05 July 2013 by Andrea Weiss

A visit to a traditional healer in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

On a guided visit to a traditional homestead in the Eastern Cape you will learn more about Xhosa culture and the skills that go into daily life.

In Xhosa culture, a traditional healer is known as an igqirha. All images by Andrea Weiss

When in the Eastern Cape, it’s worth taking the time to join a group visit to a homestead to see how the Xhosa people live today, and also possibly to meet a traditional healer, or igqirha.

When you arrive at the homestead, your guide will first ask permission to enter. Once inside, you will learn more about how the homestead is organised, the importance of the cattle kraal and burial rituals and the division of labour between men and women. The women in the party might be asked to see if they can lift the heavy loads of wood and water ordinarily carried by the women.

Woman carrying wood

Visitors will then be invited inside a hut (traditionally the men sit to the left of the door and the women to the right, so that the men can defend it against any intruders). Inside the hut, you may also be shown more daily tasks, such as the crushing and winnowing of maize (or corn kernels). The crushed maize is separated into three sizes: a fine dust that is fed to the pigs, slightly larger bits that go to the chickens and the largest pieces reserved to make a dish called samp and beans (umngqusho), once a favourite meal of former president Nelson Mandela.

Maize is crushed to make samp

If you are visiting the traditional healer, or igqirha, she may also share some of her secrets. In Xhosa culture, most healers are women. Here she grinds a root to create a healing foam that was used to cure her when she had an episode of ‘madness’, that identified her as having been called by the ancestors to become an iqgirha. She will also invite her guests to taste the foam and make a wish which they are told to carry with them in their hearts.

A traditional healer uses a root to make a healing foam

And the visit will end with the singing of the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (God Bless Africa).

Girls perform a praise song for Madiba

Where? This visit was to the homestead of Nolokoza Hlangani at Qolora in the Eastern Cape, close to the Wild Coast hotels of Trennerys and Seagulls Beach Hotel. Guide Trevor Wigley grew up in the area and is able to translate for visitors. You need to book at one of these two hotels a day in advance.

Category: Culture & History

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