The Power of Izinyoka

The jury seems to be out when it comes to people’s perception of snakes, or izinyoka. It seems that in some cases the snake is revered as a link to the ancestors, and in others its presence is considered a bad omen, but it in all instances, there’s a definite respect associated with snakes in Zulu culture

The late sangoma, Khekheke, with a black mamba in his mouth and a python around his neck

The late sangoma, Khekheke, with a black mamba in his mouth and a python around his neck

In Eshowe a local isangoma made headlines for his daring acts with snakes. The late Khekhekhe (born Zizwezonke Mtethwa), was a descendant of the great Zulu Chief Dingiswayo, mentor to King Shaka. During the First Fruits ceremony that takes place at the start of each year, Khekhekhe would handle venomous snakes, while telling the story of how Dingiswayo gained power over snakes as a young man. Khekhekhe would even go so far as to put their heads in his mouth,  demonstrating his supposed power over evil.

According to the late sangoma, he would find the snakes with the help of his ancestors who would come to him in his dreams and tell him where to look for them.

They are always different snakes and they co-operate when I use them in the ceremonies. I’ve been bitten so many times I cannot count, but my body is strong and the poison no longer affects me. The snakes, in fact, make me stronger, and our Okweshwama (harvest) ceremonies more powerful”, said Khekhekhe before he died.

Image courtesy of eshowe.com

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