THE ZULU : thunder and lightning

this film can be viewed online on our Youtube channel


I came to the Zulu hills in Natal at the beginning of the rainy season. I stayed with friends near the Hluhluwe reserve, and they brought me into contact with Phakamani Jeremiah Msezane, or Jeremiah as he usually calls himself. He is a man in his forties and he has great presence. When he is around everyone looks at him. He lives in a compound on top of one of the hills and surveys the whole area from there. He had several wives, brothers and children living there when we visited and was practicing in his shrine, where patients came and went. Most of the people were seen by one of his assistants, who were to do a trance ceremony for us later. Sometimes, Jeremiah was called in. Low clouds raced in over the ocean which at that point is only 10 miles away.


Jeremiah surveying the Zulu Hills

We sat in his compound and I explained what I wanted. He agreed immediately to tell me about the work of a Zulu sangoma and the traditions. He told me that he saw himself as an adviser to people who had problems and it was his greatest task to take care of his community.We set up the camera and filmed a long interview. He told me about the Zulu gods, and the way the healer (or sangoma) is a go between between his people and the gods. He explained about the way he became a sangoma: his grandfather came to him in a dream and told him he must heal people. He told me about the ceremonies for talking with the spirits and for healing people. I said I would like to film such a ceremony and he told me to come back the next night.


Huts in the Zulu hills

The next night, as we drove into the hills on dirt roads, it started to rain and the wind was howling. We tried to drive up the muddy hilltrack leading to Jeremiah's hilltop compound but kept slipping in the mud. In the end we gave up and went back down. The next evening, the same thing happened. I called Jeremiah on his cellphone and asked if we could not film a ceremony in the daytime, because the rain always started at nightfall. He said no: with daylight, the spirits are not strong enough.Finally on the fourth night we made it. It had not rained that day but when we parked and started to set up our equipment in the shrine, which was only lit by candles, we heard thunder. In the distance a huge storm was coming. People started coming in: a number of women, some young girls and boys, and childen.


Jeremiah prepares to go into trance

Then Jeremiah appeared, all dressed in ceremonial beads, accompanied by three young assistants, trainees who would be initiated at some point in the future. As everyone started clapping, a young girl started to beat a low drum and Jeremiah and his trainees began to dance, thunder cracked and lightning struk across the sky. As the singing got louder, rain began to fall. It pounded on the tin roof. It was a strange and wonderful experience to be there on that hilltop, in the middle of a thunderstorm, with the drumming and singing going, and the four sangomas slipping into trance. After an hour or so, they went into a deep trance and the spirits started to speak and sometimes shout through their mouths I was deeply astonished and impressed by the spectacle.


two of the trainees


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