Walls vividly painted with stylized botanical species, figurative imagery or repetitive patterns using linear motifs or dots announce the yards of traditional healers to passers-by.
These murals are generally painted onto the ndumba (the round architectural structure sometimes made with wattle and daub that is the designated domicile of ancestral spirits). This sacred space is also where divination, ritual procedures and healing occur.
To the layman, the reasons given for the depiction of these murals is varied and each healer will offer a logical explanation. To some it simply acts as advertising for the diviners practice… or the aesthetic pleasure derived from viewing these walls is believed to appease the ancestral spirits…or maybe painting proclaims the space(s) as sacred and differentiate them from other buildings.
The viewer might describe the symbolism as follows: The stylized botanical forms allude to the collecting, working and healing with herbs by the occupant. The dots and geometric patterns (that archaeologists tell us could be entropic images) could visually represent the process and effects of the beginning stages of trance like states, but perhaps these paintings are also more than this.
Painting, historically was performed in caves or rock overhangs to assert and proclaim areas of sacred space, where specific rituals occurred, where liminal underground areas intersected with the physical world, and where healing or specific intention was concentrated by shamans during mark making ceremonies. Today in modern times, one can argue that similar concepts apply when traditional healers or sangomas, paint.
One may say that Traditional healers are perhaps the last vestige of those practicing ancient indigenous healing practices in South Africa, and that they actively continue the hunter and gatherer culture into this decade. But when examined, their healing techniques appear varied and their influences may allude to something more than the remnants of a migrant San culture. The questions raised by their influences can also be extended to the construction of their architectural spaces.
The entire yard, the buildings in it, the doorways and most importantly, the interior spaces of the(isi)ndumba are generally aligned to the direction of the four cardinal points and this strict adherence is carried through to, and specifies the internal placement of shrines, relics, objects of devotion and ritual activities. This reliance on cosmology is similar to certain Eastern practice and other items in the yard also attest to this, to be explored in part two.