"We seldom saw Lena in her sangoma regalia"
is a practitioner of traditional medicine, divination and counselling in Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa and Ndebele communities of Southern Africa. The traditional culture of these communities accords strong reverence to the ancestors, who are believed to protect the living and provide a guide in the afterlife. It is believed that individuals are selected by the ancestors to become sangomas. Through sangomas, ancestors in the spirit world can give instruction and advice to heal illness, social disharmony and spiritual difficulties.
The sangoma undergoes Thwasa, a period of training including learning humility to the ancestors, purification and the use of traditional medicines (muti). At the end of Thwasa, a goat is sacrificed to call to the ancestors and appease them. Sangomas may access advice and guidance from the ancestors through possession by the ancestor, throwing bones and channelling, or interpreting dreams.
Sangomas far outnumber western-style doctors in Southern Africa, and are consulted first, or exclusively, by approximately 80 percent of the Black population.