Sorcery and witchraft among the Zulu people

In Zulu there is a word ukuthakatha means witchcraft. There is a difference between witchcraft and sorcery. Witchcraft is performed by someone called a witch, s/he is directly connected to evil and sometimes they work with other witches. The sorcerer is a healer and provide medicine towards harmful deeds. Witches are mostly labeled as females and they lay as strong emphasis on sexuality, whereas sorcerers are mostly men. Both are to kill, that is their priority.

According to Mr Dlamini who is a traditional healer at Umbumbulu, some witchcrafts use their techniques when people are sleeping and it appears like a dream to the victim e.g. eating something or someone strangles or stabs you this can lead to the sickness of that person then that person if they are lucky not to die immediately can get help from traditional leaders. A witch uses powers of the universe that he has learnt sometimes by means of magic or they can be taught by their family members who are also witches. They target people’s health, destroy families, prevents rain, can kill by lightning, making livestock thin.

The techniques of witchcraft
Most deadly of all medicines to any man or woman are those made with human body parts, such as nails, hair or excreta. For this reason the Zulu people are very careful on where they relieve themselves. If the witch gets someone’s  excreta, the mix it with certain medicines and deposit this mixture in a hole in the hearth where the fire is made. When the fire is made, the man whose excreta are buried in this way will have a burning sensation. This may lead to death if a traditional healer is not approached to find out the cause and give treatment. The same can be done with urine, though another common practice of witches is to observe where their target passes water and then to cut through wet earth with a medicated knife. The person whose urine has been targeted in this way will not be able to pass water again. The bladder and stomach will burst open and it may lead to death.

Another common means of killing people is to put poison in their food. The Zulu word is ukudlisa, meaning ‘feeding’ someone. This practice can also be done by sending bad spirit or tokoloshe to feed someone in their sleep and it will appear to them as a dream. Some people die immediately but others can become sick and a traditional healer or isangoma can help.

Ukuphonsa means ‘to throw’ this can harm or kill a person from a distance without physical contact e.g. the witch puts poison on his finger, points at a certain person to cause him to die on the spot, or contract an illness. Another well-known way is to use the spitting method, medicine is chewed and spitted out, and the witch calls the target by name and performs the imaginary stabs with an assegai or knife smeared with the same mixture.

Umeqo or umbhulelo meaning ‘walking over’, in this practice witches bury umuthi along paths or in a kraal for the purpose of causing fatal disease in those who come in contact with it e.g. a stick or a coin is smeared with umuthi mixed with the dirt or using an other wear of that targeted person (dirt can be obtained by observing where they throw water after bath or doing a washing and a witchcraft can extract the wet and use it) the witch can throw away the coin, while they call out the name of the person they are targeting. Then when that person passes along that way or picks up the coin, he will become ill and die, if no name is called out, anyone who passed will be killed.

A witch vs Isangoma (traditional healer)
Some people confuse the witch with isangoma because they both practise almost the same things like talking to the ancestors, using animals for mixing imithi i.e. snakes, wild cats, baboon, owls etc. They both hunt the animals they want to use with imithi. Some witches choose a specific animal as their instrument to use in targeting people i.e. a snake can be sent to the household of their enemy. Another popular animal used by the witch is the wild cat and baboon. They cut the tail short and is kept in the house of the witch hidden from other members of family or community who are not aware of what they are doing. This animal can be sent to cut a piece of hair while the person is sleeping.

Another method that has also been used by the witches using the spirit of a dead person. It is called ‘umkhovu’ others say it is half human and half animal. The witch can use the above method to target a person that s/he wants to use as umkhovu, the family will think that the person is dead but because of the mixtures used by the witch it’s only their shadow that is buried and they are turned into imikhovu.

Udukanezwe meaning ‘going astray’ is a method where a witch would target someone that they want to run away from their homes. In most cases the person who is mostly target is the breadwinner of that house. They use a certain umuthi and that person becomes restless but does not tell anybody and they will disappear, some are never found.

Isithuthwane meaning seizures or epilepsy. The symptoms comprises fainting, shaking of the body and some foam coming out of the mouth of their target person. Some people suffer from the same symptoms due to medical reasons but it’s also popular with the witchcraft. Umeqo (walking over) can be used for this sickness.

Isichitho is interpreted as a cause of estrangement between lovers. A girlfriend might want to separate her lover (husband) from his wife by using this medicine.

In order to prevent harm from witches, some people invite traditional healers (inyanga or isangoma) to their homes to perform a ritual called ‘ukuqinisa umuzi‘ so that the home would not be easily accessed by the witches. They use different kinds of umuthi to sprinkle around the yard and make incisions to all the members of the family and apply umuthi into the open wounds.

IsiZulu Summary
UkuthakathaUkuthakatha kwenzeka lapho umuntu esebenzisa khona umuthi ukubulala labo angabathandi, baphinde babagulise ngezifo ezahlukahlukene. Umthakathi unamandla okudumisa izulu, aphinde enze abantu baswele, kukhona izichitho, isithuthwane, udukanezwe kanye nezinye. Abathakathi bahlukene kabili kukhona abasebenzisa umlingo bese kubakhona abasebenzisa imithi. Kunezilwane abazisebenzisayo uma benza lokhu sibala izinyoka, izimfene, amakati, kanye nemikhovu. Izifo ezidalwa ukuthakatha zingalashwa uma ogulayo ebone kusenesikhathi angaphinda futhi asizakale ngokuya ezinyangeni nakubathandazi.

By: Bongiwe Ndlovu

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