What is a Sangoma?

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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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A sangoma is a type of traditional South African healer. Frequently, they are also called shamans, though this word is used mostly within North American culture. In keeping with South African tradition, a person cannot choose the occupation of a sangoma. Instead, they are chosen by ancestral spirits who contact individuals in various ways.

Even though both men and women can become a healer, most of these individuals are women. People who experience frequent headaches, intense stomach pain, and even psychosis are believed to be natural healers. Once a woman has been contacted by her ancestors, she is then expected to train as a sangoma by shadowing an experienced individual.

Sangomas work to heal physical ailments, social rifts, and anything else that plagues a certain community. While these healers go through various training rituals before practicing any healing arts, it is believed that a person's ancestors guide his or her hands through any healing process. Guided by ancestors and experience, these individuals work to keep a community intact mentally, physically, and even socially.


Throughout various South African communities, sangomas are highly respected. Since the role of the healer is to protect a village from any kind of evil, find lost animals, and heal those who are sick, anyone who does not respect the role of a healer will often incite trouble. Working from small huts that are called Ndumbas, those who require the assistance of a sangoma enter into this hut in search of a healer's helping hands.

Many different applications are used by healers in order to cure physical illnesses. One of the most popular forms of medicine used by tghese healers is called muti. Muti is a type of medicine that is a mixture of different tree barks and herbal plants. Frequently, the term muti is used to denote any medicine that is given to a patient by a healer.

In many ways, a sangoma also acts as a counselor and social worker within any given South African community. Many different families visit with village healers in order to mend family arguments. Since healers know the inner workings of a village, these individuals can often offer advice and counseling to those in need. While complex, the relationship between townspeople and a healer is often one of great admiration and reverence.

Medical observers from Western countries have noted that healer practices may promote disease throughout South African communities. Since one razor blade, or other sharp object, is frequently used on many different patients, disease such as HIV can be easily passed from one person to another. Still, the tradition of the sangoma is alive and thriving within South Africa today.


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Post 2

It's strange to think about people in this day and time believing in sangomas, but people in first world countries still consult psychics and mediums to reach out to the "other side." I guess it's not any different.

The main difference is that people who do get into the occult in developed countries will go to a doctor. They might supplement the treatment with crystals or reiki or some other alternative therapies, but they will get a broken bone set, for example, or something along those lines. They're usually not completely opposed to seeing a Western style doctor for some disorders.

Post 1

I have heard of the sangomas. Western doctors usually have to learn to work with them in their villages to do any kind of medical consulting, say if they're doing a vaccination clinic or similar.

They make sure the sangoma understands they are only in the village temporarily, and usually allow the sangoma to be present while they treat villagers as long as he or she does not interfere. They also try to teach sangomas a little about using clean tools. Sometimes, they're successful, sometimes not.

In general, the sangomas are willing to allow doctors to treat people as long as the doctors do not try to interfere with the sangoma's position in the vilage.

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