1. Our hotline to the ancestors.

I’m writing a blog a day for 100 days. It’s day 1. It’s not going well. I can’t  focus. Every time I start to type, my concentration is broken. It’s not that I’m not committed to the task, nor am I struggling with writer’s block. It’s just that every time I get started, a witch comes into my room and starts fiddling around with my underpants. It’s very distracting.

From an African perspective, she is not a witch. In fact it’s mortally offensive to call her one. She’s a Sangoma. A traditional healer. She’s one of her people’s primary defences against witches. But if the good people of the Spanish Inquisition, or the gentle puritans of 1690’s Salem sat down for a chat with her, the conversation would end with her being burned alive. She is a modern day shaman. A communicator with spirits. A channel to the ancestors. And she does our ironing on Mondays.

Our resident Sangoma dealing with two unruly spirits.

Our resident Sangoma dealing with two unruly spirits.

Her name is Happiness. Some years ago she wandered down into South Africa, fleeing the economic meltdown of her homeland, Zimbabwe, and seeking a better life. She works in our house a couple of times a week, cleaning and ironing. She wasn’t always a Sangoma. That only happened a couple of years ago. She got sick. And didn’t get better. She went off to see a traditional healer, and he told her that she wasn’t sick. She was being called by the ancestors to become a healer.

Her training was brutal. She went through a Highveld winter, with below-freezing temperatures, sleeping on a concrete floor in a tin shack. She was allowed no warm water. She looked permanently haggard. But she made it. Now she arrives at our house looking like she should be dancing around a fire shrouded in smoke, eyes rolled back and body quivering as the spirits take her. She pops on a housecoat, does a little sweeping, and then dons her regalia again before going home.

It’s easy to roll our own eyes at this sort of thing. But there is something else at work here. There are 0ver 50 million people in South Africa. There are 25 thousand doctors and over 200 000 traditional healers. For an awful lot of people, Happiness the Sangoma is as good as it gets. And what she does might not heal tuberculosis or HIV, but it can certainly come to the aid of a troubled spirit. How many people out there have an appointment with a therapist this week?

And if you’re thinking that these people are simple or naïve, remember that I used to be a bookseller. I know how many people bought “The Secret”. We don’t get to laugh at people whose dead grannies have told them to slaughter a goat while we beat a path to riches by just really believing that the universe wants us to have a Maserati.

Happiness is a Sangoma. That’s someone who communicates with the ancestors. A person who’s feeling ill, or who has an important decision to make, or wants to get rich, will go and consult her. And she will consult the ancestors, by throwing the bones (or some other such ritual). And pass on what they say to her clients. Just like the oracle at Delphi.

There is another type of traditional healer out there. They are called Inyangas. They are the purveyors of muti. Traditional medicine. And they are not to be trifled with. They sell some dodgy things, like Python fat or vultures wings. But for the most part, they sell herbs. Not parsley and garlic. African herbs. And those herbs actually work, to the extent that they are now being scrutinised by scientists in search of cures for things like cancer and HIV.

These guys have to be very well trained indeed. At the wrong dosage, the stuff they’re selling can kill you, or leave you blind. But it’s worth the risk. Here’s a little menu that was popped through my window the other day.

Can your doctor do even a quarter of this stuff?

Can your doctor do even a quarter of this stuff?

Want to win contract after contracts? Want to enlarge/reduce your bums? Want a bigger penis, permanently, or just to make more rounds during sex? Come and see Professor Kimbo. Bring some money though. His offices are in Sandton. So are Microsoft’s.  It will be worth it. You’ll “BE A LION IN BED!”

35 thoughts on “1. Our hotline to the ancestors.

  1. James Corner says:

    I thought you might be interested in an article today on the BBC News website (UK). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22306869

  2. Brilliant post! One of the very many reasons I’m proudly South African. I intend to take my endocrinologist up on his inadequacies during our next consult. Good luck and happy writing for the next 99 days…

  3. Learning the hard way says:

    100 days, 100 stories – brilliant start.

