When dreams call

Ntombemhlophe sits around the fire at his homestead in Lusikisiki. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Ntombemhlophe sits around the fire at his homestead in Lusikisiki. Picture: Leon Sadiki

When Christopher Reid started having strange dreams in 1992, he never imagined that they were a sign of his calling to be a sangoma.

Being a white man born and raised in opulence and privilege in colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the dreams of drums that filled his head always left him emotional and confused.

“I started dreaming of this dark place with only candlelight, a black man and woman putting white beads on me, with my whole body covered in blood,” says Reid.

Now an experienced sangoma commonly known by his spiritual name Ntombemhlophe, he lives in a four-rondavel homestead down the high hills of Gwenxintaba in Lusikisiki.

It is not unusual to see him skillfully balancing a bundle of wood on his head as he strolls through the yard to the other end of the homestead with ease, like one of the village women.

Reid moved to Cape Town during the Rhodesian war to further his studies and later moved to Port St Johns when his mother fell ill with cancer.

City Press visited Ntombemhlophe to see him training sangoma initiates in the Eastern Cape village.

Drums on the sun ahead of the sangoma initiation ceremony. Photo: Leon Sadiki
Nyamekela ithonga Nhlabatsi and his spiritual sister Nonhle Khumalo dance together during the ceremony. Photo: Leon Sadiki
Nyamekeli ithongo Nhlabatsi and his spiritual sister Nonhle Khumalo who went through the process of becoming a sangoma before him. Photo: Leon Sadiki
A candle light shines on Ntombemhlophe's face as he sits inside one of the rondavels known as “emakhosini”. Photo: Leon Sadiki
Initiates prepare food for guests who came to the ceremony. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Initiates prepare food for guests who came to the ceremony. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Ntombemhlophe sits around the fire at his homestead in Lusikisiki. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Candles and incense on the floor. Picture: Leon Sadiki

“Camagu! Makhosi!” he says as he rushes to greet Nyamekela ithongo Nhlabatsi with a hug.

Nyamekela is Ntombemhlophe’s spiritual son and he speaks fondly of his guide.

“I was shown utata Mhlophe in a dream and that he was meant to be my mentor, teacher and spiritual father,” says Nyamekela.

A photographer by profession, Nyamekela is now a sangoma.

He has travelled from Zola, Soweto, to the village to celebrate ukungqwamba of one of the sangoma initiates in the homestead.

It is a celebration that symbolises that the initiate is a step closer to being a sangoma.

In total, 29 initiates have been trained to be sangomas under the mentorship of Ntombemhlophe.

The ceremony takes place at night, and song and dance predominate.

But most important is that it is on this night that initiates change their white garments for the red.

This symbolises that they are halfway through their training to become a sangoma.

Villagers attending from near and far are kept awake by umqombothi, food and the sounds of stomping feet as the sangomas dance to connect with the ancestors.

Among residents, Mhlophe is known for his love for the community and his spiritual gift that he shares with those around him.

Mbuyiseni Mguntu (33) is one the sangomas from the community who never miss a ceremony at the homestead.

He started on his path when he became mentally ill in high school and his mother took him to a traditional healer who advised her that he needed to become a sangoma in order to be healed.

“I now help people in my community with this gift from the ancestors,” says Mguntu.

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