At Mafela Sikotheni’s the Herbalist’s

Thokozani! Dancing with the Ancestors

8. At Mafela Sikotheni’s the Herbalist’s

November 16/17, 1996


afela Sikotheni was coming home. She had finished her initiation at Canny’s place a couple of weeks ago, and now she was being installed at her own place as a certified, qualified herbalist. The Madlosi tree was being planted at her place, and her surgery was being dedicated with a ceremony and presents from Canny and other important sangomas. Nine of the students were there, Mzilikazi, Mafela Ndleleni, and the others. Guests from Lethlakganeng (Katherine Hlongwane’s clan), Soshanguve (the Ngobenis, George and Eva and their entourage), and relatives from all over: by Sunday morning more than 300 people would be participating. It had rained hard all Saturday afternoon, and with the weather having cleared as I drove into Atteridgeville about 7 pm, there was water everywhere.

Canny was out when I arrived, and as he prepared his things, I spent an agreeable hour with his mother Susan, another granny, and his brother Stephen, who was delighted to learn that my father’s name was Stephen also. Transport problems were bound to delay matters after the storms. People were up to three and four hours late in arriving from all over the province and beyond. Mafela Sikotheni’s place was only about three streets away, perhaps half a mile, and I ferried four people at a time (elderly ladies only) between Canny’s place and hers, while others walked or packed into the few minivans that were around, for the better part of two hours.

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Bereavement in Rietgat

Thokozani! Dancing with the Ancestors

7. Bereavement in Rietgat

November 11, 1995


anny has invited me to attend a ceremony in Rietgat, also known as Lethlakganeng. The village lies in the new Northwest Province, the former homeland of Bophuthathswana, about 100 km northwest of Pretoria. We are traveling to the rural home of Canny’s gobda Katherine Hlongwane, whose daughter has unfortunately recently lost her first-born son. Canny had done his studies with Katherine, and sangomas and their students are arriving from all over the former Transvaal region tonight. Early on Sunday morning, as Canny described it, they will “accompany the young man to the spirit world.” Canny describes Katherine as a humble, kind woman, greatly respected by her people. There will be two cows and four goats slaughtered for the occasion, and this information tells me that it will be a significant gathering. As opposed to the previous celebrations I had attended, which had been a joyful cornucopia of colour, this time there will be an emphasis on black. Every celebrant will have black as the dominant colour among the others which make up their traditional raiment. I was intrigued when Canny informed me that he and his students had prepared an appropriate traditional garment for me. We planned our arrival in Lethlakganeng for about 10 pm. I arrived at Canny’s at 8:30, where all the students, Canny, his mother Susan, and several other guests had gathered. The place was spotlessly clean in every corner. We exchanged greetings, traditional and otherwise, and sat to chat for a while. In surgery, suitcases and bags full of traditional raiment were bring prepared meticulously. When trance arrives, the spirit must be clad in a particular order inside the house, preparing for the dance. We then drummed and sang for a while, and Canny presented me with my material.

Two or three of the students had an excellent laugh while fitting it around me, somewhat like a toga, slung diagonally across my shoulder. The minibus then arrived, which would transport the majority of the group and materials. There were now about twenty of us, so we loaded everyone in their respective vehicles, six in my car, and made our way out of town around 9:20, well within African time so far. What Canny had neglected to tell me (Canny always neglected to tell me something extra we had to do, which made excursions with him consistently interesting and surprising) was that the minibus had to pick up Eva Ngobeni, the nyanga, and two or three students in Soshanguve. Since the driver did not know the way, either to Eva’s place in Soshanguve, or for that matter to Lethlakganeng, we were destined to lead the way. On the road, Canny and I got to talking about Johannes Mashimbi’s untimely death earlier in the year. He had been at a gathering at the time, and I listened spellbound to his account of how Johannes had suddenly collapsed, and how he and two or three others had tried to revive him, all to no avail. I remembered Johannes fondly as a good friend and mentor.

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