I had expected the old man to listen to our tale and make an appointment for a later date and an insitu inspection, but no, this does not happen. He dons a long beaded necklace with what look like sharks teeth (but aren’t) around his neck and under his arm like a bandolier (frames 1).
He pushes a small enamel bowl over towards me. It is heaped with an assortment of objects, primary among which are what appear to be the knuckles from the spine of a medium sized mammal, each well polished and yellowing and tied round with wire. There are a couple of large shells. He indicates that I am to make a loose fist with my hand and blow through it onto the objects. I do so. He takes back the bowl and gathers the objects in both hands and clutching them together as a large fist thumps his hands hard on the ground a couple times and releases the objects which scatter across the reed mat.
As the objects settle I see a couple of dice, two or three small domino tiles, sundry stones and metal disks and other small bits and pieces. In all there must be fifty or so objects.
The old man talks a lot, Sibusiso listens attentively and my mind drifts.
Here I am sitting in the hut of a respected Sangoma seeking his help in the matter of three missing window frames. A petty crime that the conventional police will not be in the least interested in and one that the community police who are too far away to be concerned with will also be of no use. Besides it would take half a day to get either of them out there. An appeal to the umphakatsi, the chiefs traditional homestead, would be laughable; they have far more pressing matters to attend to, and anyway the property lies betwixt and between two chieftaincies and of course I don’t know where the felons hale from.
|Kuthula Cottage from Hawane Hill|
During my reverie the old man, the Sangoma has been throwing the bones (I have to call them “bones” although this is a misnomer given the predominance of other un-bone like objects). Every so often he takes up a shiny metal tube in the shape of an old fashioned police whistle and gently blows into it giving a mournful kazoo like sound. He reads more information from the bones. He tells us we have lost money from the cottage – which is true, and I am hugely impressed by his knowledge of this incident. He tells us that there are three miscreants, that one of them is female and that they make a living stealing. I want to ask if they specialise in window frames or do they do door frames and roof sheets as well – but don’t, fearing that it might be regarded as a frivolous question.
He throws the bones again and, as he bends over them there is a harsh intervention of a ringing cell phone. My cell phone is on silent and I look daggers at Sibusiso, but it is the Sangoma who delves into his shirt and brings out a small pouch from around his neck from which he pulls out a phone, looks at the screen and answers it. With a shudder of delight I wonder if the spirits have also embraced the electronic age. Or perhaps this is a complainant for whom a love potion has gone pear-shaped, or maybe it’s the wife reminding him to get some cooking oil on the way home.
|A Sangoma sitting on my shelf.|
With due acknowledgements to the comic genius
of the late Austin Hleza
The consultation seems to be coming to a close. I sense this, not because the demeanour of the Sangoma has altered in any way, but because he has stopped throwing the bones and is now carefully tearing a page of the Times of Swaziland to make a large square shape. He carefully glances over the classified deaths column before he finally tears off the redundant strip - perhaps to see if he recognises any old clients? He reaches across the low table of sundry containers and selects a deep off-white plastic screw-topped container from which he ladles out two large table spoons of mustard/khaki coloured powder onto the paper, which he then folds into an intricate flat package the size of two match boxes. This process takes about five minutes not for any ritualistic reasons, but rather because he is talking continually with illustrative hand gestures that keep interrupting his actions.
The Sangoma pushes the neatly wrapped muti over to me. He tells me (in translation) that the muti can be used anywhere. I could be in
and use it and it would be just as effective as here in Swaziland. The Sangoma also tells me that he can enter my bedroom when I am
asleep, wherever I am in the world. I am suitably impressed and feel ever so
slightly threatened. He tells me that after we have used the muti I (and presumably Sibusiso) will
see one of the miscreants in a dream. We are then to use the muti again to tell the felon to bring
his (or her) fellow crooks to show themselves to us and return the missing
|Homestead without a lot of window frames|
The Sangoma left the hut a minute or two after us as we finished putting on our shoes and there was no contract between us at all. It was as if we to him, or he to us had never had any dealing. We drove away; Sifiso, who had remained outside the hut for the entire time, the younger man who we had first encountered with the Sangoma, Sibusiso and I. We returned along the long ruinous road back through Mpolonjeni where we dropped the nameless “younger man”, back to Nkoyoyo to drop off the helpful Sifiso, and back to the cottage.
"We need to get containers for the muti so’s we can split it between us”, said Sibusisio. “Did you understand the instructions on how to use it?” I said no.
“You take a pinch of it on your hand and with your heart heavy with the wish to see the crooks you blow the muti away, and you can do this anywhere.”
He said that some time over the next two weeks we should get some sort of a result. He then went on to express his admiration for the Sangoma who has so much faith in his muti that payment will only be due once its results have been seen.
And I have no doubt that they will do as instructed.