An investigation of methods used by the southern Nguni in healing ukuhanjwa illness.
Beliefs about health, as well as what makes people ill, are strongly influenced by culture. Beliefs tend to guide people as far as which healing approach they should apply. Hence, the focus of the thesis was on the source of the healing power in terms of preferred healing methods, and how these healing methods connect to the illness, ukuhanjwa. The research embraces attributional theory which recognises that certain illnesses are attributed to spiritual and social causes rather than biomedical causes. The study opts for a holistic healing approach to understanding ukuhanjwa. The Southern Nguni’s recognition of ukuhanjwa defines the illness as entry into the body by ‘familiars’. An examination of the specific healing methods used by the Southern Nguni reveals a socially constructed causal link between ukuhanjwa and the familiars. Issues explored included the source of healing power in the preferred healing method; the conceptualisation of ukuhanjwa; healing of ukuhanjwa as a cultural phenomenon; the social construction of authenticity in the efficacy of the healing methods; and the continued use of the preferred healing methods despite the evolution of biomedical healing methods. The ethnographic study took place in the OR Tambo District Municipality (ORTDM) in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Data was collected using qualitative and ethnographic research methods focusing on in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and observations amongst a sample group of 50 participants. Regarding the focus of the study, which was on the source of the healing power of traditional healing methods, findings revealed four sources of the healing power. Findings also revealed that biomedical healing methods have been popularly portrayed to be superior. This caused the Southern Nguni people to conclude that all those illnesses which cannot be recognised or cured by using biomedical health system are invisible. The supposed invisibility of ukuhanjwa emanates from the fact that biomedical practitioners separate the cause of the illness from the symptoms and find little correlation between the symptoms. The Southern Nguni do not separate the symptoms from one another, just as they do not separate the symptoms from the cause. This results in a linguistic and diagnostic discourse regarding the approach used by the Southern Nguni and that used by biomedical practitioners in dealing with ukuhanjwa. The Southern Nguni preference for traditional healing methods has to do with the view that ritual purification of the victim is the best way of dealing with spiritually caused illnesses such as ukuhanjwa to expel spiritual pollution for holistic (spiritual and physical) healing. Ritual purification is believed to have the necessary ‘cooling’ effect for expelling spiritual pollution from the victim – hence the Southern Nguni people resort to pluralistic tendencies in healing. Four sources of the healing power in traditional healing meathods have been established. The first is the natural magic and spiritual power resulting from God’s signature, working by ‘sympathetic magic’. The second is the level of trust, belief and faith that Southern Nguni people have in the efficacy of the healing power and the person recommending the healing method. The last two sources were found to be the ritual timing and ritual space for successful healing of ukhanjwa illness. Traditional people tend to lack the patience for preventive measures. They prefer dramatic, visual and once-off healing methods. What does not work for them is slow, consistent healing methods and preventive measures which work in unseen ways – hence they fail to use preventive measures for ukuhanjwa.