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Sangoma in the Netherlands --

On integrity in intercultural mediation (English version)

Wim van Binsbergen

Sangoma in The Netherlands

On integrity in intercultural mediation[1]

© Wim van Binsbergen[2]

Provisional draft translation; not for publication or published comment



At least three main lines I can see in the live and work of Matthew Schoffeleers. [3]

(1)  the struggle to be allowed to approach a distant, African culture, in its totality, and on the conditions which that culture imposes, regardless of the preconceived images and stipulations which attend such an approach in Matthew’s society of origin: Dutch society, the academic subculture, the world of mission and church

(2)  but when he subsequently produces an image of that distant culture, he does not wish to dissimulate his attachments to his own society of origin: he claims the right to present the African culture, and to interpret it, in the light of dilemmas informed b his own social, academic and religious experience -- for (despite a few personal touches) Matthew has committed himself totally, not only to the distant African culture, but also to the Dutch, academic and ecclesiastical context;

(3)  since these two points result in a struggle between total commitments unified in one and the same person, it is inevitable that such a person emerges from the struggle in a damaged and maimed condition; but nothing is of greater value than that struggle, and the severest disfigurement is the price that has to be paid for the greatest election.

I first met Matthew in 1972, at Terry Ranger’s path-breaking Lusaka conference on the history of Central African religious systems which for both of us would mean the break-through to an international career in this field of studies. At the time, Matthew found himself somewhere between point (1) and (2). He had already been damaged by the confrontations with his ecclesiastical superiors, as a result of the unboundedness with which he, as a missionary, has approached the Mang’anja culture of southern Malawi. He had already made the transition from missionary to anthropologist, lecturer at the university of Malawi; within a few years he would make the transition to a Dutch readership and soon professorial chair; he would remain a priest and a monk. But perhaps because he was frightened of what point (3) would hold in store for him, for the time being he as channelling his great knowledge and love of the Mang’anja culture into a historical study of a local cult; in a distant past half a millennium behind us, the founder of that cult, Mbona, was to become the martyr of a process of state formation which among other factors was due to the earliest European expansion in this region[4] -- much in the way as Christ was the martyr of, among other factors, Roman expansion in Palestine. But if this fascination with the distant past might have been a way of buying time for himself, it proved impossible to close the road to Matthew’s personal here and now. he had by then been initiated into the notorious Nyau mask society, an for years it would be him, of all people, who was the driving force keeping the Mbona cult alive. His work on African theology, African Christology, on Christ as an African diviner-priest (nganga),[5] merged seamlessly with the pastoral work he conducted in Malawi and The Netherlands for many years, and all these are aspects of the way he discharged point (2). As he pronounced in the build-up towards the final blessing in the marriage ceremony which he celebrated for my wife and me (in Belgium, typically way outside the geographical area of his ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and with existential African contributions from all three of us):

‘It is my task to make my God visible, wherever, and in whatever form under which he is permitted to manifest himself’.

       Only those who have been very close to Matthew have been privileged to see a glimpse of point (3), at painful moments which Matthew’s struggle, although directed at distant contexts, temporarily invaded personal relationships but only to leave them purified and enriched, after a crisis. To a wider audience, and well under control, this aspect manifested itself in the disquieting synthesis of structuralist anthropology, theory, and African religious anthropology that was to constitute his second, Utrecht inaugural (1991).[6] The maimed figure par excellence, the figure which has only one side to his body,[7] and who speeds pathetically through the Central African forest as well as through the dreams of its inhabitants, is not only Plato’s half-man waiting to be re-united with his counterpart, but (as Matthew succeeded in proving with great exegetic and structuralist spirit) he is also Christ, Mbona, and in the final analysis, more than anyone else, Matthew himself.

       Perhaps, in the last instance, the disfigurement which renders god-like boils down to death as a recondition for resurrection or rebirth; but this disfigurement is certainly the price which is to be paid for a total commitment to two domains; it is their tragedy that only through this very commitment are they constructed to be irreconcilably opposed to one another. This indicates the central tragedy of the classic anthropologist, the one who in the course of years of intensive fieldwork acquires the language and the customs so as to be able to understand and describe another culture from the inside. According to a sixteenth-century source[8] there was, among the possession of the Viking king Svyatoslav in ninth-century Kiev, a drinking vessel made from a human skull mounted in gold; it bore an inscription:

‘In search of the exotic he lost what was more his own than anything else’

-- his skull, and hence his life; this is a lesson which eminently befits classic anthropologists.

       No two people’s situations and life’s stories are wholly identical. My present contribution to Matthew’s Festschrift shows to considerable extent to which the three main lines of Matthew’s life as a scholar may also be detected in my own (being Matthew’s first Ph.D. student). Yet the unwinding of my own biography was most of the time so much out of phase with Matthew’s development that often I had the greatest difficulty precisely with those of his texts (written after 1980) in which his scholarship more and more opted for theological and existential expressions -- and in which he emphatically identified himself not only as an excellent investigator of the Mang’anja but also as a Westerner, and as a Western priest. After all, Matthew is my senior by nineteen years, and although the Roman Catholic church did play a major role in my youth I never took steps towards the priesthood within that organisation. Until the end of the 1980s I kept hoping that my scientific approach of African religion[9] would form an effective canalisation and disenchantment of my own religious sensibility such as I had acquired in childhood. Quite early I had detached myself from the Roman Catholic church (to which, incidentally, I owe an excellent secondary school education). If I came to anthropology from a thoroughly unhappy childhood, it was not because of interference from any church, but because of the kinship dramas dominating the family in which I grew up, shortly after World War II: dramas around incest, violence, despair, and father figures who had been absent from the generations immediately my parent’s generation. For me, Africa was not a choice but a refuge, where I kept looking for a home. I found that, first (from 1972) among the Zambian Nkoya, where I advanced to the status of adopted member of the royal family inheriting, at the death of king Kabambi Kahare in 1993, his royal bow and 25km2 of land; and later (from 1989) in Botswana, in booming Francistown, where somewhat as a Nkoya migrant labourer from Zambia I found a place for myself in one of the few ‘lodges’ centring on therapeutic ecstatic religion, only to leave that lodge again as a fully initiated and certified diviner-priest (sangoma).[10] After my clever, but Marxist-reductionist historical and political analyses of African religion in the 1970s and 1980s, this personal development meant that my existence has been effectively captured and re-structured by African religion.

       Meanwhile we are ten years later. I remained a sangoma, in addition to my other central roles as husband, father, research, professor and manager. During my frequent visits to southern Africa I incidentally practice as a diviner-priest, but usually I limit my practice to a handful of clients in The Netherlands, where I reside permanently. What is the meaning of such intercultural mediation, and what questions does it raise concerning integrity? This is what I intend to explore in this paper.



We may define integrity as: a person’s explicitly intended consistency between his behaviour and the norms and values which he stands for. In present-day North Atlantic culture, integrity in itself has become one of the more important norms and values, regardless of what specific norms, values and behaviour are involved in any particular case. In the scope of this paper I cannot explore whether this insistence on integrity is a trap, or an achievement, of North Atlantic culture.

       integrity is a value we share with many others, e.g. with the members of our generation, with fellow academics, with fellow nationals (if we happen to be Dutch, or Americans), with the citizens of the globalised international society. As such integrity is intersubjective and constitutes a fairly unambiguous touch-stone. At the same time however integrity is an individual striving for self-realisation, and as such its intersubjectivity is inevitably limited. We do not know exactly whether the norms and values which a person overtly claims to represent, also are truly cherished by that person in his or her innermost self. His pubic claim may be mere lip- service, intended to create the necessary room for other norms and other values. To the extent to which that person’s publicly expressed norms and values may fail to entirely account for his public behaviour (for not everyone is a gifted actor), to that extent such a person may leave an impression of defective integrity. It is even possible that this person does not entirely reject but in fact partially subscribes to the values which he publicly represents, even though these differ from the one he cherishes in his innermost self; his integrity would then for instance be manifest from the extent to which he sincerely and profoundly struggles with the problem that contradictory norms may both appear as valid at the same time. But it is also possible to take a very different view o the matter and to let the central test of integrity reside, not in the inner struggle but in the successful public testimony of consistency. Hopefully the latter view will find little support from the part of anthropologists, who (at least if they have done prolonged fieldwork outside the society of which they are competent adult members in the first place) are conversant with the fact that all social behaviour is so performative and strategic that the ethnographic road to truth, experience, underlying attitude behind overt behaviour is always an extremely difficult and problematic one to go.

       So far we have discussed our operating within Dutch society, against the background of a shared local cultural framework: that of the Dutch or, for that matter, the European intelligentsia, which is used to thinking in national contexts of such norms of values as are linked effectively to world politics and to world-wide ideologies. In the intercultural mediation which the anthropologist seeks to bring about the problem of integrity takes a rather different shape. If that anthropologist is not an African herself, her Africa primarily stands out as one of the many limited local contexts for ordering and signification, and if the concept of Africa means anything it implies that it has some kind of a boundary, at which the global outside world is selectively filtered, transformed, often even kept out. How is it possible to realise integrity in a situation of interculturality, which by definition departs from a plurality of mutually independent norms and values, all of which apply simultaneously? This corresponds with the points (1) and (2) as argued above; this is once more a struggle from which one only emerges with disfigurement (3), but hopefully one acquires a new value and dignity in the process.

       My claim to have become a sangoma, to have built that capacity into my very life, and to justifiably derive a limited therapeutic practice from that capacity, essentially amounts to the following: I claim that, in addition to my activities as a prominent Dutch intellectual, I operate simultaneously, effectively and justifiably in a totally different local cultural context; in that latter context our pet concept of integrity would doubtless acquire a totally different meaning -- it is would fit that context at all. Integrity is perhaps a universal value of global culture, but there is no evident answer to the question what integrity might mean with regard to specific and concrete non-western local contexts, and with regard to the mediation between those contexts and our own North Atlantic society.

