|A SANGOMA'S STORY : THE CALLING OF ELLIOT NDLOVU|
|Tuesday, 17 May 2011 11:31|
by Melanie Reeder (Penguin Books)
If asked to name a South African sangoma, most people would refer to Credo Mutwa, but Elliot Ndlovu is fast becoming as well known overseas as he is in South Africa. A Sangoma’s Story: the calling of Elliot Ndlovu is a compelling account of Ndlovu’s life; one that has been filled with enormous highs and tragic lows demonstrating his faith and discipline under extraordinary circumstances. The advent of the Harry Potter books and the Da Vinci Code/Dan Brown series has launched a new wave of esoteric enquiry into alternative spiritual lore - Melanie Reeder's account of Ndlovu’s life could be read in the same vein as a alternative fictional story or a look at one man's modern Zulu spiritualism.
Most people have a vague idea of African beliefs and divining but are not aware of the stringent demands the spirits make of those they call to serve them, with failure to fulfil these demands being punished with bad luck, illness or even death. Elliot Ndlovu has three different kinds of spirits who bombard him with chattering and whistling, sometimes arguing with themselves, but he learned to be faithful to their demands which have tested him to the limit.
From the humble background of a Zulu boy born in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, Ndlovu has met some of the best minds in the world of botany and anthropology at various universities; he has met Queen Elizabeth II in England, and the ex-President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki in his home country.
Contemporary life in South Africa has seen the shift of priorities from people to money, and, more positively, to commercial conservation of our natural resources. The ancestral spirits forewarned Elliot to cultivate the much used muthi plants in a nursery environment to provide markets in Durban and Pietermaritzburg when little of these plants remained in the wild. He staunchly ignored the jeers and criticisms that gardening is ‘women's work’ and the book records him as being surprised when his conservation work attracted the attention of local conservationists and acknowledgement of the efficacy of his plants.
A Sangoma’s Story is written in an easy-to-read, clear style with a great eye for detail. Melanie Reeder has set the book against the public context of politics whilst describing Ndlovu’s personal struggle out of poverty to attain a position of respect within his own and other cultures.
Review by Shiney Bright.