All the knowledge we do not know yet

Milisuthando Bongela. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

Milisuthando Bongela. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

A few months ago bendikhaphe (I accompanied) a friend to a consultation with a healer.

If 2018 has taught me anything, it is the importance of one’s physical presence as witness to those they hold dear. My friend had only had bad experiences with sangomas. She did not trust their knowledge because she had never found it helpful.
I’ve had better experiences.

These consultations, although they fall under the umbrella of healing, are essentially consultations with the spiritually wise, one’s elders and ancestors and one’s highest self. It has taken me years to find a suitable healer. Some sangomas, like medical doctors, are more concerned with diagnosis, prognosis and cures rather than a patient’s holistic healing.

Many of us have fallen into the pitiful hands of a sangoma or igqirha who will tell you that your cousin, your aunt, your neighbour or someone is out to get you. That they are jealous of you and they have put a curse on you. And that you need to slaughter a black chicken and a white chicken and go to the nearest river or sea and pay R1 500 to reverse the curse and then come back again to double check that the curse is removed for another R1 500. Or, to prevent the car accident that you are cursed to have, you need to pay R10  00 on the spot. Or they say you need to thwasa. There is many an opportunist using their gifts to exploit their patients and to create fear in their lives rather than harmony and healing. There are sangomas who need healing themselves. And there are others who have good intentions, but who have been misguided in their training and don’t take the important role they play in a community as seriously as they could.

That said, we are in a century when all manner of people are being called and trained into the ancient, beautiful and indispensable traditions of the people of this land. And because it is no longer outlawed, ubungoma is being demystified and restored from the doldrums of the hidden, although another friend says that the ancestors have so much airtime these days that everybody is getting a calling. Recovering ancient hidden knowledges, as long as we are responsible with them, is important considering how many ills there are in our society.

So my friend was at this consultation to get a better understanding about some of the issues she has in her life and to chart a way forward. I was there listening, in a silent supportive role. One can never truly express or even share the kind of travelling that happens in a good consultation. It is an experiential occurrence, an interdimensional journey that makes one better settle into the incident of materiality or the fact of being a human. It’s a science.

Two of the ancestors who showed up were two very, very old men. Like, hundreds of years old. They are my friend’s main Gs if one is to think of their ancestors as a personal team of door openers, light bearers and intergalactic onlookers. The sangoma laughed when they showed up and said he would deal with them a little later in the consultation.

When my friend had the opportunity to ask questions, after an hour-long reading, she asked about her relationship life, taking words that have existed in my own mind and heart and placing them on her lips and into the universe: “I have not had much success when it comes to intimate relationships. The people always turn out to be unsuitable or hurt me. Why is this? Why me? Do I have some kind of curse? Other aspects of my life are alright but I just feel like I’ll never find a partner.”

It was at this point that the two old men returned to the scene. This wise sangoma we were listening to then began to explain something that left all three of us stunned. It went something like this: “These old men are partly responsible for the lack of success in your love life. They have been there for a long time and they do play a role of vur’vaying your attempts to be in a long-term relationship. They do this because they want to form a relationship with you first before you can form a relationship with a life partner. They are concerned that you do not truly know yourself yet and they want to ensure that you know yourself first before you embark on the search for a life partner. Their requirement for your journey to self-knowledge is knowledge of them. So they want you to investigate them as your ancestors, their names, where they came from, what they did, what they gave to you and just to have a relationship with them as your guides in this life. When you really know them, you will then know yourself, and when you know yourself, you will be able to pick the best and most suitable partner for yourself. If, for instance, you have met somebody that you like, you will be able to say to them: ‘Look, I have met so-and-so and I really like them. Here’s how I’m thinking of approaching them. What do you think?’ And if they agree to the suitability of so-and-so, you might be doing your groceries one day at Spar and bump into said so-and-so. Or see them at the petrol station, or somehow start to feel their presence coming nearer. If not, then perhaps so-and-so isn’t the one. So your job right now is just to get to know your ancestors.”

There was a collective exhale followed by a silence as the three of us came back down to earth.

What I’ve come to learn on the journey that I am on is that the numinous forces that exist are not something that is unique to Africans. They are a human inheritance. It’s just that Africans have valued, preserved and named them as technologies to assist our journeys. That something as confusing as dating and relationships can be understood and solved by a journey into your personal history is nothing short of amazing. It’s no wonder though … these beings, our Mnguni ancestors (those who are our family ancestors — there are other ancestors who are not our family), are concerned with their progeny, concerned with our wellness. Because, when we are happy, they are happy, and when we are troubled, they are troubled.

What was resolved for my friend, and indeed for me, was the importance of creating regular communion with one’s higher self, one’s god or gods, if you will, and certainly one’s lineage. Not only were she and I liberated from a way of thinking that questioned our self-worth or attractiveness when it came to our “failure” in relationships, but the concept of seeking partnership was put back in our own hands rather than being something as arbitrary and as insecure as “luck”.

Milisuthando Bongela

Milisuthando Bongela

Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardian's arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project. Read more from Milisuthando Bongela

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