Interrogating traditional African spirituality through a gendered lens

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This briefing investigates traditional African healing as a meaningful space for African women to not only connect with and express their spirituality, but also to live the power that is inherent within that spirituality. I present this briefing as a contribution towards the opening up of discussion on this valuable topic, and argue for further rigorous research to be undertaken in order to facilitate the creation of knowledge on the impact of gender in this field.

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In South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province, the isangoma (diviner) remains firmly entrenched at the apex of the hierarchy of African traditional medicine (ATM). This review article raises two questions. The first interrogates the essence of ubungoma (divination), while the second focuses on gendered notions in this line of work. The latter question probes four issues: why izangoma (plural for isangoma) are mostly women; whether these females possess disproportionate power as compared to their male counterparts; and whether such womenfolk possess their power by virtue of being female or izangoma per se. The fourth aspect addresses sexual orientation of ubungoma. Plausible explanations for these questions were gleaned from a scanty - albeit fascinating information - collated through a literature search and personal communication. Female izangoma were found to have attributes that outclass their male counterparts. This review also interrogates the manner in which African beliefs have been represented in literature. Western epistemologies have tended to misrepresent the realm of African beliefs by dismissing them as mere superstition. Alternatively, they create boundaries of intellectual segregation by treating African beliefs as cognitive false consciousness. In contemporary South Africa this form of misrepresentation has not deterred Africans from seeking the services of izangoma.
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