“Ngoya nobani? Ngoya nobani? Ngoya nobani, ngoya nobani elwandle? Ulwandle luyangishiya…”
This is one of the many songs of ritual and lamentation that we sing on the graduation weekend. Ulwandle is used metaphorically in this instance, to represent a natural, flowing body of water. By asking “Ngoya nobani elwandle?” the thwasa is basically lamenting about their trepidation prior to undergoing the process of initiation, the difficulties and low moments encountered during the process of initiation as well as the fear that comes with the unknown and undocumented world of the water. By asking this question, the thwasa is asking for someone to accompany them because, “ulwandle luyangishiya” and they cannot afford that. For those of you who do not understand “ulwandle luyangishiya”, an isiZulu/Siswati phrase saying that the water world is leaving the singer behind. this is the most literal translation I could think of. Metaphorically, it communicates the trepidation prior to accepting one’s calling, the time wasted as a result of that and the fact that one’s guiding water spirit may not have the patience to hold them in the gentleness and kindness their family guiding ancestor(s) would. It probably doesn’t make much sense to you, right now, but it will click one day.
I’ve written about the strife that one may experience as they come to terms with their gift. During the pre-phehlo phase (iphehlo/lefehlo= initiation/process of apprenticeship/training to become isangoma/ngaka), a lot of loss is suffered, particularly in finances. People incur debt and a bad credit record because their money does not flow as it should, because of the blockages presented by badimo (ancestors); they’re unemployed; they have been forced to resign because they were perceiving things beyond this world and could not be fully present at work, thereby compromising their productivity.
There are psychological implications linked to pitso ya badimo (the calling to become a healer) as well. Looking at these afflictions through a Western Psychological/Psychiatric lense, would lead to the diagnosis of a mental illness such as depression or stress disorder (which may be categorised differently for different people), schizophrenia (with auditory, visual, gustatory etc. hallucinations), a personality disorder etc. and this would mean there is treatment administered to the person, to suit the mental illness they have been diagnosed with. Please note that NOT ALL mental illnesses are the result of a spiritual affliction. NOT ALL mental illnesses are the result of a spiritual affliction. I cannot stress this enough. DO NOT gloss over this. Take care of yourself the best way you can, by continuing with your treatment (medication, therapy, nature walks, njalo njalo). There’s a brand of mysterious physical illness tied to the calling that I never ever want to experience, again. If I have to come back in the next lifetime, sign me up for something else. Thank you.
Along with financial and psychological strife, comes emotional strife. You become accustomed to living with anxiety because of the blockages presented to you by your guiding ancestors. You start losing your sense of self and doubt your abilities, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. It goes without saying that the resistance to taking on this journey costs you a lot, financially, emotionally, psychologically, physically. Once you accept that you need to undergo the process of initiation/training/apprenticeship, you’re not in your optimal state.
Some of impandze/amaziko/mafehlo don’t require that you are stationed at your gobela’s compound for the duration of your learning. This has come as a response to the world we live in. You still need to earn a living to eat, have shelter, water and electricity, jwalo jwalo. It is not everyone who will be able to undergo initiation in the region where they live and work. You may need to pack up your bag and move to an entirely new province for your training, never mind moving countries.
It then follows that, you move from your region, where you work and live, to another, and you have to leave work (if you are employed) or your business for the duration of your training. This can put strain on your finances, further affecting you psychologically and emotionally. You manage to get through the experience of training, hallelujah, bringing the fragmented parts of yourself together and your homecoming is a great success!
Wonderful. You’re left with the task of rebuilding your life: your finances, repairing relationships that may have gotten wonky from the wear and tear of that pre-phehlo state you were in as well as overcoming that place of hopelessness and its accompanying emotions. This is the difficult part. Uyenyukela umnqantsi ke kulendawo. You will have to be very patient and kind with yourself, because things may not magically fall into place. Yes, you’re aligned better with your spirit and you’re in tune with your path, which enriches your life immeasurably. However, the reality of existing in a capitalistic society, in an economy that isn’t immediately accessible to the majority of Black South Africans, means getting back into the swing of things will take time. Be patient with yourself, your ancestors and your community (friends and family). You will be at the receiving end of sometimes malicious comments alluding to the fact that uthwasele ubala. Try not to internalize these as they come from people whose understanding of idlozi and ukuthwasa is quite colonial gazey and woo woo. Be patient with yourself and your guiding ancestors as you continue to heal, knowing that you are loved and held in a gentle space. Hold this gentle space for yourself. Remind yourself of the process you’ve just been through and how it has enriched your relationship with your body, your mind and spirit. When things fall into place, they fall into place.
If you can afford therapy, please pursue it, so that you may get practical steps to deal with the existential crisis facing you in that moment. For those who cannot afford therapy, your Baba (your spiritual parent) is a good place to start. If they’re open to it, talk to them and find out how they lived through that post-phehlo mrivithi, ngoba yheyi that mrivithi has its own life. You probably have older siblings lefehlong/ephehlweni who have lived through this phase. Ask them, talk to them.
Know that you are loved and supported, even though these may not come in the forms you expect.
Lesedi bana ba thari e ntsho ❤️❤️