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Sangoma Cosmology & History

IsiSangoma and Iziyanga are traditional healers of South Africa’s Bantu culture and are a integral part of the community throughout South Africa. They are found amongst the Nguni people who emerged overtime into various African tribes throughout South Africa. These include the Zulu people of the East: (KwaZulu Natal region), the Xhosa people of the South (Eastern and Western Cape region), Sotho, Tswana people of the West(Free State, Gauteng, North West and Northern Cape), and people of the Northern region: Venda, Pedi, Venda, Ndebele (Limpopo and Mpumalanga regions which includes Swaziwand and other tribes.

Sangomas are considered a direct link between human beings and their Ancestors referred to as Amadlozi. There are more Sangomas in South Africa then western medical doctors and over half of South Africa’s population consult with and are treated by Sangomas or Inyangas who specialize in the use of traditional herbal medicines called muthi. One of the most common muthi’s used is imphebo. Imphebo is burned in rituals or used when communicating with the ancestors. It is through the guidance of the ancestors that Sangomas are able to see the root of any dysfunction. Mental, physical, emotional illnesses and even financial issues can be resolved. It is believed that all of these problems have their root stemming from ancestral obligations or interference of foreign spirit/s.

Sangomas are able to diagnose patients using one or a combination of dream interpretation, spirit possession, throwing the bones, or direct communication. Once a diagnosis has been determined, the Sangoma treats the patient using various muthi or healing methods learned throughout their training or directly from their ancestor. These healing methods include phalaza (vomiting), futhat (steaming), enemas, use of sniffing muthi through the nasal cavity, umgaba- incisions with muthi and spiritual bathing.

In order for one to become a Sangoma they must receive a calling that is passed down from their family who was a Sangoma in a previous lifetime. It could be someone the person knows, which is more common in South Africa, and less common in the Diaspora due to the slave trade. Those that are called in the Diaspora are usually not aware or have no means of consciously knowing who this ancestor was. Once they are called these questions are answered. There are many signs and symbols leading up to someone being called which is usually includes incurable illness, a tragedy, disturbing dreams, hearing voices, excruciating headaches, and other life challenges such as wandering off to places in nature and not knowing how they arrived there. During this difficult period they are lead to their teacher by their Idlozi (the ancestor that is passing the gift to them).


This can be most challenging in the Diaspora as many people are not familiar with the Sangoma process leaving those being called clueless to their dilemma. Once the person answers and agrees to their calling they must undergo a strenuous training period of intense rituals for purification for themselves and some of their ancestors that may need elevation. This period of training is called ukuthwasa. During ukuthwasa period the thwasa is guided by a Senior Sangoma until their Ancestors shows the initiate specific signs indicating it time for them to graduate. The twaza learns how to divine, to diagnose and treat patients, ceremonial drumming & dancing singing, how to find hidden objects, how to properly communicate with their Ancestors and other pertinent information within their lineage and Sangoma Cosmology.

Sangoma Cosmology, being a ancestral practice, has an enormous amount of ancestral spirits that are recognized, however there are a main group of nature spirits in which the ancestors manifest through called Mandawe, Mandiki, Banguni, Isithunywa who communicate with the supreme being on behalf of the Sangoma/ Inyanga. This Supreme Being often referred to, in Zulu language, as Nkulunkulu, the big spirit or ruler of the Sky. Nomkubulwana is the female aspect of God called the Queen of heaven who works beside Nkulunkulu. Both are called by other names depending on the region and language utilized by the Sangoma / Inyanga. Although there is a common belief in the male and female God/Goddess of sky, the Sangoma’s primary focus is their daily relationship and interaction with the Ancestors.


There are various groups of Ancestors that are prominent within the Sangoma Cosmology, which include the following: The Amadlozi are maternal or paternal family members that have passed away and are now ancestors. Everyone is considered to have Amadlozi. It does not matter if you are a Sangoma/ Inyanga or not. The Amakhhosi are the ancestral royal lineage within Sangoma’s bloodline(Kings, Queens, Chiefs). The Idlozi is the ancestral spirit who had the gift to heal others and is passing it on to the the twaza being called within their lineage. Isithunywa- ancestral spirit of the air who had the gift of prayer and power to manifest healing through their words. Mandawe (plural) Umndawo( singular) spirit of the water. It is through this water spirit that all water spirits can manifest on the twasa or the Sangoma such as the river spirit in the yoruba tradition Oshun. Mandiki (plural) Indiki (singular) - Earth Spirit spirits of the forests /wilderness. Amadlozi looking after you. Banguni (plural) Nguni (singular) Fire Spirit.

Each of these spirits are in communication with the Sangoma via possession, dreams, use of the bones, or direct hearing. Sangomas work with all of these nature spirits to consult, heal and help to bring a person back into spiritual alignment with their ancestral lineage. It said that all spirits can manifest through this Ancestral practice because it is the Ancestor that bring the deity of the bloodline within its lineage that the culture will continue to be preserved in Africa or abroad within the Diaspora. Although the Sangoma tradition is not one of the most prevalent African tradition within the Diaspora, the Ancestors have assured us that more people will receive the calling to become Sangomas as the education and more Sangomas are being called from the Diaspora and will be a lot easier for the twaza to find her or his teacher. This also holds true with the amount of technology that is available for communication and for the ancestors to also utilize to return their children to their sacred lineage and for this we are most humbled.

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