Did you know?
The ball at the back of a sangoma's headdress is the bladder of an animal - usually a goat - slaughtered at the time of initiation.
There are 2 distinct types of sangoma. One is the herbalist, who functions as a doctor - having learnt the healing properties of plants and potions. The other is the spiritualist - like an African shaman - a visionary who makes contact with the ancestors in a trance state.
Visitors who want to learn more about these wise and spiritual people have many options open to them. In Johannesburg it's possible to visit the Faraday Muti Market to purchase herbs or concoctions for a variety of ailments, psychological or physical. You can also visit a consulting sangoma to have the bones thrown in a divination ritual to tell the future or answer a question.
If you're keen to learn more about the healing or spiritual properties of plants, people at the market are happy to share their knowledge.
The mountains around Ficksburg in the Free State are known as the "Sangoma University", as many sangomas complete their training there. Sangomas from around the country do an annual pilgrimage to this site to collect herbs and get back in touch with nature and their ancestors. As cultural sensitivity is required, it's best to arrange a guided visit to the different sangomas, rather than trying to make contact yourself.
In Eshowe in Zululand a number of tour packages have been developed in association with the local community. Here it's possible to catch a rare glimpse of a sangoma initiation, trance and healing ceremonies. And on 23 February every year, renowned sangoma Khekhekhe hosts a first fruits ceremony, where he demonstrates his powers by putting the heads of poisonous snakes in his mouth.
Sangomas are an essential thread in the rich cultural fabric of South Africa. Come with respect and it's possible you'll learn something about yourself as well.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
How to get here
Soweto and the Farraday Muti Market are all easily accessible from Johannesburg, and can be arranged through many different tour companies. Eshowe has a private airport, but you can fly into Durban International or Richards Bay Airport and drive the rest of the distance. You can get to Ficksburg by road, but there is also a charming train journey to the area.
What will it cost
Tours start from approx R235 per person.
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