  4. Buzzwordz says:

    Thank you for taking me back to that sun-filled kitchen on Corlett Drive! If I close my eyes I can smell the scent of it. Do it again! Do it agin!

  5. museconfuse says:

    Interesting post! Love reading about different cultures and the spam you got in your mailbox is definitely a thousand times more interesting than the spam here. At least you get a laugh out of it 😉

  6. artsifrtsy says:

    Fascinating – I love the name “Happiness”. Was that her name before her training?

    • 23thorns says:

      Her name has always been Happiness. It’s a Zimbabwean thing. Many African names in South Africa have similar meanings, but they are given in indigenous languages. Zimbabweans seem to translate them in to English.
      Among others, I have met Zimbabweans called Wonder, Regret, Verynice, Cigarette, and Trymore. It’s a strange but charming tradition.

  7. narf77 says:

    (Oh no…this has a number in the title…)…I note that your son appears to be hanging on to his own underpants in your first photo…methinks your “Sangoma” might be achieving her own personal “happiness” through being an underpants gnome, predominately preying on the male form of underpant a.k.a. “Underpanticus sapiens”. Not sure if you have ever watched the American show “South Park” but if you haven’t, check out Youtube and look for “Underpants Gnomes” and you might just achieve some underpants protection or at least enlightenment. Looks like you might need another Sangoma just to protect you and your son’s underpants drawers…just saying…here in Tasmania we could do with a few Sangoma of our own. Not enough doctors want to stay here (too many lumberjacks and not enough profit/maserati’s). If you could see your way clear to sending me a pot of that AMAZING unguent I would be most grateful. I could use some larger breasts, although I already have that derierre so I might resist the temptation to do an all over body rub with that amazing cream. Prof. Kimbo would do great business in the U.S. all he would have to do is label this miraculous cream “Laden with African superfoods” and he would be doing the talk show circuits before he knew it as the latest greatest thing. By the way…is that a money back “gaurantee” or a small breast back “gaurantee”…best to know what you are buying into straight up methinks…

    • 23thorns says:

      I wonder if you can sue him for malpractice if he mixes up the “bums” reducing cream with the “bums” enlarging cream?
      As for the underpants, she was packing them away one at a time. She’s up to something. I think my underpants may be cursed!

      • narf77 says:

        Definately an underpants gnome…you are infested! I hope the breast enlarging bit isn’t reversed, I don’t think I could do with much less 😉

  8. joanfrankham says:

    I was also wondering about the underpants thing, is she ironing them, and if so, hope the creases are straight.

  9. jennymiller62 says:

    thank you for liking my post. by the way–I’m assuming you weren’t wearing said underpants when Happiness was fiddling with them? Right?

  10. I like her name – Happiness. To have someone called Happiness coming to do my ironing and cleaning would be wonderful. I would be very happy! 🙂

  11. ktfi says:

    Love the list of Life Problems, it is pretty comprehensive! Though I suppose the poor old struggling NHS in UK would be sunk for good and all if it had to do spell-casting and assured lottery wins as well…in fact, if it could do lottery wins it wouldn’t be in trouble at all!!

  12. Mary Southon says:

    So why is Happiness fiddling with your underpants?

  13. Marcia says:

    Sorry, 23! My alter-ego took over below! Pay no attention to her!

    Great start to your new project. I loved learning about Happiness and her spiritual journey. And I never argue with what works. She is obviously filling a need, and who are we to judge her or her clients. I’m wondering if her success rate might not be just as good as some of my own doctor’s. At least in certain ways.

    I am really looking forward to your next post in this shorter series, as well as your more “normal” wicked-funny ramblings. You make my morning tea ritual SO much more uplifiting. (Yeah, uplifted all over the keyboard at times, but still worth it.)

    Good luck!

  14. Marcia says:

    Dear Professor Kimbo,

    Do you make housecalls? In Florida? The U. S. of A.? I have plane fare available. Gramps would like to talk to you. It’s about that Lion thing…………………
    Granny M.

  15. menomama3 says:

    Bravo! As interesting as S. African politics. Glad to see you made it out of the 100 days gate. On pins and needles for tomorrow.

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