       Could my own situation as a sangoma shed light on these questions?




The relevant local cultural framework is that of practically illiterate spirit medium (basangoma, sangomas) living in and around the town of Francistown, which is situated near the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe. Sangomas are people who consider themselves, and who are considered by their extended social environment, as effective healers: as mediators between people on the one hand, the ancestors, spirits and God (Mwali on the other -- in a general context where most bodily afflictions are interpreted in religious terms. These specialists themselves believe that they have acquired their special powers of mediation and healing by virtue of a special supernatural election, which made them into incarnations of ancestral spirits. Sangomas engage each other in a constant battle on life and death over prestige and hierarchy, and control over adepts. Such forms of their institutionalised behaviour as are open to concrete religious anthropological research (diagnosis, therapy, training, initiation, graduation), are considered, by these specialists and their social environment, as a mere secondary aspect -- as progressive manifestation and confirmation -- of their fundamental dispensation, and not as conditions or legitimations of the latter. Their essential dispensation is considered to be of a religious nature, and it reveals itself socially when ancestral spirit, during a public trance, speak through the mouth of the medium, making coherent and understandable pronouncements in a language which has local currency.

       Around 1990 Francistown boasted half a dozen sangoma lodges, three of which I got to know well through intensive contact and personal membership. Out of a total population of some 60,000, the town possessed no more than fifty sangomas and twazas (trainee-sangomas), about half one whom I knew personally, and a quarter of whom were my day to day social contacts whenever I was in Francistown. So we are dealing here with a speciality which only very few people engage in: less than one in a thousand of the urban population.[11] Many clients pass through the hands of the sangomas. In most cases the treatment is limited to one or two divination sessions, some directions as to how to conduct an ancestral sacrifice, or the administration of herbal medicine derived directly from nature, or from colleague-practitioners. Only a small portion of the clients makes the grade to twazahood -- via a public first initiation, when the candidate receives his (more typically her) specific paraphernalia and ritual uniform, but not before mediumistic trance had provided the culturally prescribed proof of ancestral election. The twaza novice is subjected to all sorts of servility, and taboos in the nutritional and sexual domain. Far fewer than half of the twazas concludes this incubation period, after at least a year, with the final graduation to sangoma. Such a graduation includes additional proofs and rituals; a great and expensive ancestral sacrifice; a public and festive installation during a nocturnal dancing ritual in from of the sangomas (they may number several dozens) who graduated earlier from the same lodge. The graduation is concluded when the new graduate is confirmed in his high status by being received within the regional shrine of the High God cult, where again additional paraphernalia and therapeutic dispensations are extended to him.

       Manifestly a number of different levels of cult organisation may be distinguished:

     the lodge, under the direction of an independent sangoma, with her (or his) close kinsmen and twaza as co-residing members

     around the lodge a wider congregation of non-residing kinsmen, twazas, and independent sangomas who have graduated from that lodge

     the regional division of the cult of the High God Mwali, led by a high priest; each independent sangoma and each lodge is tributary to this cult, forwarding a portion of the considerable amount of money derived from the clients and from the ritual guidance of twazas; and finally

     the central shrines of the Mwali cult in the Matopos hills in South Western Zimbabwe.

This organisation is several centuries old (not more). It is in constant flux, since at the basis ever new lodge crystallise out around independent sangomas, while other lodges disappear when their leader dies or moves away. At the basis this organisational structure displays typically the general form of the cults of affliction;[12] at the higher levels a less fluid model applies, consisting of rather permanent shrines, each with their own cult region.[13]

       Ever since the enactment of the Societies Act of Botswana (1972) a parallel organisation has been added to this structure in the form of a professional organisation (in this case the Kwame/Legwane Traditional Association). In this society sangomas associate themselves on a loose basis, under the leadership of the society’s chairman, who is the regional high priest of the Mwali cult. The sangomas pay a life membership. The professional organisation is the interface between the traditional organisational structure on the one hand, and on the other modern life, where the postcolonial state pretends to watch over the medical profession. Admission to the society is only possible at the nomination by another member, who has to be established as a fully independent sangoma. If the authorities insist (but civil servants are demonstrable afraid of these clubs of ‘witchdoctors’) this formal organisation may go through the official motions of producing an general annual meeting, official annual returns stating the details of the association’s executive, etc. The society enables sangomahood to present a Janus face to the state:[14] on the one hand one pretends to submit to the organisational format imposed by the Societies Act, on the other hand one goes on doing what one ha been doing for dozens if not hundreds of years, on the basis of a power disposition which is acknowledged and feared by the wider society, and which is totally independent from the state.[15] The reader may imagine that our concept of integrity is not truly constitutive of this professional association, especially given the deadly competition between independent sangomas. But one might also interpret the situation as if these spiritual leaders (like my of their colleagues in the North Atlantic tradition; cf the Jesuit order) reserve their integrity for the long term and for their dealings with the supernatural; while, merely in order to safeguard this integrity at the highest level, they pay a fairly effective lip service to publicly mediated norms and values in their dealings with humans, especially civil servants. This lip service is never totally convincing, and I think this is on purpose: to the extent to which the spiritual leader manifestly does not play the pubic game quite by the rules, to that extent he demonstrates that he can afford to make light with the rules of the state. This he mediates, publicly, his own power claims based on esoteric norms and values which are not derived from the statal domain but which do have public support -- as is evident from the fact that the sangoma tends to have a considerable number of clients, many of whom make great financial sacrifices in the context of their therapy and twazahood, while also the non-clients including civil servants greatly fear the sangomas.

       During the colonial period the public practice of sangomahood was absolutely prohibited, especially four tablet divination which is an essential element of such practice; the prohibition was justified by reference to human sacrifices which were sometimes based on such divination. By that time traditional therapeutic practices went underground. In independent Botswana (since 1966) such prohibitions no longer apply. Today the practice of traditional medicine is regulated by a duly certified license to be issued, under strict conditions of proven expertise, by a professional association of traditional healers. Such a document is recognised by the state as the sole proof of qualification for the practice of traditional medicine. In principle (not counting excesses) it protects the bearers from prosecution in case a patient suffers injury during therapy, or even dies. The same document exempts the bearer in practice -- perhaps mainly because of the fear which it inspires -- from a number of government regulations, such as those concerning endangered animal species (skins, ivory, and other animal products play a major role in the traditional medicine of Southern Africa), and more unimpeded access to domains whose access is highly regulated for the general public (hospitals, cemeteries, game parks, wholesaler’s outlets).



The above supplies the data required for an initial answer to the obvious questions concerning the integrity of my intercultural mediation as a sangoma.

       In accordance with all norms and values of the culture of contemporary Botswana I have been legitimated as a sangoma in the only way culturally defined for such legitimation (by pubic ancestral trance etc., see above). Subsequently, by the required forms of initiation, I first obtained the degree of twaza, in the presence of hundreds of eye witnesses. Subsequently, for a full year I subjected myself to very demanding taboos, in a bid to undergo further spiritual maturation; I also engaged in further training in divination. Although this year was largely spent in The Netherlands, its format was defined by detailed directions which I received from the lodge beforehand, I was monitored by correspondence, and after my return to Francistown I was thoroughly examined as to my faithful performance in the year of my absence, and my spiritual progress as a result. Back in Francistown I was told to live for a few weeks in the village of Matshelagabédi, at a distance of 30 km from the town. In that period I graduated to become a fully-fledged sangoma, in the presence of several dozen of witnesses, mainly members i.e. previous graduates from the same lodge, who had been told by the lodge leader to travel to Matshelagabédi exclusively for the purpose of attending my graduation. I was admitted as a member to one of the four professional associations of traditional healers which Botswana could boast around 1990 (two of these were moribund, but our own association was certainly not). Of this admission I have a duly signed and stamped certificate[16] for display in my surgery -- which coincides with my study at home. The floor of that study is partly covered with the consecrated, tanned goat skins derived from sacrificial animals which I killed in the context of my several initiations in the presence of other ritual specialists, and whose pulsating blood I have had to drink directly from their cut throats when they were being sacrificed. Besides I have in my possession a smaller certificate of membership of the professional association, with photograph, stamp and chairman’s signature, meant to be carried by me from day to day. After my final graduation, I was confirmed in my office by the oracle of the High God Mwali at the regional shrine at Nata, Botswana; as proof of this I have in my possession several consecrated paraphernalia, including a leopard skin sanctified in that shrine and put on my shoulders by the high priest. Fellow sangomas, other traditional healers (including my principal teacher of divination, the late Mr Smarts Gumede, until his death in 1992 a prominent herbalist in Francistown and sometime treasurer of the professional association to which I now belong), and scores of patients in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa (not to mention The Netherlands) have recognised my claim of being a sangoma, and have enlisted me as their therapist. I was even the spiritual advisor of Mr Gumede when, just before his death in 1992, he made his last journey to his region of origin in Zimbabwe. A similar practical recognition can also be found among a small and shifting set of clients in The Netherlands. I treat them with the diagnostic and therapeutic disposition which has been extended to me as a sangoma. In this practice trance scarcely plays a role: as with most of my colleagues in Southern Africa, trance only comes in during the ancestral, dancing rituals which sangomas perform among themselves, usually in the secluded context of the lodge.

       In the spring of 1994 a test case offered itself for the extent to which my claims can be negotiated at the intercultural and international legal level. I was largely unaware of the CITES treaty regulations which since the late 1980s have internationally governed all transactions involving species threatened with extinction. The large and legitimate game trophy dealer which had sold me the leopard skin prior to its consecration at Nata, had told me how to get an export license for it, and this I obtained in accordance with CITES regulations, but such a license is for one trip only, and expires within a year. From 1991 I was used to travel up and down several times a year between The Netherlands and Southern Africa, carrying my consecrated leopard skin in my luggage as a matter of course, never offering bribes but showing my professional license whenever an explanation was needed. This never posed a problem until, early 1994, the leopard skin was confiscated at Amsterdam International Airport in the course of a routine check, and by reference to the CITES treaties. During half a year a voluminous file was allowed to build up at the Haarlem regional court under whose jurisdiction the airport falls, but finally the leopard skin was returned to me in formal recognition of its extraordinary religious function. Not only was the skin returned, I also obtained, at the court’s initiative and without me even asking for it, a permanent, multi-entry import and export license for this game trophy, which constitutes a prohibited possession under CITES regulations. This decision is all the more significant since at the same occasion also a naively important, non-consecrated python skin was confiscated -- of the kind with which sangomas like to embellish their surgery. This skin was not returned but destroyed, and cost me a fine of f200. The events constitute a most interesting case of jurisprudence in intercultural environmental legislation.


