Heritage Month | The power of traditional medicine

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The writings on medicine are extensive and deal with the plants used and the traditional techniques that were practiced before colonization. Photo: Getty Images


Most of the scriptures in the Ancestral Voices Collection relate to history or social practices. Of the 342 writings currently uploaded to the collection, 26 relate to medicine or the treatment of mental, emotional and physical illnesses; 13 relate to metalworking; while 10 detail the practices of wood carving, leatherwork, and pottery.

The writings on medicine are extensive and deal with the plants used and the traditional techniques that were practiced before colonization: NDHAMBI 594: TSONGA MEDICAL LORE, WRITTEN IN XITSONGA IN THE 1930S.

“I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to browse the ancient lives of our ancestors for medical records. Greet all. I am Muhlave Makuhani Matsevele Ndhove. I come from Gondzhwanda under Savi (Hlengweni, Portuguese East Africa). My grandparents came to the Transvaal in Maxawu village and fled wars with the Nguni people.

I would like to share things related to traditional ancestral medicine. I would also like to inform you about the secrets of traditional medicine of the ancestors, that is, before our meeting with the white man. Some of these secrets are now meaningless and have fallen out of practice.

READ: Heritage Month | Celebrating amaZulu customs

However, some traditional healing practices remain of great importance even today. In doing so, some go beyond the ancestral sayings.

In modern times there are white doctors who are much more educated in medical treatment than our grandparents. Therefore, strictly speaking, this is only a comment on traditional healing. “

Four of the 26 publications that speak of medicine focus on the practice of diagnosing by throwing bones. This varies slightly from clan to clan and nation to nation, as can be seen in the following excerpt: LEDWABA 420: MEN AND PRACTICES OF MEDICINE, WRITTEN IN SESOTHO SA LEBOA 1940

“Fortune telling bones are made from animals killed in rituals. Not every animal bone was used for divination.

The traditional healer would do the research and identify the potential clients. He / she wants to know which totem is used by most of his / her customers before he / she could kill the totem animal. It is believed that the bones of a totem animal are capable of predicting, diagnosing, and prescribing traditional medicine for the patient.

In most cases these bones help the traditional healer to learn something about the witches in the villages. “

How long have indigenous South Africans been working with metal and what have they done with it? At least 13 of the 342 Ancestral Voices writings speak about indigenous metalworking, as shown in the following excerpt: MABALE 550: INCHES AND HISTORY OF HLENGWE AND THE NEXT VENDA, WRITTEN IN XITSONGA IN THE 1930S.

“I am Masianuga Xikukuvi from Mtamba, from Netshisekoni. Vhatavhatshindi is a goat’s tail whose tail is dirty.

We made a fire that produced glowing embers that we would use to melt (fula) hoes. The collected firewood was piled up to the height of a house or even higher.

As soon as the firewood produced the embers, the women were asked to pick up or collect the embers … which were brought to the melting furnaces (marhurhweni). Then we came to Ximbupfe with some women to dig and extract ferrous rock (ngwidi, ngwedi in Tshivenda).

The women would screen the Ngwidi and selectively separate them from the ore. They then carried it to the smelting furnaces in wide-bottom baskets and large conical baskets. The ore was brought to the smelting furnaces, where a hole with a conical shape was dug – next to the smelting furnace.

READ: Heritage Month | History of the Nkuna Tribe

The ore was thrown into the hole. Then a fire was made so that the ore would come together in a mass and be sufficiently cooked, softened and refined. The ore would be kept in the fire in the hole all night. Then it was taken to the furnace where we worked until sundown. When we left the furnace in the evening, we were pitch black with soot.

Once the ore was in the furnace, a chemical expert was called in to put it in the furnace so the ore could come out as solid iron. I learned the skills for this job from my father, who used to do it himself. “

The 10 Scriptures Describing Crafts and Material Culture (with more scriptures currently being translated) are an amazing collection of techniques and styles that differ by clan or family. The names of famous artisans are part of the deep knowledge that is passed on from generation to generation: MOSEHLE 723: PEDI MATERIAL CULTURE, WRITTEN IN SESOTHO SA LEBOA 1945

‘Mogopo, a wooden bowl for serving porridge, is made by men from the trunk of a morula tree. Not all men can make it.

But there are men who can make this traditional bowl. Among them are people like Moubane Mawela, Hlabane Mohlala and Mmara Thuke.

You use an ax to make it and a special iron tool known as a petlo to make it hollow. A knife is used to make it smooth. When the craft is done, use a hot rod to make some patterns on the edge.

In many cases the patterns are black lines that are carefully drawn onto the edge of the dishes. “

Other writings contain descriptions of pottery techniques, basket weaving and leatherwork, often with hand-drawn illustrations of the objects described.

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