Don’t Die With Your Song Still Inside You

* The following text follows the words given by Vuyi Qubeka at Ted x Talk Cape Town Women shared in December of 2018

My name is Vuyi Qubeka and I am a multi-dimensional storyteller. I am a traditional healer – I am a sangoma, and that means ngiza ngengoma – I come with a song. I am also an artist.

My songs are writing, photography, mixed media painting, sound and ethereal interventions that interact with the known and unknowns, with the invisible and with the magical. They reach in for the sacred, they create safe spaces for conversation, for experiencing ourselves, and bringing out the parts of us that we put away… that we are ashamed of. That we hide.

Our intention is that for those who come into contact with the work, perhaps, a flame is sparked. That you may have the courage to take the inward journey into yourself and, perhaps once there that you may discover those songs that you may have lost and even have an encounter with your purpose.

Three years ago I was a completely different person.

I was in a wholly different space. I was grappling with self-resentment, and self-rejection, I was contending with past traumas and pains. I didn’t like who I was. I felt confused. I felt overwhelmed. I felt lost. I felt that I had no real value in this world. I was aching for myself. I was aching for my purpose, and I was aching for my song.

Two years ago I was sick.

For years I battled with migraine headaches and as the years went on they steadily got worse, to a point that they became debilitating. I would be bed bound for days. With the migraines came depression and fatigue, and because of all the medication I was taking to manage the pain, constipation also came around and that started its own war. I was losing a sense of who I was. I lost my vitality. My energy was gone. I forced myself through life and I smiled through the pain, as we do. At the time I had a dream job – everything should have been fine is what I told myself. I was a travel photojournalist for a travel magazine, I was traveling the continent, meeting new faces and new places. I was also expanding and meeting new parts of myself that I had not known before. There is a saying in isiXhosa that goes, ‘ukuhamba kukubona’. To travel is to see, its to learn, its to understand. I couldn’t reconcile with myself why I was still sick. Why I was still depressed and unhappy. Things were dandy, right?

I tried everything. I did Vipassana – a 10-day meditation retreat, I saw a neurologist, I saw a homeopath, I had a CAT Scan, I went vegan, I tried juicing, and was on a treatment of acupuncture. Slowly I began retreating and turning my back against the world. It was around that time that I began seeing and hearing things that I didn’t quite understand.

In 2016 I tried to commit suicide.

I know it is a hard thing to digest, but we must talk about these things. We are at a place as a humanity where this subject matter is important. Its become urgent.

Ubizo is a Xhosa and Zulu word that describes the calling. My calling was to be trained as isangoma, a task given to me by my ancestors, my elders, and the entities that pray for us to come into this place. And my elders prayed for me to be in this realm, as this person, at this time.

The calling can be described as a time – I like to call it a pivotal moment – when your soul begins to whisper. It gets louder and louder, and eventually it begins to shout. Shouting at you, calling at you to awaken and to transform into the purpose you have come for. To remember your song. To accept the path. It is when you are called to take the inward journey into yourself. Into those quiet secret places where you might begin to love yourself, and see yourself, and appreciate yourself and value yourself. When you are required to be who you are meant to be.

We all have the calling.

I have known about my intuitive gifts all of my life, but I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t know I had to do anything with them. And I had no clue that not doing anything with them would make me sick.

In today’s society, African Spirituality and traditional medicine have become taboo. They’ve been stigmatised and demonised and we’ve neglected these cultural gifts that are so fundamental to who we are. It took me as long as it did to finally surrender to my call because no one around me; myself, my parents, my family, my community, could recognise what was happening to me. I suffered, so they suffered. No one could help.

I spent two weeks in a mental health facility where I met beautiful and sensitive souls who struggle to fit into the boxes, the structures and pressures society imposes on us. It was in hospital that I finally surrendered to what I knew I had to do. I was discharged, and I was led to healers, and began intensive plant work. This gave me the courage, the clarity and the confidence to resign from my job, to sell my car, to sell my clothes and all my possessions and to relinquish any ideas and assumptions that I had had about who I had been up until that point. Because who we are is so defined by what’s outside of us: by our family structures, by society and by what we see in mainstream media. But how do we really know what’s inside until we get there?

I left for the eastern cape to be initiated as a traditional healer. I left to go and thwasa – ukuthwasa means to blossom in isiXhosa. Silence and blossoming go hand in hand. I lived with my teacher and lived the ways of my ancestors as part of the medicine. My journey was three-fold and had multiple teachers. It was approximately a year and a half of initiation and I healed at the grace of plant medicine, at the beat of the drum, and traditional trance dancing – the diviners’ dance. Slowly my songs began to come back to me. I had a union with my own divinity and witnessed what I was capable of becoming.

That quiet place inside. That’s where all the songs come from. That is where all the poetry comes from. That’s where all the sound, and the painting comes from. That is where the trust of yourself comes from. The imagination and the creativity.

Sometimes, something has to die first before something else can be born.

And I have learned, and continue to learn that there’s nothing more liberating, more freeing, and nothing more empowering than surrendering to the call of your own heart.

We have come for ourselves. We deserve ourselves.

When we don’t honour the instructions and intuitions that the universe and the invisible and all that Is gives to us, we get sick. That is why I got sick. Disease is dis-ease in the body.

Are we meant to feel like we’re suffocating? Are we meant to feel lost and confused? Are we meant to reject ourselves like we do? Are we meant to be in so much despair and pain? I don’t think so.

I believe that we are meant to be ourselves; I believe that we are meant to be free. I believe that we are meant to dance our dance and to sing our song. I believe that we are meant to choose our selves.

When you have the courage to surrender to the call of your own heart, and you have the audacity to dance your dance, and listen to the intuitions that the universe gives us periodically. Your heart, your soul and the universe will rise up to support you, to hold you and to manifest all that you desire. Surrendering takes you by the hand and leads you to your song.

Every moment is the perfect moment for you to be who you are.

Don’t die with your song still inside. Don’t die with your song still inside you.

my body is the memory

that moves inside my flesh

my emotions

an antithesis

touching timelessness

 the body moves

and bends itself

reaching for prophetic homes

in service of the healing

the incumbent sacrifice

 a flame

lynching through distortions

hearts oiled with crude

 a serpent

it reaches out


inside the sweetness at my centre

 it tosses

it moans…

 i fall into her scales

temples. ii., Vuyi

Camagu. Lesedi. kganya. Ndawe. Thokozani. Insha’Allah. Namaste. Makhosi. Baie Dankie.

* Vuyi Qubeka is a healer, storyteller + speaker, and artist. Her work is dedicated to healing our collective traumas (familial and societal), as well as our collective ancestral consciousness.

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