INSTANT COFFEE, or arabica?

When all is said and done, one of my interlocutors asks me, what does my sangomahood amount to: ‘instant coffee, or arabica?’

     either a feeble imitation which one may appropriate à la minute (and which perhaps is nothing more but a meaningless, self-indulgent, exotisising anti-intellectualist stance on my part), or

     the real work which requires years of loving dedication?

       The question looks self-explanatory, and would seem to have a simple answer. In the same way as so much which the North Atlantic derives from Africa, is reduced by Westerners to simple, manageable proportions with astonishing ease: to the format of an international language, of globally marketed fire arms and globally enforced national political institutions, to magic words such as ‘revolution’ and ‘democracy’ to which international institutions and movements provide the magical power, to elegant interlocutors of the highest political and intellectual levels dressed in three-piece suits, -- and never, of course, an indigenous African language which one only masters by sweat, blood and tears; never the wooden mock weapons, the deadly poisons and the undomesticated magical incantations of a local African cult; never the cacophony of voices and of social claims which in the course of fieldwork in Africa obscures not only the fieldworker’s view of a wider external framework of theory, but even of herself; the rough concrete floor on which one first dances the ecstatic dance on one’s bare feet until these are bleeding and sore from stamping, after which one goes to sleep on the same floor along with one’s sisters and brothers in the lodge who by this time of night are usually dead-drunk -- their ages vary between seventeen and seventy-five, but the higher numbers are over-represented by far.

       As Africanist anthropologists it is not our task to judge African cultures. And just in order to satisfy, or disappoint, both sides: my sangomahood is both instant coffee (in a figurative sense) and arabica (in a literal sense) at the same time. Sangomahood in Francistown is a cosmopolitan, non-rural, no-longer-local version of the Southern African mediumistic religion,[17] in which dark-skinned foreigners (Zimbabweans, South Africans, Zambians) happen to play dominant roles anyway, to such an extent that there was certainly room for a couple of light-skinned Dutchmen (my wife and myself) who turned out to have close connections with South Central Africa. The Francistown variety of sangomahood does not entail the construction of a self-evident, profound symbolic locality such as is for instance the case in the countryside of Zululand.[18] By contrast, Francistown sangomahood is a phenomenon of the mass society, in which many clients, and not just myself and my wife, first have to be converted or reconverted to the sangoma world view before any kind of diagnosis and therapy can be extended to them at all. The sangoma objects (textiles, beads, sacrificial animals which have to be bought and are not supposed to come from one’s own herd, money, often even the medicines) derive from the diffuse, unbounded space which we are used nowadays to call ‘the market’ -- not the diminutive little vegetable market in the centre of Francistown (which is shyly tucked away between megalomaniac secular temples of offices and shopping malls in a cosmopolitan architecture) but simply the abstract, world wide network of commercial transactions. Those sangoma attributes reflect centuries, not of a village horizon closed onto itself, but of continental and intercontinental trade. And it is the same trade which had made it possible that an Arabic divination system (on which we will say more below) has succeeded in taking root here, in an almost perfect African disguise which is therefore difficult to see through. As a cosmopolitan system the sangoma religion is meant to keep a sufficiently low threshold so as to catch in strangers -- in the first place as patients, but according to the general structural format of the cults of affliction some patients are bound to become doctors, leaders themselves. Probably this is a disappointing statement for those readers, including many Western medical anthropologists, who tend to take for granted that indigenous therapy systems in Southern Africa are characterised by high levels of aesthetics, originality, inaccessibility, a strictly local nature, enormous complexity, and the requirement of a prolonged and difficult training. But although the translocal nature of the Francistown sangoma complex would run counter to the assumptions of a classical Africanist anthropology with its image of Africa as a patchwork quilt of myriad discrete, bounded, specific cultures each closed into itself, recent work on the globalisation of African socio-cultural systems is increasingly offering the interpretative theoretical framework by which such translocal African cults can be understood.[19]

       Cosmopolitan does not necessarily mean superficial and insincere, and for me the sangoma religion is a complete form of religiosity and therapy.



However this does not take away the fact that also I myself am left with fundamental obscurities and contradictions.

       Against the background of the comparative literature, it is certainly appropriate to be surprised at the speed of my sangoma career. I found myself in the hands to two elderly cousins, Mrs MmaNdlovu (Rosie) en Mma­Shakayile (Elizabeth) Mabutu, both of whom were leaders of prominent lodges in Francistown. Their maternal grandfather had been a white man, and they very soon became convinced that I was their deceased brother or cousin in reincarnated form. Johannes is the name of my father’s brother, it is my third given name, and to boot it is the name which I myself chose as a ten-year old at the Roman Catholic rite of confirmation; at the time there was no conscious reference to my father’s brother -- I was simply impressed by the two evangelic Johannes figures, the Baptist and the disciple. However, I absolutely never used the name of Johannes, until the sangoma leaders projected this name upon me from their own initiative. Johannes meanwhile is a common given name in Southern Africa, deriving from the Afrikaner context. With the name of Johannes, I was no longer an outsider-patient who had been captured to acquire a ritual role in the lodge, no I had always belonged to the lodge and I was simply reincorporated in it as a central member of the sangoma family which constituted the core of the lodge congregation. At Matshelagabedi, in my capacity of Johannes, I was shown my grave, my village, and my village headman. The latter was, as is usual in Botswana, a state official and he had no family relationship whatsoever with the two cousins MmaNdlovu and MmaShakayile; but also to him my return to the village appeared to be the most normal thing in the world, when I was taken to him and formally introduced during my first visit to the village. With this construction the lodge members could entertain the thought that when I spoke in trance, it was not only my own ancestors who spoke through my mouth (a transcontinental migrant who from The Netherlands had settled in South Africa, had participated in the Boer war, and was killed there; and the Zambian king Mwene Kahare Timuna, whose son Mwene Kahare Kabambi had adopted me in the course of my life-long association with his court and his people going back to the early 1970s), but also the ancestors of the lodge leaders.

       This was a major aspect of my rapid career as a sangoma, but I cannot readily explain where the leaders’ conviction came from. Did they read about Johannes’ return in their oracular tablets? Had that return been prophesied during their trance (if so, it would not have registered with themselves in view of their altered state of consciousness, but it would have been reported to them by other lodge members after the leaders’ return to normal consciousness)? Did they dream about his return? This point simply never came up, and the power relations with the lodge made it impossible for me to make this question (or most other questions) the topic of a long and incisive interview! Constantly the leaders, especially MmaShakayile, emphasised that I was to turn out a great healer, who would easily retrieve, from the revenue out of his practice, all the financial investments which had to be made during the various initiations. in principle these are standard pronouncements to be addressed to every twaza. it is therefore certainly possible to explain these pronouncements also in my case as merely the justification for the truly substantial claims which the lodge makes on the twazas. However, that the lodge leader was in full earnest about my special election as a healer is suggested by the fact that she went out of her way to arrange for me to have a license as a traditional healer, already upon my first accession as a twaza, when my graduation as a sangoma was still very far away and might never have materialised. Or alternatively, was the entire identification between me and their deceased brother/cousin merely based on the hope which MmaShakayile would phrase so repeatedly during her nocturnal spells of inebriation: the hope that after her death I would lead the sangoma family, look after it financially, and administer the lodge’s spiritual inheritance? These were two fairly genial women, who were fascinated with incarnation and for whom delusion and reality, life and death, present and past, would constantly merge -- a blurring of boundaries which might be termed a professional hazard and which my wife and I experienced ourselves profoundly during the first weeks of our engagement with the lodge. In Francistown life, from the part of their neighbours and occasional patients, these two women were greatly feared and occasional revered, but they could not escape the awareness that being a sangoma afforded them a precarious and largely negative social status: all patients and prospective adepts are profoundly aware that most local people greatly abhor the thought that their child, sibling or spouse would become a sangoma -- with its association of great occult powers and of familiarity with the dead sangomas in Francistown by 1990 were perhaps even more proverbial ‘others’ than even Afrikaner white Boers. I have little doubt that for MmaNdlovu and MmaShakayile my entrance into their lives enhanced their desire to resolve the ambiguities of their status, since my presence allowed them to insist once more on the idealised white status of their grandfather, with whom I was constantly associated by them. Ironically, it was my very status as a white Boer (Dutchmen in Francistown are automatically classified as such, regardless of whatever protest is filed on historical, linguistic or genetic grounds) which had turned out my greatest handicap throughout the first year of my Francistown research, and in fact I had only joined the sangomas in search of therapy after my mental breakdown at the rejection which I was experiencing, from the local population at large, as another specimen of the local hereditary enemy, the Boers.[20]

       Another factor which has given rise to surprise has been the fact that the pubic legitimation of my election as a sangoma had to be based on mediumistic trance (a combination of an altered state of consciousness with coherent statements uttered in that condition). Our North Atlantic Cartesian tradition goes back to Augustine and late Antiquity as a whole, from there to Plato, and via him perhaps to Ancient Egypt with its death industry based on the separation between body and soul. In the context of this tradition the doctrine of the separation between body and soul has generated such epistemological and metaphysical aporia, that professional philosophers are now largely in agreement as to the obsolete nature of that doctrine. yet the idea of such separation still dominates the social sciences, as well as much of the pre- and quasi-scientific language use in the North Atlantic. If we combine this doctrine with the exotism with which African religious expressions are usually regarded in the North Atlantic, then mediumistic trance is likely to be construed to be the paroxysm of otherness, as a condition which cannot possibly be within the reach of the normal capabilities of a Dutch anthropologist / poet / philosopher like myself. What is mediumistic trance? To what extent has it been acquired by training? I have been preoccupied with these questions ever since my earliest research into ecstatic religion, over thirty years ago in North Africa; and already then I knew, from personal experience during fieldwork, that it is not so difficult to induce trance in oneself, provided this is done in the right kind of environment (among people of the same inclination, people who know trance and who expect trance) and with the right kind of music.

