ISIPHANDLA: A CONNECTION TO ANCESTORS
By: Tina Shabalala
When boxer Patrick Malinga was forced to cut off his goat skin bangle (isiphandla), before defending his title or face forfeiture in November 2010, many people didn’t understand why or how was the goat skin bangle going to affect the match.
Isiphandla is worn for many traditional purposes by Africans that practise their tradition and belief in ancestors. Traditional healer, Thuleleni Mbhutho, explained that isiphandla is worn for many different reasons.
“Isiphandla is worn mainly for imbheleko, umthombhiso, umemulo, umshado, ukuthwasa and specific reason such as thanking the ancestors for something good that happened in your life,” said Mbhutho.
Many wear it with a sense of pride and honour, as a sign of belonging and celebration. Isiphandla is made from a goat skin; it is taken from the goat’s leg, but there are rules you follow when doing the ritual.
In the Zulu culture, a female wears isiphandla on the left wrist and the male wears it on the right.
One may not cut it off without informing the ancestors, it has to fall off naturally. The bile that is taken from the goat, is then squirted on isiphandla. This is done to create a connection with the ancestors.
Traditional herbalist, Mthoko Mabaso, said that when a goat is slaughtered, the spilling of its blood is a form of celebration, a sacrifice for the ancestors. In some cases it could be that one had survived a bad car accident. A goat is then slaughtered to thank the ancestors for the protection.
An altar, known as Umsamu is created and decorated with food, treats and Zulu beer.
The slaughtered goat is taken to the altar where it will stay overnight. The next morning the animal is cooked and shared over a feast with family and friends.
Incense, which is called Impepho, is burnt and clan names (izithakazelo) are uttered over the incense to connect with the ancestors. The bile is poured over the isiphandla that is already on your wrist.
The isipandla will have a meaty smell to it for a weeks, which can be covered up by dusting flour on it.
Phindile Nondaba, who is going through the process of becoming a traditional healer (ukuthwasa) wore iziphandla on both of her wrists.
“When you become a sangoma you wear isiphandla on both wrists. The smell is there so that when the ancestors connect with you, you still have that smell of the slaughtered goat and they would recognize you,” said Nondaba.
This form of ritual has survived for centuries, however these rituals are still performed in some households.
Mongezi Mchunu, a student and a lover of hip hop, is proud of his culture and wears his Isiphandla with pride.
“I’m not ashamed of my isiphandla, its proof that I belong somewhere. It was hard to go to school when my sphandla was still fresh because of the smell but it’s all good now,” said Mchunu.
Isiphandla can be seen as the physical link between you and your ancestors. It is not a form of witchcraft, and cutting that link before it falls off on its own can be viewed as one separating themselves from their ancestors.