Izangoma, N’ganga, Lethuela – Southern African Forms of Healing-Divining Practices as Part of Global Shamanism

Author: Agnieszka Podolecka (University of Warsaw, Poland and University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa)
Speaker: Agnieszka Podolecka
Topic: Multifunctionality
The (SCOPUS / ISI) GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Izagoma (popularly called sangomas), n’gangas and lethuelas play very important role in Southern African societies, even among Christians. They used to be exorcists and diviners – those who were believed to contact ancestral spirits, help souls go to the next life after the physical death and explain the workings of fate. With time, they have become skilled herbalists, holistic healers, local leaders in both spiritual and political sense. They are mediators between the worlds: physical and spiritual, tradition and modernity, ancient beliefs and Christianity, especially Pentecostal, Charismatic and within Initiated Churches. Most of them have the same abilities and duties as shamans in many world’s cultures: their calling, training and initiation are esoteric (believed to be caused by ancestral spirits), they can enter and leave a trance through drumming and other means, perform ‘magic flights’ to the spiritual realm to gain knowledge needed by their society, they can co-operate with natural elements. Even though science can neither prove that spirits really exist, nor rationally explain the phenomenon of the ‘shamanic sickness’ that makes a person of profanum a person of sacrum, the belief in shamans’ powers permeate Southern African societies. Even wealthy businessmen drive their cars to sangomas for blessing. During my presentation I will explain who izangoma, n’ganga and lethuela are, how they mediate between the worlds and how they are part of global phenomenon called shamanism. My knowledge is the result of 10-year study in South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.

Keywords:  Izangoma, n’ganga, lethuela, shamanism, Southern Africa