       Let us dwell a bit more on the cultural material out of which the trance is given shape as a performance. The ancestors which manifest themselves during the medium’s trance, make that medium perform little sketches n which the other cultic personnel of the lodge acts as interlocutors or extras. These sketches and the texts spoken in their context are of a highly stereotypical nature. Almost invariably they are structured in the following way. The ancestor announces his arrival (ancestors of both genders manifest themselves) in that the medium begins to speak in a moaning, faltering, languished voice which is very different from the medium’s normal voice. Lodge members who are not in trance than engage in conversation with the ancestor. The latter identifies himself, by manner of speech and personal idiosyncrasies, and often also by explicitly mentioning his name and his kin relation vis-à-vis a member of the audience. The ancestor turns out to be extremely thirsty and hungry, which is understandable in someone who has bee dead for a long time and who has not partaken of food nor drink for all that time. Without delay, soft, easily digestible food and drink is brought: water, traditionally brewn beer, raw eggs, maize porridge without relish. Trembling, drooling and massing as befits an centenarian, the medium eagerly swallows this food and drink. After having been thus satisfied, the ancestor volunteers important information concerning those present in the audience: serious diseases from which one suffers without being aware of this condition, imminent life danger, sorcery to which one is exposed without being aware of it, and specific requests which the ancestor has with regard to the medium through whose mouth he speaks: the medium is to perform a sacrifice, is to purchase specific items of clothing and paraphernalia of a specific colour etc. If there a re young mothers present from among the lodge membership, they seize the opportunity of bringing the ancestral spirit in contact with their infant, giving the latter into the hands of the medium. Gentleness is not an operative word here, and I have witnessed several times how infants were thoroughly shaken, or held upside down by one foot, in the hands of a medium whose possessing ancestor apparently regarded his infant offspring more like a trophy or a sceptre than as a vulnerable new-born baby. But the mother fund not the slightest fault with this way of handling their children. After five to ten minutes the ancestor’s voice will sound even more tired and low than before, the conversation becomes halting and begins to be alternated with silences, and soon the spirit will depart, leaving the medium unconscious and unaware of what he has said or consumed during trance. The medium is then woken up by the lodge members, and receives a full report of whatever the visiting spirit has done and said. Great sangomas, like MmaShakayile, are induced by their visiting spirit to start dancing, and the spirit then takes his leave while the medium dances to the tune of a song fitting the occasion, in a mixture of Ndebele and Kalanga (the two principal languages of MmaShakayile’s lodge):

Sala-, salani

Salani madoda nokutura

Ndoye-, ndoyenda

Ndoyenda madoda sesegamba


Stay, stay

Stay behind brothers, I am leaving

I go, go, go

stay behind brothers, I take my leave


       Apart from a certain level of language mastery such mediumistic sketches do not require any great mental or physical efforts, regardless of whether one is in trance or not. However it is far more difficult to deal with the trance condition itself, and this requires expert supervision by someone who is not himself in trance.

       Besides these interesting but rather innocent puzzles there are the real contradictions which have caused me to be, now and on second thoughts, less defenceless and blindly enthusiastic about the sangoma cult than I let myself be known to be in my first text about sangomahood, many years ago. I have never been able to overcome my repugnance at the excessive alcohol consumption which is the order of the day at the lodge. Then again, it is extremely demanding to devote oneself to ecstatic dancing night after night as the most lowly placed twaza at the inexorable directions of cult personnel some of whom are young enough to be one’s own daughter -- at a generally feared ‘witchdoctor’s compound’ in Monarch which is one of the most sinister slums of Francistown anyway. The lodge members are singing, drumming and dancing. Dozens of other inhabitants fill this compound to the brim, occupying the many small rooms as distant kinsmen, tenants, and their dependants. Through boozing, consumption of narcotics, inarticulate utterances, obscene songs, electronically produced profane music to which profane dances are danced, these outsides to the sangoma cult explicitly take their distance from the activities of their traditionalist kinsmen and landlords, the sangomas, who are publicly feared by whose activities are also considered a source of embarrassment from the point of view of the public Francistownian culture of churches, pop music and fashionable clothing -- from the point of view of modernity. This distancing from the part of the compound population whose main aim in life, to put it crudely, was to emulate the European lifestyle which I was so emphatically opting out from, lend a disconcerting comment to my own newly acquired sangomahood. Or, to mention something else, when -- walking though the night on my bare feet with a white nylon bed sheet over my head -- I had finally acquired access to the Nata shrine, having brought my expensive leopard skin and having paid the excessive entrance fee to the shrine, of course I had noticed how much the voice of Mwali -- even if it was speaking in Dutch (not Afrikaans) to me -- was similar to the voice of the high priest who was the only one to approach the holy of holies from which the voice was emanating; and of course I felt curtailed in my consumptive freedom when the same voice instructed me to purchase certain additional paraphernalia from the very same high priest at exorbitant prices. Of course I was shocked when the professional association’s vice-chairman -- the very person who had taken us to Nata after my graduation -- was not allowed to enter the shrine because after his accession to office he had specialised in procuring success medicine prepared out of children’s penises (a mode of preparation which the original owners of these organs regrettably did not survive). It was certainly disappointing that the clump of solid gold which MmaShakayile gave me after my graduation to take to The Netherlands and sell, turned out to be a pebble covered with gold paint (kindly image the scene a my friendly goldsmith’s shop, just around the corner of my Haarlem home!). And of course, in my longing for new dependencies and a new ‘place to feel at home’ I was rather disillusioned when a friend among the audience told be after the event that the at the day of my graduation some of the sangomas were overheard to say among each other ‘Today we shall kill that Boer thing.’[21] Then it also turned out that the bruises on my body after my main graduation dance had to be attributed to the fact that these same colleagues had not catch me, as is usual, when I fell in trance, but had callously let me drop onto the ground. And finally, it was quite an Aha-Erlebnis when, long after my graduation as a sangoma, one of the first books on brainwashing and deprogramming fell into my hands:[22] the shock techniques of mental subjugation as described there, wee suspiciously similar to the ones which had been administered to me in my role as Johannes.

       For all these reasons I broke with my own lodge (MmaShakayile’s), without announcing this in so many words, as soon as -- at the persuasive insistence of non-sangoma friends -- I allowed to admit to myself that the rivalry between my fellow sangomas had led to murder in the recent past (to which MmaNdlovu had fallen victim) and was likely to lead to a similar effect again - to judge by the unmitigated envy with which I was received upon my return from Nata with my newly acquired and consecrated leopard kin, apparently the sign of a higher rank within the Mwali cult than the other lodge members could boast with the exception of MmaShakayile. (In other words, there have been very practical reasons why I did not prolong my research at the loge for years on end; the same kind of reasons which brought my colleague Robert Buijtenhuijs to limit his visits, a quarter of a century ago, to the front lines of Guinea Bissau and Chad to one or two weeks. ) But by that time I had already acquired the right to establish myself independently as a sangoma, and that is what I did without delay.

       All these are negative sides and contradictions with which I can live, on second thoughts. Although like any other religion the sangoma religion is manifestly petty and even disgusting in certain respects, it shares with all other religions the capacity to occasionally rise above these human limitations; this higher capacity is concretely manifested in the new and beneficial ordering which sangomahood had effected in my life, and in the capacity for divination and healing which I found in that connection and which keeps bewildering me. ‘Hallelujah’, I can hear the reader exclaim sarcastically; he is welcome to his reservations.

       This surplus value of sangomahood has also been the reason why I have continued not to probe too deeply into the epistemological status of my sangoma knowledge and of the representations of the supernatural which sangomahood entails. On a practical level I engage with the spirits and the powers of the sangoma religion as if these really exist: in my everyday life, in my sporadic consultations, and during my short but frequent visits for libations and prayers at the inconspicuous shrine in my back garden in Haarlem. All this suits me fine, it explains what I cannot explain otherwise, and produces great peace of mind. The Virgin Mary has enjoyed a similar status in my life ever since I was three years old: as taught by my mother at that age I have always continued to honour Mary with ‘Hail-Mary’s, especially when taking off and landing during air travel, and at moments of the greatest joy. Likewise Sidi Mhammad - the local saint whose tomb and come-covered chapel form the centre of the Tunisian village of the same name where I conducted my first anthropological fieldwork -- has for thirty years been the patron saint of my nuclear family, complete with semi-annual sacrificial meals and more frequent invocations and praises. I still owe two sacrificial pigs to Mama Jombo, the great territorial spirit and shrine in northwestern Guinea Bissau,[23] in payment for my eldest son who in fact was born one and a half years after I pledged the gift of two pigs at her shrine. However, this obligation does not really count as a sign of my transcultural religiosity, but is rather due to an error of intercultural communication. I visited the Mama Jombo’s shrine in 1983 during fieldwork, and after I had explained the purpose of my visit to the land priest in charge (I wished to investigate the shrine’s activities in the context of the indigenous psychiatry), the encouraging answer was that I ‘could ‘ask anything I wanted’; but my scientific questioning was completely misunderstand, for in the shrine context ‘to ask something’ can only mean one thing: to ask whatever is your desire in the innermost depth of your heart, and in the panic of that moment I (until then the father of one, dearly beloved daughter who however had come to be temporarily estranged from me in the context of divorce) could think of nothing better than to stammer ‘a son’. That could easily be arranged, and that would cost a mere two pigs; settlement due as soon as the spirit would press her claim, which would be within an indeterminate period of years possibly decades -- I would know the right moments from inexplicable illness and other misfortunes.

