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Frank Trimbos | Sangoma Initiation

HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. The initiation of a new Sangoma is an exclusive experience filled with traditions and rituals. Only the local community, friends and family are invited to witness the Sangoma initiation. Normally outsiders and cameras are not allowed. It is a unique experience, because Sangomas believe they are being chosen by their ancestors to become a traditional healer. The harmony between the living and the death in the afterlife must be intact, so that the ancestors can protect and guide the living. Animal sacrifice and ritual dance are therefore vital elements during a Sangoma initiation.

Sangomas are the practitioners of traditional African medicine in Southern Africa. Animal sacrifices, ancestors consultations, herbs, meditation, ritual songs and dance are key aspects of the traditional sangoma healing.

These traditional healers receive an extreme amount of respect, devotion and faith from a large amount of the South African population. Although there is a significant amount of fake healers or frauds, who for example say that they can cure HIV/Aids, cancer and perform illegal back street abortions, the South African health sector frequently collaborates with Sangomas to raise awareness for the importance of good health and frequently expresses the efficiency of herbal remedies.
Traditional healers are consulted first (or exclusively) by 60% of the South African population, especially in the townships and in the traditional rural areas. Estimates of the number of indigenous traditional healers in South Africa ranged up to 200,000 in 2012, compared to 25,000 academically-trained doctors.

HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. The traditional doctor Zalisile Sahlukaniso (middle) is the mentor of the sangoma trainees. A sangoma mentor is the highest valued person for the trainees. The level of respect, devotion and obedience towards him is extremely high and even exceeds their own family.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. It’s early in the morning and Lucy Mthembu is getting dressed for her initiation (Ithwasa). Three years ago she received a spiritual calling from her ancestors to become a sangoma. Trainee sangomas train formally under an another sangoma, who acts as a mentor, for a period that varies between a couple of months to several years.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. Sangoma Manhla, the traditional doctor Zalisile Sahlukaniso and their trainees are walking towards Lucy Mthembu, who is approaching from the other side. Lucy comes from a nearby river where she spoke to her ancestors and to get mentally ready for her initiation.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. While covered in leaves, which symbolizes a personal respect to Mother Earth, Lucy Mthembu walks in the middle of the crowd to her mother’s house during her sangoma initiation. During her training Lucy was not allowed to see her family and any sexual contact was withheld.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. During a sangoma initiation in Heilbron, South Africa, a goat has been ritually sacrificed to please the ancestors, so that in turn they’ll protect and guide the living. The person undertaking the initiation has to bear all costs of the animal purchases as well as for the feast.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. Phunyoka Mthembu is already a bit alcohol-influenced when she welcomes the guests who are attending the sangoma ritual of her sister Lucy Mthembu in Heilbron, South Africa.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. A simbra bull is pulled to the ground. He’s going to be sacrificed in order to please ancestral spirits during a sangoma initiation in Sebokeng, South Africa.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. Lefu Mahlola (left) is getting into a trance during a ritual dance at a sangoma initiation in Sebokeng, South Africa. Influenced by the South African heat, songs, alcohol and ritual dances, sangomas will reach a state of trance during which their ancestors will be channeled. This is followed by the performance of numerous ancestral songs.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. The bulls testicles have just been cut off during a sangoma initiation. Traditional healers believe that by ritual sacrifice of animals respect is shown to their ancestors, who in turn will protect them from evil spirits.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. Zukani Kolela is having a cigarette break during the initiation.
HEILBRON, SOUTH AFRICA – Oct 2013. Although Manhla has become a sangoma only recently, he claims that he could already communicate with his ancestors at a very young age. They told him that he should become a sangoma and who would be the right person for him to choose as a mentor.


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Frank Trimbos

Frank Trimbos (1978, Waalwijk, The Netherlands) is a documentary & portrait photographer in South Africa. After completing the school of Photography in Amsterdam specialized in Documentary photography. Frank began to explore the lines of storytelling, documentary and portrait photography to engage with issues of cultural, social and historical significance...and making friends along the way.

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