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Working with Spirit

Working with Spirit: ExperiencingIzangomaHealing in Contemporary South Africa

Jo Thobeka Wreford
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Working with Spirit
    Book Description:

    In the current model of health dispensation in South Africa there are two major paradigms, the spirit-inspired tradition ofizangoma sinyangaand biomedicine. These operate at best in parallel, but more often than not are at odds with one another. This book, based on the author's personal experience as a practitioner of traditional African medicine, considers the effects of the absence of spirit in biomedicine on collaborative relationships. Given the unprecedented challenge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, the author suggests that more cooperation is vital. Taking a critical look at the role of anthropology in this endeavor, she proposes the development of a "language of spirit" by means of which the spirit-inspired aetiology ofizangoma sinyangamay be made comprehensible to academic scientists and applicable to medical interventions. The author discusses whiteizangomain the context of current debates on healing and hybridity and insists that there exists a powerful role forizangomain the realm of societal healing. Above all, the book constitutes a start in what the author hopes will develop into an ongoing intellectual conversation between traditional African healing, academe, and biomedicine in South Africa.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-015-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Religion, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Terminology
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    In many ways, the events described in these pages typify the sort of cultural boundary crossing which will be uncomfortably familiar to most anthropologists. At the same time however, the book includes events that go far beyond the confines of the customary ethnographic encounter. The book recounts my personal experience of the complex, multi-layered, and spirit-motivated process that constitutes becoming anisangoma.Starting withukuthwasa(v;inthwason.), the protracted process of initiation and training, and proceeding to thegoduswa(literally “coming home,” the graduation ceremony), this was a uniquely transformative experience which of necessity required my unstinting participation and...

  7. Chapter 1 Conversations in Anthropological Theory and Method
    (pp. 20-46)

    In an experiential ethnographic study such as this, it was perhaps inevitable that some of the comfortable conventions of anthropological theory and practice would be exposed, addressed, and challenged. Needless to say, my extreme naïveté as anthropological practitioner intensified this process of confrontation and exploration. In this chapter I examine theories of anthropological praxis, and contrast them to my own discoveries in the field, and beyond, in the application of those fieldwork understandings in the day-to-day world.

    The examination appears in three sections. The first, “Acts of Collaboration:Izangomaand HIV/AIDS Interventions in southern Africa,” deals with efforts at medical...

  8. Chapter 2 On the Question of Ancestors
    (pp. 47-63)

    An essential component ofizangoma sinyanga,the notion of ancestors (isiXhosa:abaphantsi, isiyanya) describes a complex web of relationships with a panoply of ancestral beings, recognizable and unfamiliar, who stand to be consulted, made acquainted, and empowered by means ofizangoma sinyanga.Like much else inizangoma sinyanga,however, this apparently straightforward definition disguises what is a far more complex business. In his recent reflections on the subject, van Binsbergen (2003: 220) refers to the epistemological problem of what is meant by ancestors, and then describes his current“sangoma”practice as engaging with the spirits “as if they really exist”....

  9. Chapter 3 Biomedicine and Izangoma Sinyanga—Fundamental Misunderstandings and Avoidable Mistakes
    (pp. 64-102)

    In this chapter I discuss the issue of medical pluralism in South Africa, and specifically how to advantage the coexistence of the traditional and biomedical paradigms to improve health outcomes in the country.¹ In particular I attempt to discover how biomedicine deals with the question of spirit agency in traditional practice—the sacred pragmatics discussed in the previous chapter—and to what extent its absence in allopathic practice alienates traditional healers.

    As anisangomamyself, I will suggest that biomedical professionals, who are more accustomed to deny or decryizangoma sinyanga,would better emulate the few of their number (Abdool...

  10. Chapter 4 On “Being Called” (Ukubiswa)
    (pp. 103-130)

    In this chapter I explore some of the metaphysical and ritual experiences along the processual journey to becoming anisangoma,experiences that gradually and cumulatively encourage the initiate, in the words of the song, to open up the consciousness in order to “listen to things” more often. The material is presented in four sections: “Sickness and diagnosis,” “Answering ‘the Call’,” “Ways of Seeing,” and finally, “Dreams and Stuff.” If these divisions hint at a structural framework that shapesukuthwasa,in reality the process is conceived and designed in terms of, and in tune with, the developing relationship of the initiate...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. 131-136)
  12. Chapter 5 Graduation (Goduswa) and Ancestral Evidences
    (pp. 137-151)

    In the previous chapter I presented some of the essential elements to the practice ofukuthwasa,prerequisites that provide a structure of sorts, or what van Binsbergen has described as “institutionalized expectations” (1991: 334). This chapter documents events that signaled and encompassed the final stage of theinthwasoprocess, the culmination of my experience of the prolonged training process ofukuthwasa—my graduation(goduswa)as anisangoma. This prolonged ceremony represents the reward, the final reciprocity ofukuthwasa.In my case, the ritual took place over a total of six days, from 24 to 29 October 2001. The majority of...

  13. Chapter 6 What Got into You? Ancestral En-trancement
    (pp. 152-176)

    I shift the focus now, in more ways than one, to consider another, overt manifestation of ancestral evidence—one that has much occupied anthropologists—the experience of trance. In this chapter I intend to encourage appreciation of the actuality of the domain of consciousness—the place of the ancestors—that underpins so much of African traditional healing knowledge. The events described in this chapter testify to the existential boundary-crossing that is as fundamental to the tasks ofizangoma(and healers elsewhere in Africa), as it is to anthropologists. Traditional practitioners will be seen in these anecdotes as conduits of ancestral...

  14. Chapter 7 “Long-nosed” Izangoma and Relationship Issues in the Izangoma Community
    (pp. 177-197)

    The incidence of whites becomingthwasain South Africa seems to be increasing and has attracted some press coverage, not all of it favorable (Cohen 2005; de Bruyn 2004; Masiba 2001; Wreford 2004).Indeed, the phenomenon has been accompanied by considerable, sometimes acrimonious, debate (Mbana 2001).¹ I briefly noted in chapter 2 the complex of issues within which the notion of whiteizangoma,and in particular the provenance of their ancestors, can be considered. Coverage in chapters 4, 5, and 6 explored the ritual and procedural events by which the passage from unqualifiedthwasainitiate to qualifiedisangomais marked. This...

  15. Chapter 8 Witchcraft and Izangoma Sinyanga in the Time of AIDS
    (pp. 198-218)

    In postcolonial Africa, as almost everywhere in the new millenium, the struggle for power and wealth has taken on new dimensions and extremes not least in relation to the health of the poor (Millen and Holtz 2000). The above quote from John Berger underlines the reality that in a globalized world awareness of gross inequalities is almost impossible to evade (Ashforth 2002: 126). Images of profligate prosperity now reach into communities as distant from this prodigality as they are remote from the opportunities to share it—perpetually just out of reach (Comaroff and Comaroff 1999:18).¹ Narratives of witchcraft provide one...

  16. Postscript and Final Thoughts
    (pp. 219-225)

    In closing this book I will take the opportunity to comment further on some motifs that are common to the pattern of my argument, and recur throughout the text, but perhaps deserve to be restated and repositioned not least in the light of more recent commentaries.

    The first question deserving of consideration is related to the last. It concerns the matter of whether or notizangomacan, or should, be encouraged to work in a closer relationship with western medicine. Here, my partiality (and that of my ancestors) is inescapable. As is obvious throughout the book (but above all in...

  17. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 226-228)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 229-249)
  19. Index
    (pp. 250-260)