       Bach was a genial composer and a religious person. Admittedly, it has been most liberating, ever since the Enlightenment, to be able to break through the compelling blackmail of the religious as something to be taken for granted and as something inescapable. But the Enlightenment’s project is over, and counted are the days of the agnostic imperative as a precondition for being taken seriously in the field of religious studies.

       This does not take away the fact that this private attitude is in principle incompatible with the kind of rationality which is expected from me in most situations as a researcher and as a professor. The separation between private and public (‘sangoma in private, positive scientist in public’) offered only a very partial way out here. For as a truly passionate scientist it is my conviction that my innermost convictions should also be manifest in my pursuit of science. Moreover, I consider the knowledge which I have acquired as a sangoma and which I use in my sangoma practice, as valid knowledge, and then it is far from obvious that I resort to excluding that sangoma knowledge, as if it were pseudo knowledge, from my professional pursuit of science. However, I am very conscious of the fact that I am surrounded by other vocal intellectual producers; they defend epistemological positions in which they have entrenched themselves and which do not allow them too many compromises for fear of threatening their intellectual security; these intellectual producers’ perspective is rarely that of the Africanist, the anthropologist, the intercultural philosopher, the poet. In such an academic environment, there are likely to be limits to the extent to which one can negotiate one’s sangomahood, and yet live happily ever after as a successful senior academic. But these limits have turned out to be surprisingly wide. Out of respect for my position as a professor (contrary to the US, most European academic staff is not designated as professorial) and as an international specialist in the field of African religion, and carried by the postmodern wave of anti-positivism which has affected the universities since the late 1980s, it turned out that the level eccentricity with which I could get away even within the world of science, was alarming high. To such an extent that there have been only three prominent colleagues -- all of them at least ten years my senior -- who have spoken out against my attempt at scientific mediation of my sangomahood: Richard Werbner -- for very many years one of my closest friends and colleagues, the very man who had invited me to Manchester when I was only twenty-nine years old in order to partake there of the great honour of a Simon professorship, and who ten years later had persuaded me to shift my fieldwork site from Zambia to Botswana; Robert Buijtenhuijs, for over twenty-five years my friendly colleague at the African Studies Centre, and the person who in 1975, at the beginning of my career, had invited me to join him as the editor of what would become my first co-edited collection in the field of African religion; and Heinz Kimmerle, who at the Amersfoort Internatinal School for Philosophy dismissed my presentation on sangomahood as hopelessly naive, but whom five years later I was to succeed (not without extraordinarily powerful opposition from his side) in the chair of foundations of intercultural philosophy. These three friends (who have perhaps invested too much in me as a junior colleague than that they can accept me taking my own choices much later in life) may rest assured: their negative reactions have given me more food for thought than the many expressions of sympathy and agreement on the part of equally senior and friendly colleagues. Pretty soon I was confronted with situations when I found myself discouraging or prohibiting the same attitudes, opinions and modes of analysis in my students, as I was myself applying as a sangoma.

       Apparently the attempt to create a framework within which integrity may be open for discussion, does not mean that in all circumstances one has the key to integrity at one’s disposal. I therefore went in search of an opportunity to take an objective scientific perspective on my sangomahood from which I could mediate this in publications and research, and raising it above the level of an idiosyncratic ego-trip. By now this opportunity has realised itself in the form of my appointment as a professor of intercultural philosophy. Initially however I chose the way out of historical research -- an escape route from personal problematics which I had travelled before[24] although not consciously for that purpose, and which I had seen Matthew Schoffeleers travel before I was aware of his personal problematics. In the course of the 1990s I canalised the immense desire for knowledge which my sangomahood had unchained, into a large project which enable me to retrieve the origin of the sangoma oracular tablets and of the oral interpretational scheme which is associated with them. I identified the Southern African form of the oracle as one of the offshoots at the large tree of geomantic divination, which is ramified all over Africa, the Arabic world and the Indian Ocean region. This is a system which was developed towards the end of the first millennium of our era in or near the Iraqi harbour city of Basra, from a combination of the thinking of the philosophical community of the Ikhwan al-Safa’a; the millennia-old, occult, variegated (but mainly astrological) tradition of the Ancient Near East as filtered through the doctrines of the Ikhwan al-Safa’a; and at the background the Chinese I Ching.[25] While being absorbed in the extraordinary adventure which took my mind across thousands of years and thousands of kilometres, working on Arabic texts, trying to decode ancient Babylonian and Egyptian myths and familiarising myself with the parallel histories of other formal systems such as board games and writing systems, I had little time nor reason to continue to indulge in the unsolvable puzzles of intercultural mediation of my own sangomahood.

       Another problem concerns the specific nature of knowledge acquisition within the milieu of the sangoma lodge.

       My knowledge of sangomahood in Francistown is based on a year of fieldwork in 1988-89, followed by research trips of three to six weeks each, usually two time per year, until 1995. My election as a twaza on the grounds of public ancestral ecstasy was in 1990; my graduation as a sangoma in 1991. The time reserved for prolonged fieldwork, therefore, had already passed when my break-through to twazahood occurred. But as described at length elsewhere,[26] the ground work for this had been done during the earlier, longer spell of fieldwork in 1988-89. Besides I had grappled intensively with ecstatic and therapeutic ritual since 1968, including my Ph.D. thesis of 1979, had studied the phenomenon in several places in Africa, and over the years I had not only gathered a certain knowledge of the phenomenon but had especially developed a great affinity with it. As a result, already in 1989, that is one year before my becoming a twaza, the lodge leaders of Francistown had chosen to treat me -- sponsor and companion of my wife, who by then was already active as a twaza -- not as an absolute outsider to their ecstatic religion, but as some kind of a colleague with valid and relevant knowledge as derived from Zambia and other places in Africa.

       In ways which I have also described at length elsewhere,[27] I had landed in the lodge milieu as aa patient who was sincerely looking for remedy, not as a researcher. As is the case for any patient and any twaza in this situation, the healing process was at the same time a learning process concerning the internal relationships within the lodge, the terminology, the aetiology of the sangoma religion. At the lodge, in most cases essential knowledge is only transmitted in passing, and with a few words only. There is no prolonged formal training except with regard to the divination tablets and their nomenclature. One factor in this peculiar knowledge regime is the fact that the lodge is multilingual: the leaders have Kalanga as their mother tongue, the other members Ndebele, Sotho, Swati, and a few Zambian languages -- and only a small minority of the lodge membership has Tswana as a mother tongue, despite that fact that this language (of which I had acquired a limited working knowledge) is Francistown’s lingua franca. Initially my ignorance about the details and implications of sangomahood was sky-high, and under those conditions I have made many a clumsy or even downright incorrect pronouncement in my first pieces on sangomahood, some of which were actually written from the field;[28] even when I was being initiated as a twaza myself, I did not yet know the difference between a twaza and a fully fledged, graduated sangoma. In hindsight the effects of this ignorance might easily -- but wrongly -- be construed as a sign of lack of integrity.



Is my practising sangoma therapy in The Netherlands a danger for public health? In the last analysis only a court of law could settle that question, and the reader is very welcome to elicit a test case on this issue. My earlier experiences with the court in the context of sangomahood inspire me with hope and confidence in this connection. Despite the fact that only a small number of clients is involved, the question has interesting aspects from a point of view of the study of interculturality. For if we feel entitled to set our own Western medicine loose upon the societies of Southern Africa,[29] then it would be simply ethnocentric to suggest that the state should prohibit the duly certified practice of African medicine in the Dutch context -- in other words, to suggest that such a practice would be quackery, automatically and under any circumstance. Let us remind ourselves of what Freud meant by quackery; needless to add that Freud was a certified physician practising psychotherapy, yet had to defend his followers against the accusation of quackery:

‘Permit me to give the word 'quack' the meaning it ought to have instead of the legal one. According to the law a quack is anyone who treats patients without possessing a state diploma to prove he is a doctor. I should prefer another definition: a quack is anyone who undertakes a treatment without possessing the knowledge and capacities necessary for it. Taking my stand on this definition, I venture to assert that - not only in European countries doctors form a preponderating contingent of quacks in analysis. They very frequently practice analytic treatment without having learnt it and without understanding it.

      Tevergeefs zult u mij tegenwerpen dat u de artsen hiertoe, tot deze gewetenloosheid, niet in staat zou willen achten. Dat een arts toch weet dat een artsdiploma geen kaperbrief is en een zieke niet vogelvrij. Dat men er bij artsen altijd op mag rekenen dat zij te goeder trouw handelen, ook als zij daarbij misschien dwalen.

De feiten bestaan; wij willen hopen dat ze zich laten verhelderen op de manier die u bedoelt. Ik zal u proberen uit te leggen hoe het mogelijk is dat een arts zich in psychoanalytische aangelegenheden zo gedraagt als hij op ieder ander gebied zorgvuldig zou vermijden.’ [ after which this explanation is given ] [30]

Apparently my Dutch and my African clients find that I am offering them something else than quackery. My African teachers did not only find me, demonstrably, an accomplished therapist by their own standards, but they have also impressed me with the awareness that ancestral election to the rank of sangoma imposes a life-long obligation to make one’s knowledge and skills as a sangoma available to those clients who request them: people suffering physically, but especially socially and mentally.



