Zulu Medicine & Healers

Traditional healers in the Zulu culture use different medicines made up specifically for each person. The Sangomas are said to talk to ancestors, and the Inyanga are the herbalists. These healers are still consulted today instead of doctors.

Sangoma (Spiritual healer or medium)

Sangomas are frequently wrongly referred to as witch doctors. This is not the case at all, a sangoma has nothing to do with black magic apart from fighting it, they are much respected within the community as psychologists, priests and spiritual healers. They work with herbs, roots, snake skins, animal parts and many other things. When one consults a sangoma, it is the spiritual/psychological side that is investigated. A sangoma can reveal the past, ‘look’ into the future, find lost objects, and identify thieves if anything has been stolen etc by throwing bones, while talking to his ancestors (amadlozi).

One cannot choose to become a sangoma, you are called by your ancestors and once you have called, you have no choice but to become one. If you choose to ignore them, there may be unexplained deaths in the family, you may become seriously sick with no medical explanation, once you go to begin your training then you will be healed. Training takes a long time and in the olden days could take up to 25 years, this was to ensure that the initiate knew the correct plants to use for the correct ailment and also how it was to be administere. Nowadays, though, training covers a period of a few years, but you always confer with your ‘trainer’ and go back for training every so often.

Inyanga (Traditional healer or herbalist)

An inyanga is also frequently referred to as a cultural witch doctor, but they are in fact herbalists. They treat their ‘patients’ with herbs collected mostly on moonlit nights. As opposed to the sangoma who receive a calling, an inyanga is a practice passed from one generation to the next. It is a complex task that lasts a lifetime almost as there are thousands of different plants to learn about and it is important that the correct part of the plant is used, the amount to be used, how it is to be administered etc. It has been proven scientifically that many trees contain medicinal properties and a surprising wealth of information and knowledge has been accumulated and analysed in laboratories.

A good inyanga can charge exorbitant amounts for his services, and they rely on word of mouth to get patients. Besides curing normal everyday ailments, they also claim to have cures for misfortune, bad love lives, AIDS, winning the lotto etc. People are prepared to pay any costs to get these remedies and will travel long distances if need be.

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