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Five Sangomas

Every year, Sangomas outside Eshowe hold a ceremony to honour their ancestors and strengthen bonds between those of like professions.

I have written about Sangomas before - Khekhekhe’s First Fruits ceremony. I was in Zululand again for two weeks, to attend the Umgido Umkhulu - a ceremony co-hosted by Mama Cebekhulu, who is a teacher of a friend of mine Karen.

Karen is doing another stage of her Sangoma apprenticeship- as a Twasa (student) of Mama Cebekulu. I was invited to their annual ceremony- an honour for me. Mama asked me to wear a njita - the symbolic cloth of her Twasas - a small piece of material tied around the waist.

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Sangomsa to the left, people to the right

The main ceremony was held on Heritage Day,24th September, at the Ngobese Kraal, behind the Entokozweni Tuckshop off theOld Empangeni Road near Eshowe. Most of Mama’s Twasas had a 3 hour walk to the other kraal -as a visitor, and a white one too, I drove with Mama and her husband - the longway around via the tar road.

We arrived at sunset, and gathered outside the main homestead with a number of other Sangomas - many (all ?) of whom were Mama’s ex-students. The sun hadset by the time we formed a single file and made a ceremonial entrance to the accompaniment of drums, stamping, and singing. We were welcomed by the hosts, and invited into the round hut that was the centre of the event.

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It was not the dome-roofed ancestors hut -where the beer was kept and the meat was cut - which was too small for all of us. The family was obviously wealthy - the huts (at least 5 of them) were quite new and very well made. There was also a larger, rectangular, conventional house on the property - and a small generator for lights. On one side of the hut the Sangomas gathered - the Twasas and others were seated on the other side. Height is important - as you move about you crouch so as not to be taller than the principals of the ceremony.

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Mama Cebekulu was a centre of attention, as was the host Sangoma, Makosi (general honorific for a Sangoma) Majose. There was also an older lady with a club foot who was important - out of the total of 27 Sangomas at the main ceremony, there were only about 5 men. We were all fed, and there was plenty of Zulu beer to go around, in addition to quarts of SAB beer. More Sangomas trickled in, the big drum was brought out, and some space was made for dancing among all the mats.

A cow had been killed the day before, and the hide was stretched out on the ground outside. The fire was tended to by a number of the family, but not really the Sangomas. It was a good place to find people to talk to.

The party moved to another hut, further away from the main house, and the dancing continued. Sangomas have a special dance step - with a sort of half-shuffle for one foot - they danced and carried on for most of the night. I retired early - and was given a guest room - thank you Majose.

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Heritage day started a little late, but by lunchtime a lot of spectators had arrived to see the festivities. The main hut was for the Sangomas - they made a great deal of dressing Mama Cebekhulu up in the traditional beads, skins, and a headdress. They then filed out and went to the cattle Kraal - normally a domain exclusively for men. The drum preceded them, and the 5 twasas, including Karen, followed the procession.

After a short time there, the drum was carried out to the grassy open area where there was enough room for everyone, and the main event began. Again, this was mostly dancing, but also a great deal of greeting of important people. Mama Cebekhulu’s husband was made a fuss of, I gather the local Induna (sub-chief) was there, and various other local dignitaries. I didn’t follow the details of the ceremony, but the latter part resembled a Zulu wedding in that people came up to donate money to Makosi Majose.

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Twasas in a line

Things wrapped up around 5pm, and we made our way back. As we were packing up the car, a new double-cab bakkie was driving down the track - too fast - and scraped against Mama Cebekhulu’s open car door. It left a long dent in the bakkie from the front fender, past a broken mirror, onto the driver’s door, leaving a blue paint streak. The sangoma’s car was not damaged - some paint off the edge of the door only - a consequence no doubt of the special powers of the sangoma! The young man would have some explaining to do when he got home.

Cebekhulu Kraal

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Myself, Mama and Karen Parkin

A day later we were joined by Michael Barta,a teacher from Cape Town and a friend of Karen and I. We spent a night down at Karen’s house at the Kraal. Michael entertained us to a small exhibition of juggling, fire, and sleight of hand. Undoubtably the trick that made the most impression was turning a 10 Rand note into a 100 Rand note in front of our eyes- he was later almost mobbed by people asking him to change their notes!

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Karen, Michael and two school children

An hour later Mama came to visit us in Karen’s hut - and we had a wide-ranging discussion on a lot of topics. Mama battled with our English - but we had a Zulu-English dictionary to help us through the difficult concepts. I looked up the translation for ‘trick’ in Zulu, as it applied to magicians and Sangomas -I am afraid Mama left after she became exhausted with the language barriers. We were most honoured.

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Michael and his fire clubs

The next day we went down to the local school - it was the last day for the semester, and the kids were streaming out at 10:30AM. Michael did a little juggling on the road, and we went into the school grounds. It was less controlled than Michael liked - in particular we several times had to make stop the press of the children getting too close to the show. But Michael juggled with fire, produced coins out of nowhere, chopped his arm off with a big knife with much blood, and turned my 100 Rand note into 10 Rand - I was paying for the show..

Shabalala Rhythm

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Shabalala Rhythm

Graham Chennells invited me down on Sunday to see Shabalala Rhythm, a zulu band formed by the son of Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo Rainbow Jazz in Pinetown - they were about to go on world tour, and had some great dancers in addition to some fine music. Really great.

And, finally, a magnificent picture by Peter Engblom hanging in the George Hotel bar, Eshowe..

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