For me this therapeutic obligation is the real, also political, essence of becoming a sangoma and of remaining a sangoma. What good can come from Nazareth? How is it possible that the African continent which the rest of the world has virtually written off as far as economics and politics is concerned, may yet offer us the means to heal us? (In the same way, incidentally, as that very same continent has offered us, globally and via the immensely painful detour of slavery, the major musical expressions of our time: jazz, all varieties of pop music.) I did not go to Botswana in 1988 in order t be converted to an African religion, but in order to put an end a particular phase in my research career (a phase particularly concentrated on Zambia and the countryside) and to begin a new phase - in the context of a new Southern Africa research programme which I had initiated at the African Studies Centre. I came back as a different person, not already immediately in 1989, but certainly in 1990 and 1991. As an Africanist,. and meanwhile as someone who has become an adherent of an African religion, I have of course continued to be someone who uses and appropriates Africa and African cultural products. But at this point I do no longer primarily engage in such use and appropriation for the sake of the instrumental value which these things African might have for my career and for North Atlantic science, regardless of the local value which their African creators have consciously imparted to them. Now my use and appropriation is primarily for the sake of this local African value, which I have internalised and which I thus help to transform into a contribution to our general global-culture-in-the-making. In this way I allow Africa a fair share of authority over my own life, in exchange for everything I have derived from her inhabitants and their cultures for so many years, and after I have profoundly experienced the healing power of African rituals not only as a detached researcher but also as an erring and ailing person. In my sangomahood, especially in The Netherlands of all places, I mediate this politically liberating and symbolically rehabilitating image of Africa. And while I am doing so, I may not so much be healing my patients, but I certainly struggle as a sangoma in sessions of several hours on end in order to find for these patients the ways, pronouncements, perspectives, models of enunciation, liberation, a new ordering, by reference to which they may find the power to heal themselves. Probably in the last analysis the truth is this: instead of being healed by me, these clients help me so that I can become heal, by virtue of my immensely tiring and often highly frightening subservience to the problematics and the well-being of these people, who most of the time are and remain utter strangers to me.

       In Southern Africa the beads around my neck and my wrists, in specific colours, have a culturally accepted meaning, and like a priest’s dog collar in the North Atlantic, they allow people in Southern Africa to approach me with their predicaments. I do not solicit them and do not advertise my practice. And the same applies for my patients in the North, even though the bead symbolism does not mean a thing here beyond the suggestion of idiosyncrasy and decontextualised touristic appropriation.



Every consultation is a three-hour struggle with the fear that the powers attributed to me will not manifest themselves. These days, in order to diminish that tension I prepare myself for a consultation: the day prior to an appointment a pour a libation (a small bottle of beer) on my shrine, an have an initial preparatory session with my oracular tablets concerning the client whom usually I have not even seen by this time.

       Also the computer offers excellent services in this preparation. In the course of years I have explored the internal systematics of the divination system to such an extent that I have been able to rebuild this systematics into a massive computer programme -- even though I detest the typically New Age aspects of such a development. My own oracular tablets were given to me by MmaNdlovu a few days before she died; by that time they were still virgin, powerless dummies, but two years later they were consecrated in the blood of my final sacrificial goat at my graduation as a sangoma. Being marked so as to be distinguished from each other, and having their front and back sides marked as such, the four tablets when cast all four together can produce 16 (24) different combinations, and throwing the tablets therefore constitutes a random generator capable of producing 16 different values. In the computer programme this random generator has been replaced by electronically generated aselect numbers. In normal tablet divination each throw produces one out of the sixteen possible configurations, and that particular configuration[31] may be interpreted in continuity with previous and subsequent throws of the same session; such interpretation may take place along any of eight or nine different dimensions: kinship, possessions, sorcery, bodily aspects, etc. making a specific choice from among these dimensions or their combination, after each throw the diviner-priest interprets that throw with an explicit verbal pronouncement which triggers specific reactions in the client. These reactions, as consciously and subconsciously taken into account by the diviner-priest, again inform the interpretational choice made for the subsequent throw. From the continued series of throw then gradually arises a coherent story of diagnosis, cause and remedy, in a subtle dialogue with the client who however remains largely unaware of his own input into the dialogue, and instead experiences the oracle increasingly as an independent, non-manipulated, truth-producing authority. All these elements have been built into the computer version of the oracle. After an initial, temporal consecration of the computer (by means of a small pinch of snuff, sprinkled on the ground as an offering to the shades), and after familiarising the computer with the issue and person at hand by establishing physical contact via the computer mouse...) the programme produces -- as I have extensively established in numerous sessions -- the same kind of information as the tablets. The only difference is that the many different dimensions of interpretation as much better to manage on the computer: they can be simultaneously visualised, chosen, remembers, and spun into a meaningful therapeutic narrative, in ways which are much more difficult to achieve orally, from sheer memory. Incidentally, some elite clients in Southern Africa prefer the computer over the oracular tablets.

       But regardless of whether I use the tablets or the computer, the interpretational freedom which I take as a therapist is an essential aspect of the Southern African system. This freedom is utilised by every local diviner in his own way. Conflict, rivalry, experiences in youth, family histories, anxieties, sexuality, of course play a major role in these narratives which are cut to the measure of the individual clients. It is virtually inevitable that in my own practice, eclectically, themes from the more dominant Western therapeutic traditions seep through (especially the psychoanalytical and the Jungian-analytical traditions); but these, too, are elements of our global-culture-in-the-making.

       Within the sangoma therapy and within the professional association catering for that therapy, it is unusual, and in fact impossible, to distinguish between body, mind and social circumstances. Yet I refrain personally from the treatment of somatic complaints. I do not touch the patients except occasionally in order to give them the oracular tablets into their hands, so that they may thrown for themselves and so that their aura may be communicated to the tablets. Without delay, and emphatically, I refer somatic complaints to the physician competent to deal with them. I limit my own intervention to spiritual and social problems. But even so one might have many objections against my practising an African therapeutic system in the North.

       In addition to narratives and directives for specific ritual actions I prescribe nature medicines. These are the pulverised parts of plants (sometimes animals) which I have learned to recognise and collect in the Botswana outdoors, or which -- as many Southern African therapists do -- I have exchanged with my colleagues or have bought from them. I pulverise this material in my rough cast-iron mortar (bought from my colleagues in the sangoma section of the urban market in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe). In Southern Africa several modes of administration are known for these medicines: orally, rectally, sprinkled in shallow incisions in the skin (the constitution of the professional association is very specific on this point and prohibits incisions deeper than three millimetres), or strictly external, as an addition to bathing water or as a simply application onto the closed natural skin. I exclusively prescribe the strictly external usage, not out of fear of a Dutch court of law or disciplinary committee, but simply because I have learned to take the toxic properties of Southern African plants very seriously.

       Every divination session I hold begins with a transcultural exposé in order to introduce the client into the world of sangoma religion. Every session plunges me, every time again, into the greatest possible insecurity because -- against the rationality offensive of my daily, passionate pursuit of science -- I only know too well the contested nature of the powers and existences to which I appeal as a sangoma therapist. Yet practically every time I manage to convince my client of the power of my oracle, through the revelation of real, secret information about the client’s life. This information I derive partly from the client’s own statements in ways which he overlooks, but partly also from hunches, inspirations, the vehicle for which apparently consists in my tense, hasty, occasionally desperate reading of the fall of the tablets. Once the client has come to be convinced of the power of the oracle, also the rest of the treatment -- and especially the revelatory personal narrative from which I derive directives as to what the client must now do in order to take his situation in his own hands -- acquire a salutary authority which effectively persuades the client to re-order his life and to make it more healthy. This happens in combination with a mode of visualising and naming of causes and remedies in the client’s personal sphere by reference to the fall of the tablets -- a mode which to the patient is usually refreshingly new and convincingly concrete. The factual secret information which the oracle yields in the client’s experience, and the self-evident authority which this produces for the oracle, its narrative, and its directives, offer the client an Archimedean fixed point against his own doubt, uncertainties and anxieties; and from that fixed point he can pull himself up towards a new healthy confrontation of life’s problems.



For myself, however, the significance of sangomahood reaches further than these incidental therapeutic sessions, and in fact penetrates my entire present life. For more than a quarter of a century I have erred from being a poet to being a Marxist anthropological researcher to being an obscurantist sangoma cum professor of anthropology, and finally to being, recently, an intercultural philosopher. Becoming a sangoma meant that in a tangible way I was offered the possibility of transformation after which I had longed throughout my entire life, and in my most existential capacities (as my parent’s child, as a poet, as a husband and lover, as a father, as an Africanist researcher, and as a teacher). From the dilemmas of my past, from my training to become an anthropologist, from the practice of my prolonged fieldwork spells in various places in Africa, and from the examples of manipulative and boundary-effacing practices which I seemed to witness there, I have for a long time derived the impression that the multivocal nature of the human reality and of its ethics preclude or eclipses integrity. Incapable of appreciating and anchoring my own scientific passion however unmistakably it presented itself to me, I have for many years tried to play down scientific production of knowledge as a trivial, socially determined construct. After all, was I not primarily a poet, and was I not primarily someone trying to do justice not to objective data but to the multivocality of the network of social relationships in which I had to engage in the course of my doing anthropological fieldwork? The objective scientific report, cast in predictable and dull ready-to-wear prose, was not doing any justice to either of these two self-imposed identities and commitments: those of the poet, and those of myself as the interaction partner of (other?) Africans. However, become a sangoma, surrendering myself finally and rather unconditionally to an African idiom, contains the promise that ultimately I may yet be redeemed from the original sin inherent to African Studies; that original sin consists in the horrible reduction of Africa to a passive object of study which is subservient to our own North Atlantic careers and to our North Atlantic construction of knowledge. Being a sangoma at the same time entails a creative handling of immensely powerful symbols, which promise an even greater power of life and death than the linguistic elements which I was (and am) using as a poet. And finally being a sangoma opens up for my the possibility of a non-egotistic servitude to the suffering of others, which to some extent redeems me from myself and from my own past.

