Mdantsane is a unique, vibrating, eclectic, African place. Follow us on a pilgrimage to Mdantsane to discover the street culture, fashion, food, people, music, homes, taverns, humor, businesses, history and what's hot in the second biggest township in South-Africa, located close to the city of East London in the Province of the Eastern Cape. Join us on this journey while we capture the spirit of this amazing place for you in the here and in the now. We are going to introduce you to many individuals, artists, musicians, groups and associations.
They are the HEROES OF DAILY LIFE. They are the people who create, innovate and improve their life and their stories deserve to be told. This is a place for only good and positive stories of humanity, that will send out a message of courage, endurance and strength to the world through their pictures and words.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Amagqirha - The Way Of Divine Healing In The Xhosa Tradition

A while ago we published the article "A Young Circumcision Surgeon's Quest To Preserve Tradition" by Siyanda Nkonyeni and with today's post we are following up on the great interest this topic has created amongst our readers, South African and foreign alike. 

The historical images shown today on our site are all property (we do not claim any rights to them, they are shown here for the sake of sharing them with our readers) and are exhibited at the Amathole Museum in King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape. 

We also encourage our South African readers to make use of the cultural and historical sites we have in South Africa. Museums have to be visited to keep them growing and glowing. Our interest in the past of our country is the encouragement, that institutions like museums and galleries need to continue doing their work in a passionate and dedicated manner.

Historical Picture of A Mfengu Diviner (Amagqirha ), Grahamstown 1982 - The Amathole Museum in King Williams Town
Amagqirha have been labelled as witchdoctors, diviners, traditional doctors, Sangoma and Ngaka, but in the Eastern Cape of South Africa they are known as the Amagqirha. 
They are the custodians of customs that survived through the centuries and remain the foundation of tribal life.  

In Southern Africa there are two main types of traditional practitioners.The first group are the herbalists - in the Xhosa language their name is amaxhwele and in the Zulu language izinyanga. 
The diviners belong to the second group, called in Xhosa amagqirha and in Zulu izangoma.

Explanation of the role a diviner - Amathole Museum in King Wiliiams Town

A Diviner In His Consulting Room at Grahamstown 1982 - Amathole Museum King Williams Town

It is the diviner's work to discover the hidden causes behind misfortune and prescribe appropriate action. This action occurs usually in the form of divination or healing, using plant remedies, which could be practised without a knowledge of divination since all diviners are also healers at the same time, and have an extensive knowledge of medicines.
ASC (altered states of consciousness) are an important feature in the initiation and training of diviners in South Africa, as well as in their divination practices. 

As elsewhere around the world diviners make use of trance/ ASC to connect with what are believed to be spiritual powers or higher human awareness. 

In Southern Africa dance, song and psychoactive plants are all inducers of visionary phenomena.

The Diviner's Consulting Room - Amathole Museum King Williams Town

Through the use of these inducers, the diviner is able to connect with the ancestral "spirits" which is crucial in diagnosing the problem the patient has. 

Powerful healers are said to be able to see the illness in the body of the patient which is reminiscent of similar abilities employed by shamans around the world.

The Southern African diviner is characterised by his/her ability to communicate with and learn from the ancestor spirits (Amadlozi).
Diviners are most commonly not possessed by their spirits but communicate with them or use a medium by which their guidance is interpreted.

The healers mostly use the bones and dreams to communicate with their ancestors. Their spirits may also communicate information to them through thoughts. The ancestors always close. 
It appears that the ancestral spirits, who are said to be responsible for the initiation illness, and for sending visions and giving information to the healer, are an intangible force or power that the healer is connected to..


Amathole Museum in King Williams Town About How A Person Is Called By The Ancestors To Become An Amagqirha

Diviners  are specifically called to their profession by their ancestors through the sending of a illness syndrome, referred to as thwasa or intwaso. This term is derived from the verb ukuthwasa which refers to the process of gradually becoming or emerging as a diviner. 

The person does not to choose to be a diviner but is chosen by the ancestors.

The intwaso condition is characterized by the initiate suffering from various illnesses, dreams, visions and mental disturbances such as madness and anxiety sent by the ancestors.

A Diviner In the Ciskei Circa 1984

To become a diviner the initiate has to be first cured of the illness (intwaso) through a series of rituals, which include the use of special plant based medicines of the home and training in techniques of divination and curing.

Medicine Bag Of A Diviner

This novice or candidate diviner (umkwetha) becomes now the apprentice of a experienced practising healer who teaches him/her the ways of traditional healing.

Diviner Pondoland Circa 1930's - Amathole Museum in King Williams Town

The Amagqirha are an integral, deeply embedded and important part of the South African Society. They can be seen in the big cities, rural areas as well as in townships, like Mdantsane. Divination and Healing through traditional herbal remedies exists side by side with modern western medicine. Moreoften the two complement each other.

Historical Image of A Diviner - Amathole Museum Kind Williams Town
Often patients who undergo a classical on western medicine based treatment consult an Amagqirha as well.

Zulu Diviners

With Western medicine not having all the answers the West has become more and more interested in traditional healing techniques like the ones practized in Africa for centuries.

Divinatory Charges, Grahamstown  in 1982

Rain Maker Kei Road circa 1940's - Amathole Museum inKing Williams Town

A Display Of A Proprietary Medicines From A Trading Store circa 1940's at Ngqutu Transkei


  1. where can i get a hold of a competent igqirha?

  2. I have dreams like wearing beads of different colours nd also rain appears nd meeting amagqirha amaninzi



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