SANGOMA – Traditional healer, herbalist.
As the world gave birth to 2005 Sheila and I were being introduced to a man of great interest to us in that he was not only a fundi botanist, he was a trained traditional healer. He and his American wife lived on his farm, Jantjieskraal, about ten km outside of Uniondale where, besides farming sheep, he propagated material for his herbal business. In a lot of ways it was ideal as the surrounding hills and mountains are rich in naturally occurring medicinal plants.
When he invited us to join a small group of like-minded folk in learning more about medicinal herbs, we jumped at the chance.
Born in Johannesburg in 1948, Peter von Maltitz was only two years younger than I. He completed a B.Sc. in Natural Sciences (Agriculture) from the University of Stellenbosch followed by an honours degree in plant pathology. This involved a great deal of Theosophy, s leading to an interest in Anthroposophy and thus to Biodynamic farming.
Driven by a desire to relieve pain, in 1980 he discovered that he could give relief by using his “hot hands”. (Similarly, I believe that I have some small gift in that direction.)
In 1996 he registered as a spiritual healer and took part in a course in homeopathy with the homeopaths Berkley, Digby and Dr David Lilley. It was a natural progression to follow that with studies in African traditional healing with Philip Kubukeli from Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
“Zanemvula” (he comes with the rain) was the name he received because it rained whenever they performed a ceremony for his ancestors. His final graduation as a fully fledged sangoma took place at a 3-day ceremony during September 1999 on his home farm, Jantjieskraal in the Kouga mountains.
On most Wednesday evenings, we would go to Jantjieskraal to add three or four plants to our own scanty knowledge, Peter using groups that were beneficial to different groups of illnesses or body functions. We started with the organs of fear – wet yourself, shit yourself – herbs to alleviate problems in the blood, kidneys, bladder and peristalsis. Next were the bitter herbs that pertain to the gall bladder – the hottest organ, suppressed anger that erupts as boils, fever and rashes.
The following involved the opening of the mind. Cleansing toxins, decreasing anxiety. The following week, due to a visit by Sheila’s son Tim and pregnant fiancé, Juanita, the subject was fertility and pregnancy. With Easter only two days away, we were expecting more family to visit by way of Sheila’s elder son Nicholas with his ten month old son, Ronan Simkin, and my daughter, Nicci. Although Sheila and I were invited to the ceremony on the Sunday at the bush hut where Peter’s wife Helen was to be initiated as a sangoma in her own right, it was Nicci and I that attended. Sheila had injured her back.
Besides the other couple that frequently joined our Wednesday evening botanical lessons, there were four women attending, one of whom was the mother of a patient who would be Ellen’s first, as well as a sangoma novice under Peter’s tutelage.
Ellen was seated on a mat. Peter was in full regalia of skirts, skin strips, ankle rattles and shoulder sash. The novice beat a drum as Peter welcomed us. Then Ellen received her new skirts; an underskirt with four stripes on the lower edge, and a shorter outer skirt with three. Following that were various bead necklaces with different meanings – green for the forest, red and white for fire, light blue for the sky and so on. He regaled her with headbands of beads and tassels, including the gall bladder from the slaughtered goat, the body of with which Ellen had spent the previous night in the ceremonial hut.
Ellen was contacting her ancestors, Peter explained, while his assistant whipped up a billycan of frothing ubulau herb, to raise her spiritual senses, which was held over her until the froth cascaded over her head.
Basically, that was it.
Now the patient was brought before Ellen for a diagnosis, which she hesitantly gave. She thought the young man had pain in his eyes and neck and a problem with his kidneys. Peter questioned him and his mother and established that Ellen was on the right track. He was given some kattekruie leaves and his mother took him home.
The rest of us feasted on the ceremonial goat meat with maize on the cob, beans and pumpkin. We also tucked in to the beers I had brought.
In April we had a few more herbal evenings with Peter and Ellen, but thereafter it fizzled out as Ellen suffered from depression. (Er…??)
Tim and Juanita’s baby was born on May 3rd; a premature but healthy girl, named Denicka Simkin.