When you visit the Icamagu Institute in the Eastern Cape, prepare to meet a woman who is not only an academic but a diviner, an author and an African spiritualist as well. And be prepared to come away with an armful of coral trees and African medicinal plants.

Did you know?

The Xhosa language names each month of the year after a botanical bloom or event.

Just south of Dutywa (also called 'Idutywa') off the N2 highway in the Eastern Cape, you’ll find a sign that reads: Icamagu Institute.

And although the institute embraces a modest cultural village of a few rondawels, a nursery, a vegetable garden and a herbal garden, the woman behind the project is a veritable force of nature.

An author of cultural and spiritual works, Dr Nokuzola Mndende is a former lecturer in comparative religions. She is also a diviner and firm believer in African indigenous religion.

'The word Icamagu', she says, 'is an utterance, a phrase used when one is speaking with or invoking the ancestors. It is something that connects individuals and the spiritual world.

'The ancestors prefer to communicate through dreams visions and sometimes use certain animals as channels of communication,' she says

Mndende takes visitors on a walk through the various huts, where they learn about the customs of the Xhosa. In one hut, a woman is demonstrating the use of a rolling pin to grind maize on a special stone.

'You know the famous phrase: "When you strike a woman, you strike a rock?" Well, the rock they refer to this a grinding stone like this,' she will tell you.

Your fascinating journey with Mndende will take you into the world of diviners, the mourning customs of the villagers, and the various medicinal plants growing amidst the food crops in the Icamagu vegetable garden.

There is blue-flowering plumbago, which provides thin dancing sticks for the sangomas/igqirha (diviner) initiates; there is bulbinella, to remove your headache and open up your sinuses; sneezewood plants, which will later provide leaves to scatter over ceremonially cooked meat, and a plant called 'Hawu hawu', which, when boiled into a tea infusion, helps with coughs.

The vegetable garden also feeds Icamagu staff and produces olive and coral trees for sale. The herbal garden has various herbs used for many ailments.

Icamagu Institute also teaches people the importance of planting trees, especially indigenous trees.

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