The San tribe (also known as the Bushmen) is one of the oldest communities of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20,000 years.
This set of people are not likely to be found in one place anymore on their native lands in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique as they have been displaced due to civilization, tourism, poverty and other factors. A few of them though still live in their native land and still practice the healing dance.
The lives and cultural practices of these traditional hunter-gatherers will, however, forever be etched in the minds of many, especially their trance dance which is considered an important religious ritual that healed the sick and negativity in the community as a whole.
For the San people, dance is a powerful tool. It is magical and sacred and seen as a form of prayer to the spirit of the ancestors and the gods.
When it is time for ritual, women and children sit by the fire as they sing songs and clap at the rhythm of the music while the healers, particularly men, dance around this fire with rattles tied to their ankles until they enter the state of trance where they come into contact with the spiritual world.
During this state of trance, they experience a change in themselves which they feel can give them enough energy to heal the sick by channeling this energy into them.
Historians and anthropologists say that while in trance, these “shamans battle with malevolent spirits of the dead, who, they often believe, come to the dance and try to shoot small, invisible, ‘arrows-of-sickness’ into people.”
The state of trance, therefore, offers the healer or shaman the ability to consult with the spirits of the ancestors and understand who causes disease and pain, and would subsequently take out the illness of people present.
They do this by touching those who have sickness, by generally rubbing their hands on their torso and also on body parts that are affected by illnesses. This can take the form of the healer drawing the illness out of the person and then yelling to eject it into the air.
The trance dance, which occurs averagely four times a month, can last for the entire night and even though people get tired they continue till the sun comes up the following day when the dance becomes intense and suddenly end. After reviving from exhaustion, they share their trance experiences with one another.
This trance dance and healing have been expressed in numerous in paintings and carvings in caves and rock shelters in South Africa and Botswana, which show women clapping and people dancing as in the trance dance ritual.
It will be interesting to note that the San healers do not just claim to cure physical illness; they expel social ills such as anger, jealousy and disputes and in the process ensure societal unity.
Now you know something about the San tribe, share with us some interesting culture that you know about, in the comment section.