Traditional healing and ritualized cannibalism in South Africa and Botswana +27656180539

Traditional healing and ritualized cannibalism in
South Africa and Botswana




In Africa many people believe that there is healing
properties associated with the organs of the body. Animal
organs have some healing power, but human organs are the
most powerful for healing humans and of the organs the
genitals are considered the most powerful for healing. The
younger the person is, the more powerful the healing power
of the organ and the organ is most powerful for healing, if it
is removed alive and the more painful the removal is, the
more powerful medicin can be made from the organs. This
African tradition, which can also be found in other societies
throughout history, goes against modern concepts of ethics
and the Traditional Healers Organization have started a
movement to explain away with these myths. We have
recently travelled in South Africa and participated in
meetings about these issues and relay our experience in this
paper.

Keywords: Ritual killing, cannibalism, traditional healing,
voodoo, Africa


Introduction


The Traditional Healer’s Organization invited us
to help them solve problems related to ethics. They
faced two challenges, one was the government of
South Africa wanting to control and restrict them
from harmful practices, the other was local
disapproval and discontent with the healers in some
northern regions of South Africa after a number of
killings of primarily children and young people, who



were suspected to have been killed by people helping
the Sangomas in ritual Muthi (or Muti) killings.
We interviewed central persons in the Traditional
Healers Organization to understand what Muthi
killings are, and we got the following explanation:

 In Africa many people believe that there is
healing properties associated with the organs
of the body. Animal organs have some
healing power, but human organs are the
most powerful for healing humans.
 Of the organs the genitals are considered the
most powerful for healing.
 The younger the person is, the more powerful
the healing power of the organ.
 The organ is most powerful for healing, if it
is removed alive and the more painful the
removal is, the more powerful medicin can
be made from the organs.

Therefore, when a number of children, mostly
girls, where found killed, obviously after torture and
mutilation, with their genitals cut away, seemingly
while the children were still alive, this left little doubt
in the local population that this was the Sangomas
harvesting the necessary ingredients for their magical
brews.
The superstitions related to Muthi killings have a
number of horrible expressions in South Africa,
Boswana, and the related countries, i.e., rape of young
virgin girls, which is generally believed in many parts
of the black population to be able to cure AIDS. This
leads to thousands of rapes of children in Africa every
year and HIV infection spreading.
The local population has been reacting to the
Sangomas, since the systematic and frequent Muthi
killings – 14 killings in one region in only one year -
which have resulted in media attention in South
Africa. In many regions healers have been robbed,
lost their houses and property taken over by angry
neighbors, they have been beaten, raped and in a
number of cases stoned or burned to dead in classical
witch-fires. The local violent movements towards the
Traditional Healers have not stopped the many Muthi
killings in the Northern regions, and the Traditional
Healers Organization has reacted strongly by
organizing big meetings for the Sangomas on ethics.
Meeting the Sangomas

We were invited to speak to the Sangomas at a
meeting of 200 Sangomas in the Limpopo district,
where the Muthi killings have been frequent, with
mostly women attending the meeting as the female
Sangomas often are the victims of violence caused by
the hate and fear raised by the medial attention to the
Muthi killings.
It turned out during the conference that a major
part of income for the Sangomas comes from casting
spells. This business works this way that if you have
an argument with a neighbor or a rival in business, or
somebody you from jealousy or another personal
reason would like to weaken or harm, then you can
pay a Sangoma to cast a spell on him or her. As soon
as he or she learns about the spell it will start
impacting, often quite dramatically. This mechanism,
called the nocebo effect in medical research, is well
known also from other research in Voodo (Vodou,
Vodun, Vudu).
The good business of casting spells made the
Sangomas quite hostile to the idea that good things
come from doing good, and bad things come from
doing evil. It simply seemed difficult for many
Sangomas to get the idea that if you do harmful
things, this invites harmful things to be done to you.
Therefore they insisted on continuing to cast spells,
while they were complaining about being treated
badly by the local population. Also the concept of
good and bad did not sit well with the Sangomas; this
seemed to be western concepts with little meaning to
the native black population of rural South Africa and
Botswana. But then again, this has been a practice for
thousands of years in Africa, and so has the Muthi
killings. The problems for the Sangomas come with
the Western culture, the modernization of Africa, and
the media that focus on the negative side of the
healer’s tradition.
Are the Traditional Healers powerful healers?
Yes they are. Because of their standing in the society
their words simply means a world of difference. If
they say that you will get better, you will get better –
this is the placebo effect in its most clear and
condensed form. I they say that you will get ill, you
will get ill, if you believe in the Sangomas.
It was discussed at the Ethics Conference in
Limpopo that it was very important that Sangomas





How can we understand the
symbolism of the Traditional African
Healers?

If we look that the elements of the Muthi killings that
makes the most powerful medicine, it is clear that the
symbolism comes from the dualism of the core
concepts of life and healing:

 Healthy - sick
 Young - old
 Sexual - asexual
 Dominance and power - dominated,
powerless
 Killing, preying - being killed, falling prey
 Eating - being eaten

It is worth a reflection that the Muthi medicine
using the human organs is actually a soup boiled on
the organs, together with magical herbs and other
magical things – very much like the magical witch
brew of Disney’s cartoon witches.
So Muthi medicine is ritualized cannibalism, and
it intends to transfer the health, happiness and sexual
power from the victim of the Muthi killing over to
you. The myth of Count Dracula from Transylvania
who slaughtered countless young girls and women
and drank their blood to get their youth, health,
strength, beauty and life comes to one’s mind. The
elements are pretty similar and many forms of power
abuse and sexual exploitation rotates around this
theme: Transference of what is good, from one to
another.
The essence of the Muthi medicine is that the
Sangoma transfers life, joy and health from the victim
to you, the costumer, motivated partly by the payment
you give the Sangoma for his or her service, and
partly undoubtedly by the Sangomas own celebration
of unlimited power, which is at the core of the Muthi
killing rite.


What is the future for the African
Sangomas?

The Traditional Healers Organization (THO) has been
strong in distancing itself from all harmful deeds of
the Sangomas, like Muthi killings and virgin rapes.
The ethical rules of the Sangomas are very clear in
forbidding these acts (1). The leaders of THO also
believes that the evil deeds are done by “fake
Sangomas,” nor by the “true Sangomas” who are
called to practice and inspired by the divine.
Sangomas have a mighty power in Africa. The
WHO has acknowledged them as the doctors of
Africa, and there seem to be no alternative to the
Sangomas. Yet there is a sharp conflict between the
traditional healers practice and a modern and
informed Africa that slowly is emerging. The most
fundamental problem seems to be that the western
concept of good and evil is not shared by the
Sangomas nor by the people they serve. It seems that
many native Africans simply believe in power. In the
old Sagas of Iceland we find the statement that
“power is right.” If you have the power to do a thing,
you also have the right to do it. In a modern
civilization power and right are two very different
things.
The Traditional Healers Organization uses a
strange way of communicating the message to its
members regarding Muthi killings: You should not be
involved in Muthi killings, because this cause troubles