Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Interpretative Reflections on Nomzi's Story

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Interpretative Reflections on Nomzi's Story

Article excerpt

This is the second of two papers. Booi and Edwards (2014) presented Nomzi's story, the life history narrative of "Nomzi Hlathi" (pseudonym), a Xhosa igqirha (traditional healer). This paper provides interpretative reflections on it. While the narrative is, as Booi and Edwards observed, very descriptive, it does not comprise the sort of thick description that phenomenological researchers would normally seek to work with. However, despite, and even because of, its somewhat telegraphic nature, it is a rich story which invites interpretation.

As Booi and Edwards (2014) suggested, there are three discourses that are particularly pertinent in drawing out a deeper understanding of Nomzi's experiences and life story. The first is the framework of Xhosa tradition and cosmology within which Nomzi herself was fully located. Most of her accounts of her experiences cannot be understood without an understanding of these Xhosa traditions. For this reason, we begin with this perspective. The second is the frame of reference of a clinical psychologist assessing an individual with disturbances of cognition, emotion and behaviour, all of which are prominent in Nomzi's narrative. The third is the perspective of transpersonal psychology with its interest in shamanic healers across the world, as was discussed in the introduction to the first paper. Within each of these interpretative frameworks we will draw out significant themes which, taken together, will allow us to achieve what a phenomenological approach would have us do - to look between the cracks of the explicit story and see deeper into the meanings and process of Nomzi's life.

Nomzi: A Xhosa Cultural Narrative

First and foremost, Nomzi's story must be understood from within her own cultural context, in which there is a detailed understanding of what it means to be called and trained as an igqirha. It is material with this focus that takes up the greater part of the narrative. The life and world of the Xhosa amagqirha, and the categories within which they understand their experience, have been described by Schweitzer (1977, 1983), Buhrmann (1986), Hirst (1990, 1997) and, in this journal, Hirst (2005). The narrative tells how, through the course of a troubled life full of distressing and often painful situations and incidents, Nomzi did indeed "emerge as a healer", as the Xhosa term intwaso implies. Nomzi presents us with a success story. As we shall see, the reality may be less straightforward than that. In presenting her narrative to Booi, a Xhosa-speaking female, Nomzi would have expected her to read between the lines in terms of the meaning of various incidents for the trajectory of her development as a healer. Perhaps, in certain instances, a few appropriate nods and winks were sufficient to convey what was implied about the deeper aspects of her experience omitted from the explicit discourse. This is not so say that Nomzi is deliberately misrepresenting what happened. Her construction and telling are crafted unwittingly within her lifeworld, based on her own understanding of her life course as it unfolded year by year. We can make sense of this by identifying five interlocking themes that recur throughout the narrative.

Theme 1 - Intwaso: the healing illness

The first theme is the idea of the healing illness. In Xhosa this is intwaso, a process that, if carefully attended to with proper guidance, can lead to graduating as a proficient igqirha - that is, a diviner or clairvoyant healer. From this perspective, illness and behavioural disturbances are understood not just as misfortunes, but as signs that the process of intwaso is under way. What appears as an illness is an affliction through which the individual is called to develop as a healer. Thus, at the age of 14, Nomzi becomes severely ill and is taken to a number of healers, none of whom provide a clear diagnosis or treatment. One of them had a method of intuiting what was wrong with her which involved seeing words appearing on a candlelit paper, a technique she would report using herself much later on in life. …

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