SPIRITS OF AFRICA

THE TSONGA : a celebration of nature

 

The Tsonga people live in the far north of Limpopo, almost on the border of Zimbabwe. This is a hot area and the only place in South Africa where the mighty baobab tree grows. We met a group of sangomas here, led by Mpepu, an older woman who has been a herbalist and healer for many years. She has great charisma and is obviously a woman with ‘power’.The sangomas of Musina have formed an association to protect and strengthen their profession, because they feel that the tradition of traditional healers is under threat. They also stressed that they want to practice their profession openly to show that they are not ‘witch doctors’, who are feared by the population here.

 

Mpepu

 

We decided to make a documentary portrait of the group. In Mpepu’s sacred room, she told us all about the herbs she uses to heal people. She told us how she herself was trained many years ago after her ancestors had appeared to her in dreams amd told her she must become a sangoma. Now she, in turn, trains young sangomas. We also filmed at the house of another member of the group, John Kaidi. He is not only a herbalist but also a famous rain maker. He acquired this gift as a young man in a vision. Although it was very hot, John luckily decided not to make rain during our stay because it would make the roads in the bush impassable.

 

the group under a giant baobab

  Another member of the group was Moses (left in the group picture), a young man, who was neverteless an accomplished sangoma. He told us he had just attended a large gathering, where the whole extended family went to pay respects to the spirits of their ancestors. This was done at an ancient burial place near Mapungubwe. This sacred place was discovered quite recently. On this isolated fortress hill, an ancient culture flourished in the 12th century. Many beautiful gold objects were discovered at the site. Its kings are thought to have been the predecessors of the famous Great Zimbabwe civilisation and Moses was proud to be their descendant.

 

the gold rhino of Mapungubwe

 

Moses is a travelling sangoma. He has clients all over Zimbabwe and South Africa and travels to see them with his large collection of herbs. On our final day, we went to the bush with the whole group. They chose a giant baobab for a celebration of the forces of nature and the spirit of life. Everything seemed to be happening at once. Song, dance, singing and the beating of drums. I had a hard time filming it all, especially because the temperature was near 40 degrees. It was great to have been invited by these sangomas to be part of their celebration of nature and life!

photo's by Lex Harding

 

filming the sangomas of Musina

 

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