Ritual Tools and Sacred Ceremonies of Southern Africa's Sangomas and Inyangas

Learn about the the differnt tools and powerful mechanisms with which traditional healers work

With our potions & charms we arouse in the sick one’s brain the will to be healthy. Without the strong will to be alive a human can be carried into valleys of death by even the mildest sickness.

— Esteemed South African Sangoma, Credo Mutwa

Spirituality and the art of healingPhansi Museum

Who are the Sangomas and Inyangas of southern Africa?

Sangomas and Inyangas are wise and powerful healers who have been the backbone of Bantu communities, especially in the rural areas of southern Africa, for eons. 

Medicine Gourds and Healing toolsPhansi Museum

Highly skilled individuals, sangomas and inyangas are  able to communicate with the ancestors to help cure afflictions and work with indigenous plants to make medicine. Learn more about the roles of sangomas and inyangas in southern Africa here.

Medicine Gourds and Healing toolsPhansi Museum

Objects of care and ceremony

In their practice, sangomas and inyangas use a number of different tools and objects. These range from powerful staffs which help them to communictae with the ancestors to ritual snuff pipes which open pathways to the spirit realm. Read on to learn about some of these tools and relics.

Maronga / Ankle RattlesOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

1. Ankle ratlles

Ankle rattles are often made from Maronga seeds and are worn by traditional healers who believe they enhance rhythm and induce a trance. During the trance, when the spirit leaves the body it is temporarily stored the maronga seeds.

Amashoba / Divinity sticksOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

2. Amashoba

Amashoba are divinity sticks used by traditional healers. These sticks are believed to be the carrier of spirits from the user to the receiver, as a way of channeling an ancestral spirit

Amakhubalo / medicinal necklaceOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

3. Amakhulbalo

Amakhubalo is a necklace from the country of Eswatini, worn by a traditional healers. These necklaces are said to protect the Sangoma from evil spirits who want to attack their power as a divine healer.

Medicine necklaceOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

4. Medicinal necklace

A medicinal necklace is worn around the neck of a healer and contains gourds which are used to store medicine. This necklace, which comes from the Limpopo province of South Africa, contains two gourds covered with white beads which are often associated with purity although these meanings are complex, personal and differ across regions.

Medicine bottleOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

5. Medicine bottles

A set of different sized medicine bottles with elaborate beaded designs. These bottles are typically carried by a client who is actively taking the medication, or a traditional healer who administers it.

Nhunguvani / Medicine containerOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

6. Nhunguvani / Medicine Container

Nhunguvani are handmade containers used by traditional healers to store medicine. This container is made from carved wood and decorated with telephone wire, broze rings and beads. It belonged to a powerful and and highly respected traditional healer. 

Nsangoma / Hemispherical drumOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

7. Nsangoma drum

This Nsangoma drum from Venda has multiple functions. When used by a traditional healer, the drum acts as way of channeling the spirits of the ancestor.

Sansangoma NecklaceOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

8. Sangoma's necklace

'Sangoma's necklaces' are specifically worn by traditional healers for protection from evil spirits. This one comes from Venda, in South Africa, and is made from animal bone and glass beads.

Umyeko / South African sangoma hatOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

9. Sangoma's hat

A sangoma hat worn by a traditional healer from Msinga in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. Healers normally wear these hats, which completely obscure their face, when in consultation with a client as an attempt to channel their ancestral spirits.

Sansangoma basketOriginal Source: Phansi Museum

10. Sangoma's basket with cowrie shells

Traditional healers use baskets to store their equipment. This basket is made from reeds and cowrie shells and smeared with red ochre. Cowrie shells hold strong power for many southern African people and can bring wealth, fertility and good fortune.

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