By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Shambaa healer with his medicine gourd. Kwesimu, Lushoto District, Tanzania, 1996. Photo by Barbara Thompson. 

Among the Shambaa peoples, waganga (traditional healers) used tungli (decorated gourds) in processes of ritual healing. The embellishments, which can include animal skins, chains, beads, and other materials, are prescribed to the healer by his or her ancestral spirit who acts as a teacher and mentor. The gourds contain specific combinations of medicinal plants and symbolic materials, such nail clippings, blood from a sacrificed animal, or honey, that activate the spiritual power used in the healing process. When the mganga opens a divining tunguli, such as this one, in front of a patient, the embodied spirit provides him with a revelation as to the nature of the patient’s illness, its causes, and the treatment needed to cure the patient.