Gerda Hooghordel, Transformations in healing processes of female Zulu sangomas in the transition from a rural to an urban society

Gerda Hooghordel succesfully defended her PhD at Leiden University on 30 March 2021. Her dissertation Reeds in the wind of change: Zulu sangomas in transition will become available online in 2022.

Traditional healing is getting more and more important in contemporary South Africa. This research is about the transmission of healing knowledge from one generation of female Zulu sangomas to another, in the context of the transition from a rural to an urban society. In which ways are healing processes transferred to the next generation and what is urbanisation’s influence on this transfer?

The significance of traditional healing is shown in statistics; about 80% of South Africa’s population (also) attends a traditional healer. These days insurance companies refund the traditional healers consult’s invoice to the patient, traditional healers are associated and use the internet and social media to advertise.

There are many forms of traditional healing. Next to the “herbalist” and the “heaven-herd” the sangoma was one of the indigenous religion’s “sacred specialists”. In their healing practice sangomas often use a combination of the herbalist’s knowledge of medicinal herbs and their intermediary role between the ancestors and the living. Sangomas are believed to be able to detect the cause of the patient’s affliction and to start a healing process by the performance of rituals and their pharmacopeia. Traditional healing is a mixture of medical and religious elements. In contemporary society with processes of officialising and urbanisation this tradition gains momentum. What are the effects on the transmission of knowledge and practice on which traditional healing is founded?

This research is about the transmission of healing knowledge and practice by female Zulu sangomas in (the vicinity of) Durban, KwaZulu Natal. To what extent are this knowledge and practice rooted in indigenous religion, in what way was healing knowledge constructed and how are knowledge production’s processes transmitted to succeeding generations of healers in the urban society?

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