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Bone Throwing

Posted on: Thursday, September 05, 2013
Blog Category: Culture & Society

by Jenny Bowen (Sense Africa)

I took my shoes off, clapped three times and put a coin on the ground. I then entered into the gloomy but welcoming coolness of the traditional healer’s mud hut. We all sat down in front of Jeluga, one of the traditional healers of the Shewula community. Nobody said a word – we were rather in awe of the apparition that sat before us. Jeluga was sitting in his refinery of traditional dress, sporting an incredible head gear of feathers and beads and holding a switch that resembled a zebra tail. Once I had grown accustomed to the dimly lit interior I began to take in my surroundings; jars of leaves and different coloured concoctions littered the floor, a few skulls of unidentifiable animals were nailed to the wall, bunches of leaves and twigs hung suspended from the ceiling and an enormous python skin circumnavigated the hut, it was an Aladdin’s grove of treasures.

Jeluga greeted us, seriously, and we all smiled nervously and fidgeted as we sat down on the grass mats. He then took some snuff, snorted it, coughed and spluttered and then started to shake a small purse, which rattled ominously. We were going to have the bones thrown for us.

It is a privaledge to be invited into a traditional healer’s house. Traditional healers are revered in Swaziland and and 80% of the population will consult a traditional healer as they are considered physicians, herbalists, prophets, priests and diviners, all rolled into one. They therefore have a a great deal of responsibility within the community. Most locals will choose to pay for a traditional healer before consulting a doctor. So traditional healers are often very busy people and I was grateful that Jeluga had put time aside for our visit.

The bones were thrown on the mat and we all leaned forward in anticipation – not that we could ‘read’ the bones, but curiosity had over powered us. There on the mat were a couple of die, two dominoes, an assortment of vertebrae with different coloured wire around them, cowrie shells, toe bones complete with claws, some coins, glass beads, feathers and more bones of indiscriminate origin. Jeluga then moved some of the bones around, studied them and then communed with his ancestors for advice.

What was he saying? Who knows, but it was an experience of a life time and an opportunity not to be missed.

Jenny Bowen is from Sense Africa, the UK's only Swaziland specialist tour operator.

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