Do Traditional Healers Accept White Sangomas Or Is It Cultural Appropriation?

Astronomer & Sangoma Rod Suskin speaks to Musician & Sangoma Ntombe Thongo

In a research paper published on Rod Suskin, an astrologer & white sangoma, asks: Is the increasing initiation of white sangomas into the tradition of Bantu shamanism seen by ritual experts and elders as an adaptation of the cosmology to the changed South African social and political context since the advent of democracy in 1994?

There has been a significant increase of initiation of white people as traditional Bantu healer-diviners or sangomas in South Africa since the advent of democracy and the removal of segregation since 1994. This has led to the term ‘white sangomas’ to describe any non-Bantu sangomas. Few studies of white sangomas exist, and studies of other cultures where people adopt shamanistic practices of another culture (often referred to as ‘neo-shamans’) do not address circumstances particular to South Africa. More significantly, no studies were found of how insider ritual experts understand and interpret the rapid increase of the number of white sangomas. This study aimed to discover how some Bantu ritual experts interpret this increase, whether they think it reflects a change in the underlying cosmology and whether they think the increasing number of non-Bantu practicing ubungoma (traditional religion) may lead to changes in practices and beliefs due to input of western cultural elements. This aim was pursued through semi-structured interviews with a small group of black sangomas attending a traditional ceremony in a rural area where a number of white sangomas were present. Questions were based on the researcher’s own experience as a white sangoma as well as a review of the literature about changes in cosmology and about Xhosa cosmology and its relationship to ubungoma. Key findings were that Xhosa cosmology readily adopts outsider cosmological ideas and that change and modernisation of ubungoma practices exist prior to and independent of the influence of white sangomas, that black sangomas do not consider white sangomas different and that white people are responding to a call from their hitherto rejected ancestors with the only methods that are now available to them. The research suggests further study into how white sangomas themselves understand and experience this cosmology as well as how westernised black sangomas understand contemporary expression of the cosmology.

Rod Suskin is well known as an astrologer and sangoma in Cape Town and has been in practice in both fields for over 30 years. He has a special interest in traditional medicine both in the African and European contexts, and his interest in medical astrology has led him to study the history of medicine and its relationship with cultural belief systems about health and healing. He has lectured regularly at both the University of Cape Town and University of Stellenbosch medical schools on traditional medicine, history of medicine and integrative medicine.

The research paper can be accessed here

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