       In the last analysis integrity does not lie in the static parallel existence, one next to one another, of alternatives, but in the moment when out of the available alternatives, effectively, with power, and in the full awareness of the risk of disfigurement and pain, a compelling choice is made. For me sangomahood means that choice: in favour of a messy, often disquieting and threatening, Africa-centred celebration of fellow-humanity, and in favour of the attending, equally messy and contradictory ideas concerning the supernatural which make up the sangoma religion; and against the objectification, the condescending and hegemonic North Atlantic scientific production concerning African people -- a production whose contents are often so very poor, and whose form is often ugly. For me as an established researcher this implies -- at least socially and collegially -- a risk of disfigurement. It is an open question whether I will permanently be able to maintain this intellectual stance, or alternatively, whether my Africanist colleagues will condemn me to some sort of mental or collegial ‘early retirement’ -- after all, these colleagues are becoming (for reasons which I can understand but have not the slightest sympathy with) more positivist, more proudly ignorant of African languages and cultural idioms, more saturated with the staccato rhythm of North Atlantic hegemonic complacency, every day.

       In 1990 I cried violently and publicly, for relief and joy, at the end of my initiation into twazahood, in the present of hundreds of inhabitants of the Monarch suburb (as is customary in such initiation ceremonies, all these people had been fed and quenched at my expense). Even more violently I cried in 1991 after my final graduation when, in private, I was reproached for not having prayed in Dutch upon the shrine of the maternal ancestors of MmaShakayile -- for didn’t I know that there I was supposed to pray not to her ancestors but to my own? In line with the dynamics of knowledge transfer at the lodge which I set out above, no one had told me. A so it was only immediately after graduation that I understood, suddenly and in full blow, that my becoming a sangoma was meant as a home-coming, not in Botswana but in a Dutch home whose relevance to me I had always and deliberately dissimulated.

       Integrity does not appear as some pre-existing quality (defined either within Western culture or in some culture-free manner), which may subsequently be introduced into transcultural mediation as an accessory resource. Integrity does not even primarily appear as the touch stone for the success or failure of such transcultural mediation. Integrity appears as something which is even more fundamental: as the eminently risky result which in itself will never be realised and brought home -- as the result consisting in the big, disfiguring scars and the violent phantom pains from which the being who has only one side to his body is suffering -- but nevertheless a result which is being promised smack at the very boundaries between cultures, promised in ways which (given the multicultural nature of global society today) are simply impossible within the complacent confines of just one culture.

       Although I was Matthew Schoffeleers’ first Ph.D. candidate, I have not been his student to a sufficient extent as to make it likely that the gradual but unmistakable convergence between us with regard to attempted integrity in intercultural risk, might have resulted from his example as a supervisor. Our friendship has persisted rather thanks to our mutual agreement to dissimulate, rather than to expressly pursue, the problematic of interculturality. But I recognise the way he went, and I admire him for it.


[1]   With thanks especially to Patricia van Binsbergen-Saegerman, and moreover to Renaat Devisch, Bonno Thoden van Velzen, Jacqueline Bhabha, and Robert Buijtenhuijs, who in the course of important conversations have helped me to bring at least some clarity into the difficult matter which I try to set out in the present argument.

[2]   An earlier Dutch version of this paper was published as: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1998, ‘Sangoma in Nederland: Over integriteit in interculturele bemiddeling’, in: Elias, M., & Reis, R., eds., Getuigen ondanks zichzelf: Voor Jan-Matthijs Schoffeleers bij zijn zeventigste verjaardag, Maastricht: Shaker, pp. 1-29; – also at

[3]   Matthew Schoffeleers was born 1928 in the southern part of The Netherlands. Initially he pursued the Roman Catholic priesthood and mission as a form of selfrealisatiojn and as the obvious channel of upward social mobility available in that generation, social class and region. In his mission work in the Lower Shire valley, Malawi, southern Africa, he identified to a great extent with the local population and their religion. He was initiated into the Mbona cult – a cult of the fertility of the land, organised around a local territorial spirit Mbona who is associated, as a victim, with a process of state formation in this region c. 1600 CE – and into the nyau mask society. This earned father Schoffeleers serious reprimands from the part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He was forced to exchange his mission work for a study in cultural anthropology at Oxford – although he did not give up his priesthood and remained active in Malawi, finally as a senior lecturer in African history and anthropology at the university of Malawi. In 1976 he came to The Netherlands as Reader in non-western religious anthropology at the Free University, Amsterdam. Here the first doctorate to be supervised bu him was defended in 1979, that of Wim van Binsbergen. In 1980 Schoffeleers’ Readership was converted into a full professorship, which by the late 1980s he exchanged for a special chair in the university of Utrecht. He retired in the early 1990s.

[4]   Schoffeleers, J.M., 1972, ‘The Chisumphi and M’bona Cults in Malawi: a Comparative History’, paper read at Conference on the History of Central African Religious Systems, University of Zambia/ University of California Los Angeles, Lusaka; in: Schoffeleers, J.M., eds, 1979, Guardians of the Land, Gwelo: Mambo Press, pp. 147-86; Schoffeleers, J.M., 1972, ‘The history and political role of the M’bona cult among the Mang’anja’, in: Ranger, T.O. & I. Kimambo, eds, 1972, The Historical Study of African Religion, London: Heinemann, pp. 73-94; Schoffeleers, J.M., 1977, ‘Cult idioms and the dialectics of a region’, in: Werbner, R.P., Regional cults, New York: Academic Press, pp. 219-240; Schoffeleers, J.M., 1978, ‘A martyr cult as a reflection on changes in production: The case of the lower Shire Valley, 1590-1622 AD’, in: Buijtenhuijs, R., & P.L. Geschiere, eds, 1978, Social Stratification and Class Formation, Leiden: Afrika-Studiecentrum, pp. 19-33; Schoffeleers, J.M., 1985, ‘Oral history and the retrieval of the distant past: on the use of legendary chronicles as sources of historical information, in: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., & Schoffeleers, J.M., eds., Theoretical explorations in African religion, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International for African Studies Centre, pp. 164-188; Schoffeleers, J.M., 1992, River of blood: The genesis of a martyr cult in southern Malawi, Madison: Wisconsin University Press.

[5]   E.g.: Schoffeleers, J.M., 1988, ‘Theological styles and revolutionary elan: An African discussion’, in Quarles van Ufford, P., & Schoffeleers, J.M., 1988, eds., Religion and development: Towards an integrated approach, Amsterdam: Free University Press, pp. 185-208; Schoffeleers, J.M., 1991, ‘Ritual healing and political acquiescence: The case of Zionist churches in Southern Africa’, Africa, 61, 1: 1-25.

[6]   Schoffeleers, J.M., 1991, Waarom God maar een been heeft, inaugural lecture, Utrecht: Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht.

[7]   For an exhaustive comparative study, cf. von Sicard, H., 1968-69, ‘Luwe und verwandte mythische Gestalten’, Anthropos, 63-64: 665-737; luwe is also the ‘Mwendanjangula’ mentioned in: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International.

[8]   Schreiber, H., n.d. [ ca. 1970 ] , Kooplui veroveren de wereld: Verlucht met 91 afbeeldingen en 18 kaarten, Den Haag/ Brussel: Van Goor/ Van Hoeve/Manteau.

[9]   Cf. van Binsbergen, W.M.J. & Schoffeleers, J.M., (eds.), 1985, Theoretical explorations in African religion, London/ Boston: Kegan Paul International; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International.

[10]  van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1990, ‘Een maaltijd op het land: Religieus veldwerk in Botswana, 1990’, in D. Foeken & K. van der Meulen, Eten met Gerrit, Leiden: African Studies Centre, 1990, p. 112-122; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1991, ‘Becoming a sangoma: Religious anthropological field-work in Francistown, Botswana’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 21, 4: 309-344 – also at   ; vgl. ‘De orakelstenen spraken: word sangoma-priester’, interview met W. van Binsbergen door Koert van der Velde, Trouw, 30.8.97, p. 10.

[11]  By way of comparaison: In the countryside of northwestern Tunisia, where in 1968 I did my first fieldwork on ecstatic religion, more than a quarter of all adult men was an adept (faqir, mv. fuqra) of the superficially islamicised ecstatic cult, which coincided with teh bortherhoods of the Qadiriyya and Rahmaniyya; of these a small minority (the cultic personnel with the rank of shawush) was effectively a spirit medium in that they produced articulated messages when in trance. In the counryside of western central Zambia, where I have studied cultus of affliction from 1972 onward, in the early 1970s ten to twinty percent of the adult women was an adept, but only the female leaders (at most one tenth of the number of adepts) could effectively be called spirit medums in the above sense. .

[12]  In the religious anthropology of Africa we mean by cult of affliction:

    a therapeutic movement which speads over a geogrpahical and social space by means of a chain reaction, in such a way that the members of the congrgation of clients C(L1)1,2,3,...nwhich has been attracted as patients by a certain cult leader L1, might in principle each attain their own independent status of cult leader L2, with their own group of clients which form a congregation independent from that of L1; therefore: C(L1)1,2,3,...n loses one member and becomes C(L1)2,3,...n-1; that one member however, C(L1)1, becomes L2, and recruits — among people in the same social environment who however do not belong to any congregation of the same cult — a new congregation C(L2)1,2,3,...n. And so on.

    Cf. Turner, V.W., 1968, The drums of affliction: A study of religious processes among the Ndembu of Zambia, London: Oxford University Press; White, C.M.N., 1949, ‘Stratification and modern changes in an ancestral cult’, Africa, 19: 324-31; White, C.M.N., 1961, Elements in Luvale beliefs and rituals, Manchester: Manchester University Press, Rhodes-Livingstone Paper no. 32; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International; Fortune, G., 1973, ‘Who was Mwari?’, Rhodesian History, 4: 1-20.

