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Ngoma: Discourses of Healing in Central and Southern Africa

John M. Janzen
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Ngoma, in Bantu, means drum, song, performance, and healing cult or association. A widespread form of ritual healing in Central and Southern Africa,ngomais fully investigated here for the first time and interpreted in a contemporary context. John Janzen's daring study incorporates drumming and spirit possession into a broader, institutional profile that emphasizes the varieties of knowledge and social forms and also the common elements of "doingngoma." Drawing on his recent field research in Kinshasa, Dar-es-Salaam, Mbabane, and Capetown, Janzen reveals howngomatranscends national and social boundaries. Spoken and sung discourses about affliction, extended counseling, reorientation of the self or household, and the creation of networks that link the afflicted, their kin, and their healers are all central tongoma-and familiar to Western self-help institutions as well. Students of African healing and also those interested in the comparative and historical study of medicine, religion, and music will findNgomaa valuable and thought-provoking book.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91085-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Photographs
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    An important feature of Sub-Saharan African religion and healing, historically and in the twentieth century, has been the interpretation of adversity, paradox, and change within the framework of specialized communities, cells, and networks. In Central Africa these communities have come to be called rituals or cults of affliction, defined by Victor Turner, a major author on the subject, as “the interpretation of misfortune in terms of domination by a specific non-human agent and the attempt to come to terms with the misfortune by having the afflicted individual, under the guidance of a ‘doctor’ of that mode, join the cult association...

  7. 1 Settings and Samples in African Cults of Affliction
    (pp. 10-56)

    This ethnographic survey is intended to sketch an impressionistic picture of cults of affliction in Central and Southern Africa, particularly in the contemporary urban settings of Kinshasa, Zaire; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Mbabane-Manzini, Swaziland; and Cape Town, South Africa. These national capitals represent the urban syntheses of four major regions of Africa respectively: the Congo basin, particularly Western Bantu-speaking societies; East Africa, particularly the Swahili-speaking setting; the northern Nguni-speaking setting; and societies influenced by Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, and Khoisan and by South African urban societies of the Western Cape. In each setting some attention will be given to the historical backdrop...

  8. 2 Identifying Ngoma: Historical and Comparative Perspectives
    (pp. 57-84)

    The contemporary settings of ngoma-type cults of affliction in Central and Southern Africa, as seen in the previous chapter, may now be joined by historical and comparative perspectives of the entire region within which these cults appear. Evidence for ngoma’s origin, spread, and distribution can be gleaned from a range of types of sources: linguistic evidence from a comparison of Bantu language cognates; evidence for the distribution of material culture artifacts of ngoma, mainly musical instruments utilized in healing rituals; evidence of political variables in the presence of distinctive alternative forms taken by ngoma. This historical evidence, joined with the...

  9. 3 Core Features in Ngoma Therapy
    (pp. 85-107)

    A straightforward formulation of the subject of this work, based on material presented thus far, would be something like the following: Just as persons or social forces around the sufferer are involved in the cause of affliction (as understood in the proto-Bantu cognatedòg), so others may help in the diagnosis, decision making of health seeking, and continuing support of the sufferer to achieve well-being. As we have seen, these as well as other notions are embedded in the vocabulary of Central and Southern African languages and constitute a classic institutional form of the quest for therapy and wholeness.


  10. 4 Doing Ngoma: The Texture of Personal Transformation
    (pp. 108-129)

    “Doing ngoma” is the central event in ngoma. It is the “dominant trope,” the “symbol that stands for itself” (Wagner 1986:29-30) and defines the institution. “Doing ngoma” opens with a declarative statement, prayer, or utterance, then moves on to song begun by the one who makes the statement; as the call and song is developed, the surrounding people respond with clapping and soon singing begins en masse, and then the instruments enter in. This basic set of features, with many variations, may be found throughout the larger Central and Southern African setting. The Ndembu call itkwimba ng’oma, “to sing...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. 5 How Ngoma Works: Of Codes and Consciousness
    (pp. 130-152)

    This chapter and the next wrestle with the nature of knowledge—both personal and cultural—and the way it is utilized in ngoma. In previous chapters ngoma has been presented in a number of perspectives: the ethnographic present, the deep history of linguistic analysis and archaeology, and the close-up view of the core features and the main ritual, “doing ngoma.” This chapter on “how ngoma works” seeks to understand how knowledge in this context is constructed and used. Indigenous theories of ngoma and a variety of analytical theories are brought to bear on the subject. The next chapter presents social...

  13. 6 How Ngoma Works: The Social Reproduction of Health
    (pp. 153-172)

    Exploring the issue of efficacy continues in this chapter, in terms of the survivorship of at-risk sectors of society and the role of ngoma in the creation and maintenance of a social fabric that contributes to health. Whereas in the previous chapter I identified practitioners’ and analysts’ theories of how ngoma rituals are intended to work, here I shall examine the consequences of ngoma upon the “social reproduction” of health. Social reproduction as used here refers to the maintenance of a way of life and the commitment of resources to relationships, institutions, and support organizations that directly or indirectly maintain...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-180)

    A major goal of this work has been to explore the basis for the institution variously known as the “ritual of affliction,” “cult of affliction,” or “drum of affliction,” the latter term being derived directly from the widespread notion ngoma, a Bantu language cognate. Utilizing a variety of historical, linguistic, archaeological, and comparative sources, the case was made that ngoma may have emerged as part of the classical Bantu expansion over two millennia ago, although some evidence points to a more recent Eastern Bantu origin.

    Nineteenth-century culture historians might have said that we had perhaps identified a health and healing...

  15. Appendix A: Partial Listing of Guthrie’s Inventory of Bantu Languages
    (pp. 181-188)
  16. Appendix B: Distributions of Terms in Bantu Languages Pertaining to Therapeutic Concepts and Actions
    (pp. 189-208)
  17. Appendix C: Instrumentation Accompanying Healing Rituals in Central and Southern Africa
    (pp. 209-214)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 215-218)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-234)
  20. Index
    (pp. 235-241)