Monthly Archives: September 2013

Positionality and Privilege in Spirituality: I am a Healer

Written by HeJin Kim

Which is a very loaded statement; not in the least because the word “healer”, in English has all sorts of new age connotations, but mostly because of my own positionality. More accurate would be to say that I am iSangoma, which would be confusing to anyone who doesn’t know what that is (basically anyone who is not from Southern Africa and/or doesn’t speak a Nguni language.) The problem is that there are two ways for me to look at it: personal and political… though the two aren’t separate (it would be easier if it was), the old saying “the personal is political” might be somewhat retro, but it still applies in many of its interpretations.

But let me start in a more linear way to explain what I’m trying to explain. I am iSangoma, I am also Korean (South-Korean… and a Korean adoptee, specifically), and as I write this, I’ve been living in Cape Town for the last four years. iZangoma are traditional Zulu healers, though it is hard to really translate it; its etymology lies in the word ngoma which in various places in Southern Africa means drum, and in others refers to a song. Still, that doesn’t explain much, and nowadays the word iSangoma is used in South African English to refer to any traditional healer, from any of the many of the indigenous cultural groups in the country. The easiest way to explain it is that such traditional healers are “called” by their ancestors to take up the profession of a healer, this calling is innate to a person – meaning, you either have it or you don’t – and presents itself as a period of illness, then you find a healer who will initiate you, and Bob’s your uncle.

I could spin an interesting story,  about how I found out about my calling, how I’ve suffered, how I’ve been shown the iSangoma who initiated me, and describe all the personal hardships that the initiation entails; but I’m not going to. I understand the interest in the story, especially with the unusual factor of not being a black South African; but that’s just the thing, that simple fact means that telling the story isn’t, and shouldn’t be, so simple. I am asked often why and how I became iSangoma, and in some cases this is done in the context of “are you a valid iSangoma?” or am I being a new-age hippie; the story of my calling and initiation would answer that, but not in the right way, I feel.

Whether me being iSangoma is valid or not would be a nice discussion, on a spiritual level, but in essence is mostly relevant to myself and those patients I treat. But on a broader political level, it needs to be criticised in the context of post-colonialism and cultural appropriation. I have been questioned regarding my initiation by other (black) iiZangoma, and by other black people in general, and I don’t mind; in fact I think it is important that they do. They rightfully question why I entered something that is so intrinsically linked to their culture. It doesn’t offend me, rather it gives me hope. Too often we forgo questioning cultural appropriation. At its best, it is justified in the spirit of a some sort of utopian “nobody owns spirituality”, and “we are celebrating a culture”; at its worst it is exotification. In the context of a post-colonial world where white privilege endures, whether they are the minority or majority, it if needs to be questioned further; is such cultural appropriation simply a new form of (spiritual) colonialism?

I am actually urging people to critically look at me and what I do and say; wait, correction, I am urging people of colour, and specifically those black people whose culture I have entered, to criticise and analyse me – don’t really give a damn what the rest of the people think. Whatever I feel and believe on a spiritual level does not ever mean that it should simply be accepted. Being a person of colour has been brought forward by some friends of mine as a reason why my situation is different, and perhaps to a certain extent it is, however, racial dynamics are different depending on context and locality and being in South Africa means that being of East Asian heritage is quite different than in other places. I think it is also too simplistic to say being a person of colour precludes any possibility for cultural appropriation.

I have accepted a calling to be initiated, and was resistant at first. The whole thing didn’t make sense to me; why should I be iSangoma? It would make more sense to be Manshin – a Korean spiritual healer – but then on a personal/spiritual level it wasn’t at all about choice. I have, however, learned – and am still learning – the fine line that is my responsibility to walk, and talking about the political issues at hand is critical.

Apart from being ambushed by one friend, I’ve tended to hold off discussing it too much in the public sphere. The only thing I have realised is the fact that I needed to acknowledge the personal stake, the validity (to a certain extent) in some places, in order to respect those who were gracious enough to accept me into their spiritual and cultural realm (i. e. the people who initiated me, and opened themselves up for criticism as much as I have been opened up to it).

Above all, my own positionality is important, and something anyone engaging in spiritual practices that are not their own, needs to acknowledge. I have a privileged position in this context, and discrimination towards black iiZangoma is something I don’t face to the extent they face it, black iiZangoma are often stereotyped as backward, anti-Christian, etc. all too often. My own context means that I don’t have to face this, as I don’t live and practice in the same context.

