Rituals of Healing

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

Sangoma or amaqira novices performing "washing of the beads" end-of-mourning ceremony in the cell of Adelheid Ndika, the senior-sponsoring healer. Guguleto township, Capetown, South Africa, 1982. Photo by John M. Janzen.


The use of the arts in healing is pervasive in both rural and urban Africa. As large numbers of Africans seek work in the cities, traditional methods of healing are brought into towns and cities where they undergo some adjustments in form, often without changes to the fundamental ideas. For example, the rural healing associations of ngoma, zebola, and tshibola are found throughout central, east, and southern African cities such as Kinshasa in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and Johannesburg in South Africa. While the form of dances, music, instruments, and objects used during such healing performances remain relatively true to the rural sources, the afflictions being addressed are more often related to the urban environment, including unemployment, social segregation, anonymity of urban life, and urban poverty.