he believes, because white sangomas can bridge the dividing lines between various cultures. “White and black alike must learn to understand each other better,” he says. “I can teach both groups about one another’s traditions and customs, and create integration.”
 

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Cultural healing

Elles van Gelder | April/May 2010 issue

Chris Ntombemhlophe Reid cuts off the neck of a chicken. Its blood drips into the river that winds through the Pondoland region in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It is a gruesome act, yet one that is carried out with respect and ceremony—an offering to his ancestors. Reid must remain friends with them; the South African is a so-called sangoma, a spiritual healer who helps his clients thanks to medicinal herbs and advice he says was passed down from his forefathers.
South Africa has hundreds of thousands of sangomas. Most are black, as are the clients who come to them with physical, psychological or emotional problems. According to the South African Traditional Healers Council, an association of shamans, some two-thirds of the population regularly goes to a sangoma, sometimes supplemented by a visit to a Western physician. During the apartheid regime, many whites considered this black tradition frightening and dubious. But that is slowly changing.
Reid is part of that change. His arms are draped with white, red and blue beads. In his hand he holds a cow’s tail, the sign that he is a sangoma. Becoming a sangoma is not a choice, he emphasizes. “If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be sitting here like this, I would have laughed at you,” he says. “But I was called to do this and had no choice.”
Reid exchanged his luxurious villa in Johannesburg for a hut made of cow dung and straw, without electricity or running water, in a remote part of the country. For years he was taught all about herbs and plants and learned how to go into a trance and communicate with ancestors. Now he helps others learn and has trained three white South Africans.
According to Reid, whites still have a lot of ignorance about his “profession.” That will change, he believes, because white sangomas can bridge the dividing lines between various cultures. “White and black alike must learn to understand each other better,” he says. “I can teach both groups about one another’s traditions and customs, and create integration.”
 

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