Surely the ‘single step’ one takes before embarking on ‘a journey of a thousand miles’ is not firm, as insecurity and doubt gnaws at your bone marrow and fear tightly wraps itself around your skeleton like a “gorgeous dress”, to borrow from Zimbabwean author and poet Dambudzo Marechera.
But when one accepts their fate and destiny, they soon find their footing and remain resolute and unswerving in their mission, an attitude which has found a nest in the mind and soul of the ‘Chief Executive Sangoma’.
A bulbous gallbladder of an animal slaughtered to mark the start of his initiation term, is woven into his red clay twisted locks and hangs just above his forehead. Two beaded strings, one white, another orange; a rope coated with the same coloured clay on his locks, a clay which is also layered thick on his face, and a threadlike goat skin are draped on his shoulder, flowing down his torso to his opposite hip and up again across his back like sash. But these are not worn for pomp but are rather a symbolic tether that keeps him safely connected with his ancestors.
He has stripped away the “gorgeous dress” of fear and slipped into the garments of his calling, and though he was initially scared, he admits to this feeling, he has since dived head-first into the ocean-deep mysteries of spirituality – acceptance.
A talk with the ‘Chief Executive Sangoma’, academic, political and social activist as well as entrepreneur Malusi Solomon Myeni is sobering, misconceptions about initiation into ubuNgoma are carefully peeled away like the flesh that dresses a mealie husk, so that the nourishment the soul needs is laid bare.
That sangoma initiates have to be submerged under water for days on end is a misapprehension, Myeni says, that their period of initiation is that of suffering, living in bondage under the Gobela – a spiritual guide, enslaved to their treacherous whims is another common error, he adds.
It is an evolutionary process defined by ‘unlearning’ in order to learn – an awakening from the slumber of profound ignorance.
“First and foremost, it is a very, very scary step to take, to say, ‘I’m accepting that I am gifted; I’m accepting that I have a calling and I’m accepting that I have to go through this process’,” he says with a voice brimming with the sweetness of clarity.
The “gorgeous dress” of fear is fitted on one’s frame partly because the process of initiation is not elaborately “broken down” to the initiate, the ‘Chief Executive Sangoma’ explains.
“It is unlike having a clear curriculum of how long is it going to take me; what steps will I take; what will be the first introduction, first chapter, the second; what examinations and assessments will be done; how do I read up on this, conduct research on what I have to do?
“You just go in there blind, not knowing what will happen,” he says.
But it is a beautiful struggle, his words unfasten the stitches of the “gorgeous dress” of fear, a struggle which involves isolation from the secular world – an unplugging from The Matrix.
Relying on self and trusting your instincts are the lessons delivered from this struggle, Myeni says, it is a process of rehabilitation, of weeding out misleading beliefs deeply rooted in the collective reasoning of a society led astray by neglecting their “African spirituality and indigenous knowledge systems”, he adds.
Each initiate, however, has an individual “and tailored” experience of the process, Myeni clarifies, adding that some of the struggles – a lack of financial and emotional support, for example – are an inescapable reality.
The struggles also include the unwanted isolation that the unconscious in society cast initiates into, dressing them up in rags of stereotypes and reducing them to particles of ridicule meant to be regarded with suspicion and studied under a microscope of judgement.
But you redefine yourself, Myeni says, you dust away the cobwebs blinding your spiritual eye.
“And your third eye is not something that is out there, it is something within you. You become more aware; you become more observant; you become more cautious and you become more rational because you give yourself time to digest, to rationalize, to assess before you react or respond,” Myeni says, adding that emotionally he has grown by the leaps and bounds comparable to the advancement of technology in recent years.
The Chief Executive Sangoma is of the view that ukuThwasa – initiation into ubuNgoma – is an important process, “a boot camp of self realization” so that one can impart fundamental truths, “ethics, values and morals” to the black youth, so that they can be connected to nature and also be empowered with the knowledge of self – knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses – and learn to survive and how to navigate unchartered frontiers and also learn to forgive themselves.
“African spirituality and traditional practitioners have a very huge role to play but there is a disintegration between western and cultural, indigenous ways of tackling societal challenges, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Myeni says, pointing to the opposing views on umhlonyana as a treatment to the disease that has ravaged the global community, these opposing views highlighting the “disintegration” he talks about.
He is quick to caution that he does not suggest that umhlonyana can cure Covid-19 but in the circles of traditional healers it is known for helping with clearing congestion.
For Myeni what is critical is marrying western medicines with the healing ways of Africa – and also avoiding genetically modified organisms – and it is for this reason that he has founded the Insinde African Spiritual Institute to preside over the uniting in the bonds of ‘unholy matrimony’ western science with indigenous knowledge systems.
Myeni is also engaged in the laborious affair of penning a memoir to be titled ‘Chief Executive Sangoma’.
Our conversation ends with the “gorgeous dress” of fear lying in tatters at our feet and now the feeling of certainty, of self assurance “is the flesh, the gorgeous dress [his] skeleton wears”.
Check out a poem penned by the ‘Chief Executive Sangoma’:
All that is possible through the Gift of Life & the Conscious Intent you action everyday with a Heart of Gratitude.
Makulale Ubumnyama kuvuke ukukhanya.
Camagu, Ndawue, Thokoza Makhosi
Remember why you started,
Giving up is no Option,
Take breaks in between,
Listen to your Instincts,
Have faith in the Universe,
Speak life unto your Vision,
Keep your expectations of other minimal,
Forgive those that hurt you when they’re unconsciously broken themselves,
Count your Blessings always.
Philosophy & Principles without Financial Independence makes the recipient of knowledge doubt the significance & importance of Patience . Don’t mistaken delay as a sign of Failure or being denied the opportunity to fulfill your Purpose.
Makulale ubumnyama kuvuke ukukhanya
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