For the most part, I’ve learned that it is a continuing journey, and a constant struggle to find the balance; it is the same struggle anyone with any privilege must endure. And often, it is about learning when to shut up.

* HeJin Kim, apart from wondering why she writes this in the third person, is a blogger and an activist. She is a Korean adoptee who wastes what little spare time she has getting lost on the internet, and ends up writing about issues of race, gender, sexuality, and her troubles as an overworked NGO worker. Check out her blog at


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Afrika’s Lament by Philisile Mudekunye

My lips are the bark battered by wind
My skin the ground cracked by drought
My arms are the wiry sinews that hold up a bridge (to many lands)
My feet as hard as the rock I dig my heels into

Thin, hungry, bleeding from the cracks in my skin

Pitied by passers by
Loathed by the ones I bore
Rejected by those who came with a mind to save me

Battered face, bruised body
Yet I’m soothed when I look in the still pool of water
For the reflection does not capture the turmoil within me
The children in my womb are at war, forgetting they are of the same yolk

In my hands are silver and gold
But my children flee from my embrace
They instead stand afar and watch as strange men come forth to caress and ravage me
Strange men with tongues that can’t even say my name

My garments are tattered,
My hair a tangled mess
Covering a brilliance that even I shy away from
My infinite wisdom hidden from my children,
who are only mesmerised by the stumbling traveller

I am a mother, my arms wide open
Yet my children flee from me
I am a woman, bearing within me untold treasures
But my little ones want none of it

* Philisile Mudekunye is a 20 something year old Swazi-Shona lady, medical doctor by profession, but a student of life. A lover of life, laughter and all things beautiful. “I’m passionate about issues that affect women…I also dream of and pray for the day Africa will sell her treasures to the West only on her own terms.”

© Philisile Mudekunye 2013


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We’ve Got Company

Ok! So I haven’t been great with posting on my blog as regularly as I should. If it’s not writer’s block going to town with me, it’s Life herself and boy does she go to town with you *sigh*. Anyway, I am pleased to say that I have been writing a lot more in the last few months even if it hasn’t been for this community and I must say that it has been really fulfilling and I am sure it will be rewarding in the long term.

In the next few months I will be going walk about and visiting with other, much bigger and/or more experienced villages (blogs) namely Africa on the Blog and IamTehn and as a result I won’t be able to give as much attention to this village as I should unfortunately *sigh*. But! Yes, there’s a but – a good one at that – I have found a way to keep things moving so fret not chile. You see, I realised that since others have been so gracious as to let me visit with them in their spaces for a while, why not pay that gift forward by inviting other people to visit with us here? Opportunities to learn and to grow are always multifaceted after all and because I strongly believe in sharing and that story telling; be it through written or spoken word, drama, visual art or music; makes up part of the foundation and backbone of humanity I have been taught by my new hosts to share my space with other writers so that even if I might not be posting my own stuff I will still post stuff written by others and let them tell their stories and share information with you in this our little village. Some of the contributors who will do me the honour of gracing this little space of ours have their own villages aka blogs and I will include a link to their blogs at the bottom of their posts in their bios and for those that do not yet have a blog of their own, I am hoping that this experience will be just as fulfilling for them as it has been for me that they will be inspired to join the bloggersphere community and create one. Knowledge is power and the revolution will be blogged! Viva!

Now as you may have already deduced, I am not the draw-up-a-schedule type of person so these posts will come a sporadically as mine have done in the past. I call it being spontaneous, experts in the medical field call it ADHD (whatever, it’s all the same thing really). Anyhoo, one can’t plan inspiration after all, not their own and certainly not other people’s so the posts will go up as and when the contributions come in. At this point, I welcome people to email me at if they are interested in telling their stories in this here village. Ideally they will stick to the general themes/categories of this blog but other than that, your opinions are entirely your own and you’re welcome to go wherever your will desires as long as your opinions, be they divergent from my own or not, remain respectful, positive (no harshing the juju of this sacred space with negative and destructive energy please) and constructive to the greater debate/discussion on forging an empowered and egalitarian future for humanity as a whole and more specifically the Afrikan and other persons of colour.

Right, formalities out of the away let’s get right to it. The first guest contributor is a tremendously vivacious Zimbabwean Swazi woman called Philisile Mudekunye. She is a gifted poet who also happens to be a brilliant medical doctor in Richard’s Bay, South Africa and I have the pleasure of sharing with you one of her beautiful poems titled Afrika’s Lament. Enjoy!

Peace, love and light

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Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Uncategorized