Sangoma: Traditional South African Healer

In the film Yesterday, the female healer in the community attempts to cure Yesterday of her illness. The scenes with the healer are interesting because you see the cultural beliefs of the Zulu people. But you also see the lack of education of illnesses and modern medicine when the healer questions Yesterday about anger being the cause of her illness.

“If you do not trust me, you shouldn’t have come”- traditional healer

In South Africa, the traditional healers are a big part of the culture and highly respected. The healers are often female and engage in the social and political atmosphere of society. The healers are either songoma meaning the diviner or inyanga the herbalist (BBC News). A songoma is portrayed in the film and the reaction to Yesterday illness is common because illness is believed to be a caused by witchcraft. The songomas’ believe the continuation of pain the manifestation of a spirit and they address the spirit. Then they figure out how to treat the ailment with the guidance of the ancestors (BBC News). The character of Chielo from Things Fall Apart is similar to a songoma. The inyanga focus on the physical illnesses only (BBC News). The Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, and Tsongo communities have the traditional healers. The people get a calling from the ancestors or “amadlozi” to become healers. The sangomas are legally recognized under the Traditional Practitioners Health Act of 2007 with other traditional figures such as herbalists (BBC News). The West has characterized the songomas and inyangas to be witch doctors. According to BBC News, about 80% of South Africans consult songomas because they are believed to be the liason between the dead and the living. The Medical Research Council instituted the Indigenous Knowledge Systems Unit are a set of policies that are suppose to benefit the traditional health sector (BBC News). The organization has also set up a HIV prevention program in South Africa along with a women empowerment program (

Here are a few links: (Sangoma Traditional Healers) A video showing songomas doing a ritual. BBC News article I got a lot of my facts from Ancestral Wisdom, a resourceful website with information on HIV/AIDs and the traditional healers


Posted on November 6, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I like this post concerning the cultural exploration of traditional South Africa. This post reminds me of some traditional beliefs all over the world. In my memory (based on the well-known Disney cartoon Pocahontas), the Indians also believe in something like spirits. I find it interesting because this seems to be a universal trend in different cultures. In Taiwan, as far as I have known, some aboriginal cultures also have similar beliefs. Is this just a coincidence? Or is there any other possible reasons?

%d bloggers like this: