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“.. in the land of the ancient Zulus in my time when I was a young man, we never used to call trees “trees” but rather “growing people”. “This is a person”. Credo Mutwa (1996:15)

This comment alludes to the distinction and reverence once given to trees in Southern Africa, and it is a concept still found amongst healers in rural areas of Mpumalanga.
Each healer has their own particular tree growing in a hallowed space in their yard. The choice  of the tree is based on spiritual intervention and belief systems. These trees are considered sacred. They act not only as a home for the spirits, as they do in many parts of the world, but they are metaphorically believed to be linked to the body of the healer.
During ritual ceremonies commemorating the Nguni ancestors, these trees are dressed and cloth is wrapped around the trunk. Sometimes, as in the photograph, this is a red cloth, at others, a cloth is used that is believed to be prescribed by the ancestors. The action of clothing trees out-doors, is mirrored by the process of constructing and dressing shrines inside, many of which are made using branches.
Trees in this context have other uses: as medication for a number of ailments. Powdered bark, is commonly used by healers in traditional medicine for the community.
In urban areas, such as Johannesburg, ribbons and placards surround trees destined for the chop by road development gangs. This reminds us that trees as items of beauty and valuable givers of shade are still revered in current times.
Bibliography:

Mutwa. C. 1996. Song of the stars:the lore of a Zulu shaman. N.Y. Barrytown ltd
Brief excerpt and photograph from an unpublished document: An investigation of the meaning and significance of the visual language, beadwork and accoutrements of the ukutwasa of the White River area, East Mpumalanga. Department of Fine Art. University of Johannesburg. 2010

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