The process of ukuthwasa seems to vary considerably in length. It is my experience though that anything less than 9 months leaves a lot of territory unchartered and leads to iZangoma who lack confidence in their abilities and who are not properly trained in other areas.
What is Ukuthwasa (Hini ukuthwasa)
Ukuthwasa is the period of initiation that one undergoes in order to become a sangoma. This may seem a contradiction when you may have read that it is by birth that one is a sangoma. It is indeed by birth that one is a Sangoma, but you need a trained Sangoma to do a variety of things naimely
- to be able to give you the imithi (izinkamba) that are required to bring you fully in touch with your abilities,
- to introduce to you the people who you work with and through;
- to teach you the basics of ukuhlola(consulting);
- to make sure that idlozi that you are working with does not have any issues which will impact on your ability to work with them;
- to teach you the basics of imithi (this is if they themselves are a trained inyanga);
- to help strengthen isitunywa if you have one;
- to teach you the songs of your idlozi & ukugida.
What happens during this process
Step 1 is what we call in Zulu "Ukungongoza" which is literally to knock at the door of the Inyanga who is to help you in your initiation. In our house, you do this by presenting 2 white chickens as an offering. After this you become an initiate in the house that you have been shown or that you have chosen. During the first 3 months is the Red phase where ithwasa wears all red including smearing red ochre on themselves. This culminates in the first ceremony called Ukuvuma Idlozi - to accept the calling.
You then move on to the White phase which carries through right up until your final graduation ceremony. Here ithwasa wears only white including smearing umcako on the body. This mcako is washed off ceremonially just before the final ceremony and at the time when your family pays for your treatment eNyangeni. In between there are various ceremonies which need to happen including various excursions to either a river/water fall/the ocean for you to gain greater strength.
During this time, you are taught your method of ukuhlola be it amathambo (bones); amakhosi; isitunywa; amadhege or whatever method your idlozi presents with. You also engage in exercises which essentially strengthen your sixth sense. One of the "games" played with ithwasa is "Ukufihlelwa" where various objects are hidden from ithwasa and he/she has to find them or tell what they are and where are they hidden.
Basic medicines and disease identification & treatment is also taught during this time. Once the umcako phase is reached, ithwasa starts what I call practicals when they first bhula for clients before the Sangoma makes sure that they are learning the language of their dlozi.
Who can become a Thwasa
To be a thwasa you must have identified in you idlozi (the spirit of someone who was a Sangoma); indhawo; and/or isitunywa (this is optional because not all iZangoma have an iSitunywa). If you have indhiki only, you do not have the ability to look into other peoples lives and as such you do not progress to become iSangoma. You cannot wish any of these things upon yourself. When the time is right, idlozi shows itself to you and makes known its wishes in various ways.
Does one always have to live with iNyanga?
I think it is beneficial to spend as much time with your teacher as is possible. For various reasons this may not be practicle but it is only with the consent of idlozi lakho and an undertaking to respect this initiation period that one can live away from inyanga. You loose a lot though in terms of practice time when you do not live with them.
Does ubungoma run in families?
Yes it does but this does not mean that all of you will become iZangoma if there is one in the family. It also does not mean that it will manifest in you in only one family member, it could be none, one or even all of you.
What are the major restrictions when one becomes a thwasa?
1.- You do not eat internal meat or animals from the water during this time.
2.- No sexual intercourse throughout the period.
3.- Traditionally bad news was kept away from amathwasa including any deaths etc in the family.
4.- Your must be submissive to your inyanga as a sign of submission to your idlozi.
5.- Ithwasa is not allowed to stand in the middle of the yard. If you have to stop or talk to someone, you immediately drop to your knees or bend.
6.- You have to be up before sunrise everyday.
7.- On the days when we were praying, we had to fast at least until midday before we could eat after praying.
8.- Sleep on the floor throughout.
9.- Wash only with cold water throughout.
Does this mean the end of my relationship?
Most couples struggle to cope with restriction no. 2 which I should in all fairness have put as no.1. This is why either relationships breakdown or people give up the process of initiation. Idlozi is very particular about the type of environment that it thrives in and is clear wbout an environment which is unbearable. If you have umsindo (noise internal & external) in your relationship, then it won't survive ukuthwasa and you being a Sangoma. You also need to be in a relationship which is supportive and understands that there will be times when you work away from home with strangers of the opposite sex; there will be times when you can't have sex because of ceremonies that require you to be ultra cleansed; that you will go on trips out of town to perform ceremonies or healing. Now if you are with someone who is not tolerant and understanding of all these things, then it will definitely be the end of your relationship.
I got married after I became a Sangoma and even have children now, all after the process. Interestingly, I am married to someone who was not part of my life before ukuthwasa so I guess that speaks for itself as well. What I do know especially when it comes to children and pregnancy is that you get a fixed time to do it if you have not had children yet and then its time for umsebenzi wedlozi.