#Sangoma Diaries: My spiritual journey from childhood in South Africa to a Kenyan peak

By: Nqobile Nomangungu Buthelezi-Sibisi

People always ask me: “So Nqo, where did it all begin or how did this (being a spirit medium/umfembi) happen.”

Today, whilst wandering aimlessly in my photos folders, I found these two photos from four years ago when I still lived in Nairobi and I thought it was a good idea to use them as aid really for my bewildering tale.

Unbeknown to many, I was initiated (thwasa’d) in the comfort zone of my spare room in my flat at Sibiloi Apartments in Kenya from 2013-2015. Many years before that, when I was about 9 years old, one of my spirit guides – a thin, old, rickety man who called himself Nkanyamnyaka – appeared to me when I was playing with my friends in the veld. He told me that I had a group of very special guides, that they looked over me and needed to teach me about who and what I was, but I was too young then.

He then told me they would wait for me until I was old enough in order to begin my training but mostly importantly, that they would meet me in Kenya! I went straight home and told my mom this bizarre story of the strange old man in a white robe that I saw in the veld. She laughed and said I was being silly as usual.

Followed to Nairobi

Fast forward to 2013… I got a great job in Kenya. I moved to Nairobi, with a suitcase, stuffed with clothes, work essentials, but most importantly with my iminazaretha (white prayer robes – the acquisition of which is yet another long story, for so many things had happened too, way before my trip to Kenya. I’m talking about bizarre incidences that led my friend Nonto Masemola to nickname me “Spirit” as back as high school!).

Anyway, six months into the job at the African Media Initiative I had settled in well and was beginning to be in sync with the environment. Now, those who know me well will tell you I am a very prayerful soul. So, as usual, even though I was miles away from home, I began my evening prayer sessions in Nairobi (again I’m really sorry to the many colleagues, friends, fellow expats or even potential boyfriends (LOL) that I never spent more time with, this is what bothered me so now you know).

Anyway, I setup my spare room as a prayer and light centre adorned with scented candles and other pretty prayer aids I’d collected from my trips around the world, things that warmed my soul really. I had bought a beautiful mat the week before at Ukay Centre in Westlands Nairobi which had a weaving of praying African kids with Bantu knots on their hair which just captured my heart. So I lay that mat down on the floor at the corner or my spare room, put a yellow candle on a golden platter at the tail end of the mat, my prayer robes and red ibhayi (Nguni healer’s sarong) on the mat, and a continental pillow against the wall.

My evening prayers continued until one day, after a good rendition of “mawusilungise thina Bantu bakho” I heard a voice, as loud as thunder but yet so calming and not intimidating at all, and it said “ntombi usufikile. Ayi siyabonga. Asiqale-ke umsebenzi” (“daughter you have arrived. We are thankful. Let’s begin work then”). So every evening after that – except for random detours to Abyssinia – an Ethopian restaurant I loved, or the mall with my assistant and dear friend Esther and other colleagues or expats), I’d rush home to cook and bath quickly then go into my spare/prayer room for prayer and roughly a two hour lesson about the essence of the soul, life, death, spiritual and physical ailments, healing methods, malevolent and benevolent spirits, herbs, oils, spirit walking, the list is endless!

The spiritual internship

In 2015 I returned to South Africa fully equipped with sharp sight, being able to divine/ukuhlola and was still being taught medicines in so many ways by my very own guides. The only dilemma we encountered was that in order to be recognised as a healer, I had to have a certificate and verification of some kind by someone in the industry.

So, to facilitate this, one morning when I was washing dishes in the kitchen, one guide – Mkhulu Johan – told me that I needed a certificate and that all roads led to Albert Falls that week, that I should find a man called Mkhize, and that he would give me a certificate. That’s how I ended up at Mlambomunye for a duration of two months – I went there for 8 Saturdays to help out and began ukuhlola in Mkhize’s other hut whilst he worked in another and that’s how I got my certificate!

Mkhize told me one day when we were analysing my visions, that twenty years ago, he was told that a child – one who would femba in extraordinary ways – me (to my disbelief nogaal) – would come to him and that he should make sure to help me out. Well, I don’t know about being umfembi in extraordinary ways! However, looking back to 2015 when I resigned after disharmony in the office that my professional-self could handle any day but my medium-self couldn’t and drew the line – for the gifted must truly choose their battles and let others own theirs in order for your soul to focus on your given sacred duty in which corporate politics plays no part (that’s free advise by the way), I think I do justice to my job! I try daily to do my best to channel help from the other side for those who come to my workplace from South Africa and as far as Netherlands! For that I thank the spirits of old that chose me and entrusted me with a whole lot of weirdeness and to be spiritually-discerning in a world of rational people!

Beware of the charlatans

So there you have it, well, in a nutshell because so many things happened in Kenya! I feel compelled to tell my story and I’m still writing that book , particularly to enlighten South Africans who, sadly, have been fed only one narrative – that to be a true sangoma/nyanga/mthandazi/healer you need to go under apprenticeship of a master healer (read ‘isigebengu sika Gobela’) and live in his/her isigodlo, wake up 3am to bath with cold water, take “gift-enhancing” medicines (amagobongo of various kinds), chant and gida into the AM’s and in that same fatigued state proceed to do the master healer’s home chores and also go out to the veld to collect medicines or whatever – which I say without fear is absolute hogwash!!!

The domination of this narrative as the “truest form of ukuthwasa” is absolute thuggery that is fueling the many atrocities committed by master healers who are making everyone who comes through their doors believe they need to become sangomas and thwasa (become an initiate/mage). Well, this growing trend is for one reason only; Money! The reasoning behind this scam is that there’s a lot of money attached to this thwasa trade and that the masters know it and are robbing people who need serious help (yet another long story for another day and you’d be surprised how much people have paid and yet after this process their lives are a mess)!

George Owell, in his book, Animal Farm, once said that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Should you believe you have the gift of sight and divining, I advise this: Pray!

Pray daily for your gift to mould itself in that place from where it manifested. Pray that when it comes to you it is powered with the force of those who came before you (with all their collective knowledge still intact and ready to be transferred to you) and that it is mostly powered with the spark and blessing from The Maker of all things (whatever you believe that to be). Pray until you hear your spirit voice talk directly to you and that your guides/ idlozi are those who do not need to be bothered by this mass-production chain of initiation/ukuthwasa because it has victimised so many a soul! Pray that your idlozi initiates you itself and that you are governed by truly transcended beings!

This piece was first published in Nqobile Nomangungu Buthelezi-Sibisi Facebook page. We lifted it with her permission.

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