20 July 2010


By Phumeza Mntomnintshi and Nomthinzi Api

This short article is based on the research conducted on the initiation ceremonies and training of diviners in the Peddie area of Eastern Cape . In May 2010 we visited Gcinisa-Hamburg area and Pikoli villages respectively. We observed that the way in which these ceremonies are conducted differ from one place to another. The area of the diviner's specialisation also influences the type of ceremony to be conducted.


Diviners themselves differ in their practices for an example you might get a divinber which specializes in fortune tellling and can't heal with traditional medicine and another one who specializes in healing without fore-telling the problem,etc. This signifies a matter of specialization depending on the calling. No one pracices according to his or her will,the ancestors must lead the way and one must tobey this calling. If the calling is ignored it can have a negative impact on the initiate. In some cases it could even lead to one becoming an outcast or be cursed by the ancestors.Now let us explain the term "diviner". Diviners , in the past , have been negativelly potrayed in our societies by previous governments,in literature,histories, galleries and other public arenas as witch doctors although in the actual sense they are not. Therefore they cannot be termed as witch doctors because witches are opposites of diviners.


1.A trainee is taken to the kraal/inkundla and is given a white beaded necklace/umgqi omhlophe. If she is a female she will wear the print if he is a male he will be having a white towel and given a stick of a (matshini-tshini) tree.
2.A trainee is enclosed in a small hut/ibhoma which is built near the kraal which after three days will be built near the river.
3.Umgqabazo(clothing attire),in this stage a trainee wear a traditional dress/umbhaco with pieces of an animal attached and is given two sticks combined with blue and white beads.
4.Imvumakufa ( acceptance of divinity), in this stage the goat is slaughtered and a trainee wear umthika and given imvubu.
5.A trainee is given ulugxa/stick to dig the medicines.
6.A trainee is given a spear(umkhonto) , itshoba(ox tail) and wear (headress)isidlokolo.
7.Umgoduso(home welcoming ceremony),in this stage an ox is slaghtered (this is a graduation). Now he/she will stand on his or her own in order to practice as a fully flegded diviner and have his or her trainee diviners.

When the whole process happens the newly graduated diviner is obliged by divine tradition and rules to surrender at least about 4 trainee sangomas to the person who trained him or her as a gesture or sign of respect for the work done on him/her.


Let us now talk about igqirha lomlambo(water trained diviner) and igqirha lemvumisa(fortune telling diviner) types respectively.As we have mentioned before that we have various types of diviners for different healing roles.Therefore they undergo different diviner initiation training as per their calling and style of work.

The African Xhosa speaking people have an ancestral belief,they believe that the ancestors communicate with their family through a dream. Then the family will consult a diviner/ traditional healer to seek answers. They go to a diviner to ask the meaning of the dream so as to know what needs to be done. If the family gets a diviner who knows exactly what needs to be done they then go ahead.

The diviner normallyleads all the rituals to be done. Again the cost involved in the process is a must be carried out by the requesting family .The diviners payment is known as inkomo (cow). This is because int he past this payment was done int he form of cows but these days money is used.

In one of our trips around the Hamburg / Peddie area we visited the Gedze/ Emantandeni family. Their ancestor called uDadobawo came through a dream to the Gedze family(Amantande).Fortunately the leader of this family is a diviner himself so he contacted other diviners to assist him to do the ritual since at times an outside help is required and luckly for them they saved money becasue of the fact that he himself is a diviner.


He and other diviners got together to perform what was required to be done for the whole week near Nxuba river in Hamburg area. This kind of a ritual is mainly performed in a specified river or sea as per the dream of that particular person. Rivers and sea are believed to be sacred places where ancestors live.Therefore respect has to be given to the rivers and seas as they are residing places of the ancestors.

In this case igqirha lase Mantandeni went with another diviner as well as the researchers to the river of their calling to perform water ritual.They took with them white beads to ask for a perfect ritual as well as to introduce non family members accompanying them to the ancestors so that they do not get harmed when the ritual is done.Therefore a stranger cannot just do what they like when this rituals is perfromed otherwise one might face trouble and end up dying or getting lost.The family went to the river to talk to the Ancestor called uDadobawo and gave her the beads as a sign of respect and in turn asking her for protection against evil spells which may have been cast on the family.


These two rituals are both water related, the first one being a water based ritual while the other one was a combination of home and river based ritual training. In our visit to Pikoli Village , the daughter of Amacirha was being trained to be a diviner/ igqirha lamanzi nelasekhaya.During her training she was called umkwetha(trainee diviner).Amongst other requirements was for her to be secluded in a kraal near the homestead and then be taken to another one near the river. No-one is allowed in her ibhoma and at the same time there are other things which we , as non -diviners , are not permitted to record nor to witness so as not to spoil the ritual. There were other aspects of the ritual which were not exaplined to us because of their sacredness.


Anyone rich or poor could be chosen by the ancestors to become a diviner. At the Emacirheni family the ancestors chose a young lady who works at Eskom.She had no choice and had to agree with the ancestors by accepting the calling. This lady was in her second stage of her training. Her trainer was Madosini and her divinity named is Nomakhwezi of Ndwayana village.This particular trainee/umkhwetha wegqirha was also shown her trainer by her ancestors in a dream. The training ritual started on a Tuesday,her trainer and the men of the family went to the river to collect the material to build her hut/ithonto/ibhoma .They collected these trees:umdubi,umngcunube,umnyamanzi,isithobothi,umkhanzi and umngcele.They also collected mud from the river to smear the trainee on her face whilst she is inside the hut.


The hut was built in the afternoon near the kraal,umkhanzi and umngcele was used as a mat when ibhoma was finished the trainer was placed inside. The diviner /trainer gave instrutions to the trainee.The small zink with a stick was placed near the entrance of this special hut.When the trainee wants to come out she will make a sign using that zink with a stick,her trainer will go to her and attend to her needs. As part of the training she must eats food without salt. The trainee initiate stayed in this hut for three days .


In the afternoon of a third day third day another ibhoma was built for her near the river .The same trees were also used in the building process. She slept alone,her trainer was also having her own hut nearby.She stayed there for one night and in the next morning she was taken to the river, and a container with isilawu was placed on her head. The trainer diviner stirred it and the foam of isilawu ran down her face.The plant knowns as isilawu is used by the diviners to communicate with the ancestors.After this process they gave her umbhaco/traditional dress to wear. She smeared her face with white clay/ifutha(the white clay is a symbol of a bright future) and was also given her beads attached on a reed.The trainer diviner gave her two sticks decorated with blue and white beads (the sticks are made of umatshini-tshini tree).


The trainee diviner was taken back home near the kraal where she was given a mat to sit on and thell the family about her dreams during seclusion. The ancestors communicate with a trainne diviner through a dream. Some people do not believe in dreams but the dream is very important because it is a message from one's ancestors. Our visits to these rituals were an eye opener for us because we were bound to obey the rules and regulations of the rituals.

1 comment:

  1. really great overview of these old rituals which will no doubt one day be lost,wish ethnographers documented these things so well, instead of clogging their observations with theory.