Night of Healing

My husband’s passion for his hobby, amateur archaeology and Rock Art in southern Africa, has led us to many adventures across the continent. Tsumkwe, where we stopped to get a permit and directions, is the nearest town to Nhoma village in north-eastern Namibia. No road to the village was marked on our map. We were told to turn left off the tarred road at the broken windmill after 80 km. A rough track into the veld finally led us to the outskirts of Nhoma village.

We spend 3 nights camping outside the Ju/’hoansi San’s settlement. A man directed us off the track into a clearing where we were to camp under Zambesi Teak trees.

The Ju/’hoansi are one of the last peoples that still live in the old way of their ancestral past. In this semi arid region of mostly bush and grass covered hills they hunt, gather veld food and still make their traditional craft which they sell to tourists.

Before setting up camp we paid our respects to the Chief of Nhoma, a very old wrinkled man, sitting outside his hut enjoying the sun. Scattered around were beehive huts and shelters covered with plastic sheeting. Chickens, goats and dogs wandered about. Children stopped playing and stared. Women bent over cooking pots, looked up and waved.

The unforgettable highlight of our stay came one evening after dark when we attended “The Elephant Dance for Healing.” No rock painting of the Trance Dance could have prepared us for the breath taking real life experience.

Women sat round a fire beating out different rhythms with their hand clapping, using wooden clappers or beating sticks together. They sang in haunting tones, rocking from side to side. Soon I was mesmerised by the rhythm and found myself swaying gently from side to side and silently clapping.

The Shaman danced round the fire in an ever increasing frenzy, followed by some men. Their dance rattles, wound round their calves, added to the overall sounds. His feet pounding the earth, covered in perspiration, his breathing became difficult. Eyes closed he shuffled near the fire. The Shaman, now in a trance state, was gently guided by one of the men towards the sick. Smeared with oil they waited near the fire for the Shaman to draw out their sickness.

Bending over each patient he stroked them and, raising his arms in the air, flicked his hands. With loud cries he threw the sickness into the darkness. Finally exhausted, he fell and lay stiff and prostrate on the ground. His guide knelt down, rubbed him with sweat and, using a flywhisk, deflected the spiritual arrows of sickness that had been collected.

The haunting music continued until the Shaman returned from his deep trance and was later helped away and led off to sleep in the dark night. We returned to our camp and sat silently under the stars reliving the fascinating never-to-be-forgotten evening.

H Leggatt

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