Rituals of Healing

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

BotswanaSan peoples. Rock painting. Photo by University of Witwatersrand.

The San peoples believe that sickness is the result of social conflict. The performance of medicine dances reinforces group relationships and rids people of illness and negative forces. The medicine songs performed during the dances contain nuum (a vital force), which is activated by the women's singing and clapping and the men's rhythmic dancing. During the performance, a man dances behind another with whom he is in conflict. The rhythmic unity of their bodies helps induce trance, which reestablishes mutual goodwill and facilitates tracking, hunting, and sharing meat—activities based upon the concept of interdependence, cooperation, and teamwork.