Mgidi is a ceremony in which the Sangoma honours the Ancestors. It is a thanksgiving.
The Sangomas move in time with the measured pattern of the beating of the drums. Their bodies respond to the will of a visiting spirit. The energy of the spirit; the joy of the spirit, the spirit of spirit expresses itself in harmony with the body of the Sangoma. It is beyond dance. They surrender their bodies to the rhythm of ages, the pulse of generations; they surrender their bodies, intoxicated with the power of spirits as old as the first people. In them the spirits convey their approval of Mgidi.
Nothemba, the host Sangoma begins the proceedings by going with her family to the ‘Makosini’ to ‘Phahla’. The Makosini is an ancestral shrine. Phahla is to call the Ancestors. Nothemba has come to inform them that she wants to do a ceremony of thanksgiving and to seek guidance as to how they would like it be done.
The Phahla is a devout rutual. In the Makosini, Nothemba and family kneel in front of a kind of alter. On the alter are candles, imphepho, an aromatic shrub, and ugwayi which is snuff. Into the Makosini she has brought an offering of a bowl of water mixed with milimeal, umqombothi in a khamba, or clay pot, a glass of water, sweets and fruit. It isn’t like this for all Ancestors, but this is what her Ancestors like.
She lights the candles and imphepho and sprinkles the milimeal mixture on the ground. Everyone, including the children, rubs a little ugwayi under their noses. Nothemba then sprinkles ugwayi on the ground while calling the Ancestors. She calls each of the Ancestors by name. She calls both maternal and paternal Ancestors. “We are coming to make this ceremony of thanksgiving; ‘umsebenzi wokubonga. We thank you for everything you have done for us”.
The sacrifice for this thanksgiving is two chickens two goats and two cows. These are presented for approval. The manner of the slaughter is specific. Chickens are slaughtered with a knife, Goats and Cows with an assegai through the heart. If the goat or cow cries out it is a good sign. It means they too are calling the Ancestors. Because she is Makosi; a Sangoma, Nothemba drinks a little of the blood of the animals directly from the wound.
While the slaughterings take place there is drumming in invitation to the Ancestors. The Ancestors come in numbers; the air is alive with their ethereal presence. The assembled Sangoma’s sing and dance with the Ancestors in celebration and welcome.
It is believed that the spirit of the Ancestor will live only as long as the descendants pay homage. The spirit of the Ancestor, called the ‘Ena’ is kept alive by eating the ‘Ena’ of the animals they used to eat when they were alive. “By continuously keeping the Ancestors nourished and strong gives them the strength to intercede with God on our behalf”. Says Nothemba “Their intercession brings us luck and wealth and keeps our enemies away”. As Credo Mutwa puts it, “To keep the Ena of his ancestors alive is the greatest and most important duty a man has in his life”.
Everyone at the ceremony drinks umquombothi. There is plenty of beer and sweet alcohol. They pour libations for the ancestors to drink with them and as the people eat the flesh of the slaughtered animals, so the ancestors eat of the ‘Ena’.
The dancing goes on for twenty four hours. They pause only to eat; no one sleeps. The Ancestors are having a party using the bodies of the Sangomas. The spirits of the Ancestors show themselves in the dance. The spirit takes over their minds and bodies and the Sangomas speak with the voice of the spirit of the Ancestors.
Stomping, light footed, in tempo with the rapid throbbing pulse of the drum, hips kicking, torso in thrusting impetus faster and faster
Faces in enigmatic contortion; bodies pulsate; feet stamp. The air is consumed with the pounding of the drums. The Sangoma is in an unrestrained, sensual abstraction, infused with a mystical renewed power of the Ancestors. Her dance is the motion of prayer and enchantment; an organic celebration integrating every fragment of mind and body and soul. Suddenly she stops. She looks around, at once absent and present.
There’s a flurry of colourful layered and beaded skirts which dance with the dancer. Layers flutter, drums thud, feet pound. In captivated trance they move at mystic speed, the air filled with vibrant serenity. It is a sight beautiful to behold. They dance their joy. They dance their thanks. They dance in celebration of their Ancestors, and the Ancestors dance in them.
“We must hold on to our Africaness”, Says Nothemba. “Our way of worship is our gift. If we leave our gift we lose our good fortune.”You mustn’t neglect your Ancestors. You must know who you are and where your roots come from”.