Re-examining Sangoma (Southern African Shaman) Training Protocols

Title: Re-examining Sangoma Training Protocols: Aligning Tradition and Contemporary Practices

Team Member Names:

  1. Simon Anderson (SY) - “Mkhulu Lao”

  2. Lauren Amy Hofmeyer (LAH) - “Gogo Maria”

Short summary:

Our project aims to examine the protocols involved in the training of traditional healers, focused on Southern African Sangoma. We seek to evolve protocols where necessary without losing the essential transmission, aligning them with contemporary conditions while maintaining the integrity and effectiveness of the pathway.

About Sangoma - Sangomas, South Africa’s revered traditional healers akin to shamans, address not just physical ailments but also misfortune, financial woes, and relationship issues, often linked to defilement or ancestral neglect. With an estimated 200,000 practitioners versus about 25,000 Western doctors in the country, they’ve been consulted by over 60% of the population.

Q1: What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance?

A: The target protocols are the diverse set of training practices, rituals, and customs embedded within the Sangoma lineages of traditional healing in Southern Africa. These include the comprehensive Ukuthwasa process, which spans various mind-body-soul transformation and training protocols.

Q2: What is the core idea about potential improvement you want to pursue?

A: We aim to identify areas where the protocols may have become disconnected from their original intent or are causing unintended challenges for trainees in contemporary settings. We seek to examine some of the protocols from first principles and propose adaptations or alternatives that both honor the essence of the tradition while improving the training experience and outcomes.

Q3: What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol?

A: Our discovery methodology includes lived immersion in the culture and practices, in-depth interviews with elder Sangomas, trainees, and community members, and literature review of ethnographic studies, historical texts, and contemporary research on Sangoma practices.

Q4: In what form will you prototype your improvement idea?

A: We will develop a set of oral wisdom storytelling mythic fables that act as guides for specific protocols, presenting the underlying intent, potential challenges, and suggested practices. We will also develop and detail a series of examples of how these stories are relatable in order to revise training guidelines and practices,

Q5: How will you field-test your improvement idea?

A: We will collaborate with a group of Sangoma & other ethnomedicine healers to share the stories and how these can be reflected as practical changes in training. We will monitor the process, gather feedback, and assess the impact of the modifications. Longer term we plan to train diverse students in an Ethnomedicine Clinic environment to observe the effectiveness over time.

Q6: Who will be able to judge the quality of your output?

A: The quality of our output can be judged by the effectiveness of the training, as observed through the gifts and balance of the trainees and the results with their patients-clients. Experienced Sangoma healers, anthropologists specializing in African traditional medicine, and experts in the field of ethnomedicine can also provide valuable insights, although we anticipate there might be certain groups/individuals who feel uncomfortable with moving outside of the current implementation.

Q7: How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea?

A: We will include our ideas in online and in-person trainings, books, conferences, and workshops related to traditional healing practices and ethnomedicine. We will also offer workshops and intensive immersions for healers and trainees within the Sangoma community to share the stories and demonstrate potential benefits.

Q8: What is the success vision for your idea?

A: Our vision is to create a learning environment that is accessible, powerful, and true, supporting the arising of a healthy society by supporting healers within that society. We aim to create an alternative pathway that is more effective, safe, and culturally relevant for aspiring Sangoma healers while maintaining the core values and wisdom of this ancient practice, ensuring its continuity and vitality.


A very interesting project, looking forward to the creative outcomes. Some curious points: Will researchers delve into the unique worldview of therapists in the community to learn their knowledge? When external knowledge power intervenes, how to protect the authenticity of local culture? If the original therapists can address social and cultural issues, what kind of help do external researchers provide? How to maintain equal dialogue with the original cultural structure, who is the expert? Who has the power to evaluate?