[13]  Werbner, R.P., 1977, 'Continuity and policy in Southern Africa's High God cult', in: Werbner, R.P., ed., Regional cults, New York: Academic Press, pp. 179-218; Werbner, R.P., 1989, Ritual passage sacred journey: The process and organization of religious movement, Washington/Manchester: Smithsonian Institution Press/ Manchester University Press; Daneel, M.L., 1970, The God of the Matopo Hills: An essay on the Mwari cult in Rhodesia, The Hague/ Paris: Mouton for African Studies Centre; Schoffeleers, J.M., & Mwanza, R., 1979, ‘An organizational model of the Mwari shrines’, in: Schoffeleers, J.M., ed., Guardians of the Land, Gwelo [ Gweru ] : Mambo Press, pp. 297-315; Schoffeleers, J.M., 1977, ‘Cult idioms and the dialectics of a region’, in: Werbner, R.P., Regional cults, New York: Academic Press, pp. 219-240.

[14]  Cf. Staugård, F., 1986, ‘Traditional health care in Botswana’, in: Last, M., & G.L. Chavunduka, 1986, eds., The professionalisation of African medicine, Manchester: Manchester University Press and International African Institute, pp. 51-86; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1993, ‘African Independent churches and the state in Botswana’, in M. Bax & A. de Koster, eds., Power and prayer: Essays on Religion and politics, Amsterdam: VU University Press, pp. 24-56.

[15]  This does not preclude the existence of interfaces with the state, even interfaces independently of the framework created by the Societies Act. Several sangomas -- including myself -- count politicians amongtheir clientele, especially in times of elections; and prominent sangoma lodges are invited by the authorities to enliven collective celebrations of Independence Day etc. with their colourful ‘traditional’ dances. A local politician was the socially highest ranking speaker at the funeral of the ldge leader MmaNdlovu, whose demise under suspect circumstances was so decisive in the sangoma career of my wife and myself.

[16]  Available for inspection at: .

[17]  This theme has also been well recognised by John Janzen in his comparative study of contemporary cults of affliction (see bove note) in South Central and Southern Africa: Janzen, J.M., 1992, Ngoma: Discourses of healing in Central and Southern Africa, Los Angeles/ Berkeley/ Londen: University of California Press; Janzen, J.M., 1993, ‘Self-presentation and common cultural structures in Ngoma rituals of Southern Africa’, paper read at the conference ‘Symbols of change: Trans-regional culture and local practice in Southern Africa’, Berlin, Freie Universität, January 1993. However, severe criticism has been leveled against Jansen’s approach, e.g. by the Workgroup African Religion Utrecht which was founded by Matthew Schoffeleers; this collective produced a volume now in press with James Currey (ed. Rijk van Dijk, Ria Reis en Marja Spierenburg). For important comparative material from the same region, cf. Oosthuizen, G.C., 1968, Post-Christianity in Africa: A theological and anthropological study, Londen: Hurst; Oosthuizen, G.C., 1986, ed., Religion alive: Studies in the New Movements and Indigenous Churches in Southern Africa: A symposium, Johannesburg: Hodder & Stoughton; Oosthuizen, G.C., S.D. Edwards, W.H. Wessels, I. Hexham, 1989, eds., Afro-Christian religion and healing in Southern Africa, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen.

[18]  Berglund, A.-I., 1989, Zulu thought-patterns and symbolism, London/Cape Town & Johannesburg: Hurst/David Philip, reprint of first edition of 1976; van Nieuwenhuijsen, J.W., 1974, Diviners and their ancestor spirits: A study of the izangoma among the Nyuswa in Natal, South Africa, Amsterdam: Afd. Culturele Antropologie, Antropologisch Sociologisch Centrum, Universiteit van Amsterdam; Ngubane [ = Sibisi ] , H., 1977, Body and mind in Zulu medicine: An ethnography of health and disease in Nyuswa-Zulu thought and practice, Londen/ New York/ San Francisco: Academic Press; Sibisi [ = Ngubane ] , H., 1975, ‘The place of spirit possession in Zulu cosmology’, in: M.G. Whisson & M.E. West (eds.), Religion and social change in Southern Africa, Cape Town: David Philip, p. 48-57; Ngubane [ = Sibisi ] , H., 1986, ‘The predicament of the sinister healer: Some observations on ‘‘ritual murder’’ and the professional role of the inyanga’, in: Last, M., & Chavunduka, G.L., red., The professionalisation of African medicine, Manchester: Manchester University Press and International African Institute, pp. 189-204.

[19] Such work is currently undertaken in the context of the Theme group on globalisation of the African Studies Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, which I initiated in 1996 and which I have chaired ever since. The Leiden programme was largely an offshoot of a wider national project Peter Geschiere and I initiated in 1993: the programme ‘Globalization and the construction of communal identities’, funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Tropical Research (WOTRO, a division of the national sicnece foundation NWO); the programme, which was completed in Novemebr 1999, comprised scores of researchers in the Netherlands in various capacities, and moreover generated the International Network on Globalisation, linking major research instituons and individual reseqacher both in the South and in the North.

[20]  van Binsbergen, ‘Becoming a sangoma’, o.c.; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1993, ‘Making sense of urban space in Francistown, Botswana’, in: P.J.M. Nas, ed., Urban symbolism, Leiden: Brill, Studies in Human Societies, volume 8, pp. 184-228.

[21]  Liburu: ‘Afrikaner, Dutchman; non-human, neutral’ (as is indicated by the prefix li-).

[22]  Sargant, W., 1957, Battle for the mind: A physiology of conversion and brain-washing, London: Pan.

[23]  Crowley, E.L., 1990, ‘Contracts with the spirits : religion, asylum, and ethnic identity in the Cacheu region of Guinea-Bissau’ Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International; Ph.D. thesis, Yale University, Department of Anthropology; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1988, ‘The land as body: An essay on the interpretation of ritual among the Manjaks of Guinea-Bissau’, in: R. Frankenberg (ed.), Gramsci, Marxism, and Phenomenology: Essays for the development of critical medical anthropology, special issue of Medical Anthropological Quarterly, new series, 2, 4, december 1988, p. 386-401; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1984, ‘Socio-ritual structures and modern migration among the Manjak of Guinea Bissau: Ideological reproduction in a context of peripheral capitalism’, Antropologische Verkenningen, 3, 2: 11-43.

[24]  van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1992, Tears of Rain: Ethnicity and history in central western Zambia, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International.

[25]  van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1996, ‘Transregional and historical connections of four-tablet divination in Southern Africa’, Journal on Religion in Africa 1: 2-29; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1995, ‘Four-tablet divination as trans-regional medical technology in Southern Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa 25(2): 114-140; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1994, ‘Divinatie met vier tabletten: Medische technologie in Zuidelijk Afrika’, in: Sjaak van der Geest, Paul ten Have, Gerhard Nijhoff en Piet Verbeek-Heida, eds., De macht der dingen: Medische technologie in cultureel perspectief, Amsterdam: Spinhuis, pp. 61-110; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, Virtuality as a key concept in the study of globalisation: Aspects of the symbolic transformation of contemporary Africa, The Hague: WOTRO, Working papers on Globalisation and the construction of communal identity, 3, pp. 13ff – also at   ; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., ‘Rethinking Africa’s contribution to global cultural history: Lessons from a comparative historical analysis of mankala board-games and geomantic divination’, in: W.M.J. van Binsbergen, 1997, ed., Black Athena: Ten Years After, special issue, Talanta: Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, volumes XXVIII-XXIX/ 1996-1997, pp. 221-254 – also at  ; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., Sub-Saharan Africa, ancient Egypt, and the World: Beyond the Black Athena thesis, book MS, 500 pp., in press.

[26]  Binsbergen, ‘Becoming’, o.c.

[27]  Van Binsbergen, ‘Een maaltijd’, o.c.; van Binsbergen, ‘Becoming a sangoma’, o.c.;

[28]  Binsbergen, ‘Maaltijd’, o.c.; van Binsbergen, ‘Becoming’, o.c.; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1990, ‘Church, cult, and lodge: In quest of therapeutic meaning in Francistown, Botswana’, paper presented at the 6th Satterthwaite Colloquium on African Religion and Ritual, Cumbria (U.K.), 21-24 april 1990, 58 p.; also seminar paper, University of Cape Town, August 1990, and University of Louvain, January 1991. Also: van Binsbergen, W.M.J., ‘We are in this for the money’; The sangoma mediumistic cult of Southern Africa: limitations and potential of an interpretation in terms of commodification,  paper presented at the international conference: Commodification and identities: Social Life of Things revisited, Amsterdam, 10-13 June, 1999, at: .

[29]  And certainly not always with eveidently positive results and without negative side-effects, as documented in: cf. Staugård, F., 1985, Traditional healers: Traditional medicine in Botswana, Gaborone: Ipelegeng Publishers; Staugård, F., 1986, Traditional midwives: Traditional medicine in Botswana, Gaborone: Ipelegeng; Reis, R., 1991, ‘Over epilepsie en samenwerking met traditionele genezers en profeten in Swaziland: Hoe geïnspireerde genezing het onderspit delft’, Medische Antropologie, 3, 1: 28-47; Reis, R., 1992, ‘Waarom Happiness Dlamini naar de genezers gaat: Epilepsie en therapiekeuze in Swaziland’, Epilepsie Bulletin, 21, 3: 11-19; Reis, R., 1996, Sporen van ziekte: medische pluraliteit en epilepsie in Swaziland, Ph.D. thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam.

[30]  Freud, S., 1991, ‘Het vraagstuk van de lekenanalyse’, in: Sigmund Freud: Nederlandse editie, De psychoanalytische beweging 2, Amsterdam: Boom Meppel, 105-195, p. 164; Dutch translation of: ‘Die Frage der Laienanalyse’, first edition 1926, Leipzig/ Wenen/ Zürich: Internationaler Psychychoanalytischer Verlag. [ In the final version of this article, the full standard English translation of Freud’s text has to be inserted here: Freud, S., 1962, Two short accounts of psycho-analysis: Five lectures on psycho-analysis: The question of lay analysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 15th impr ]

[31]  E.g the tablets Kwame (whence the professional association of healers derives its name!), Shilume and Lungwe open — with their frontside up — , Ntakwala closed; this configuration is called Vuba, ‘mixture’.

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