The practice of traditional healers, also known as sangomas, is historically entrenched in South African culture and used by more than 60% of the South African population. Based upon the idea that every human being is an end product of their ancestry of generations of love and suffering, the connection to their ancestors is the essential core of sangomas’ practices. Not only through dreams and traditional ceremonies do sangomas aspire this spiritual connection but also through a way of life in service of their ancestors. Especially in rural areas, being less diluted by Western influences, ancient traditions including herbal medicines remain widely preserved. This allows for a deep spiritual experience, particularly shaping the demanding training of thwasas (sangoma trainees). Called onto their paths by their ancestors through an ‘initiation sickness’ in physical or emotional form, thwasas embark on journeys of self-deprivation and humility in order to gain spiritual enlightenment. Self-healing is their ultimate aim, which prepares them to heal their ancestry and fellow human beings, hence to become instruments of spirits.
Finding its roots in black African culture, the practice of traditional healing has experienced an increasing influx of Westerners from various backgrounds with the end of apartheid. Chris Ntombemhlophe Reid became the first white and highly respected sangoma amongst the people of Pondoland, South Africa. When his Western life, evolving around money, fame and popularity, fell apart since lead ‘for the wrong reasons’, Chris Ntombemhlophe Reid moved to Pondoland where sangomas approached him, making him realize and pursue his calling to become a sangoma himself. Having graduated in 1997, he now spends long periods of time in his remote homestead in the heart of the Transkei, where he hosts traditional ceremonies, mentors his thwasas and accompanies them on their spiritual paths.
This project gives intimate insights into the spiritual, yet demanding journeys of sangoma Chris Ntombemhlophe Reid, his thwasas and spiritual family, as members and cultural bridges in an ancient culture that lives on in democratic South Africa.