There are some amazing aspects to living with the Mosinyi family. One of them is conversing with Mosinyi Mosinyi, my brother. He is intelligent, having studied law at the University of Botswana. He will become the chief (kgosi, in Setswana) of our ward in Shoshong in August. He is also a traditional healer. There is a lot of misinformation out there about traditional healers, so first I want to set the record straight.
There are many kinds of traditional healers in Botswana. Some "divine" and some do not. "Divining" is using the ancestors to treat the patients. Healers who don't divine are like regular doctors, only they use herbs found in nature rather than western medicine. Diviners like Mosinyi can tell what is really going on with a patient despite what he/she may say. They aren't fortune-tellers, per se, but they can answer questions you may have, interpret dreams, warn you if someone is after you, etc. Mosinyi uses bones to divine. He throws them down onto the ground in his hut. He can find answers based on the position of the bones when they land. Other traditional healers use spirits, tea leaves, etc. Mosinyi's grandmother used tea leaves. Unfortunately he was too young to learn that from her.
I have seen him "throw the bones," as we say, many times. He has taught me many things. The most interesting is hearing him talk about superstitions as fact. There are some mentally ill people in our village. Mosinyi says that they got that way because they were cursed. One of them was cursed because he used to steal. The other because he was brilliant in school and others were jealous. Mental illness isn't understood very well in Botswana. Other traditional healers, especially witch doctors, (and Mosinyi makes sure to say he is NOT one of these) can put curses on people.
Mosinyi also told me that there are men who can get out of handcuffs without the key. They can also open doors and gain entry wherever they want. They have this ability, he says, because of a plant they have found out in the bush. There is a bird that gathers it. So you just have to observe the bird for a couple days and take the twigs it has collected. You rub them on the inside of your wrists and you're good to go.
Shoshong is surrounded by hills and caves. Some caves are rumored to be cursed. Usually that means there is a large snake in it. Sometimes people will walk by the caves and hear voices at night, but find no one there...kind of like the Botswana version of a haunted house. Some buildings are also abandoned in Shoshong because the tenants claim them to be cursed.
A well-known superstitions it the thokolosi. You can get a witch doctor to make you one...it's a spirit/hairy little "human" that you can use to hurt people you don't like. The thokolosi superstition changes depending on the cultural tradition in your village.
There are plenty of superstitions based on childrearing, a lot of which I wrote about previously. But I learned about a new one when I was recently visiting Zola. She told me that her daughter's head is leaning to the side a bit. So her uncle must put an axe on both shoulders of her daughter, almost like knighting her. And then her neck will be fine.
And my favorite one lately...tattoos. I learned that tattoos are the work of the devil. But it's not that I am an agent of the devil because I have tattoos. Rather, I cannot know what meaning the artist put into my skin. It was quite interesting to learn this. Yet, on the other hand, I have started some amazing conversations because of my Serenity Prayer tattoo. Sometimes you just have to agree to disagree.
I love the superstitions here. They are so connected to the culture. I believe in traditional healing. I believe in Mosinyi's ability to divine and cure patients of their ailments. He does it everyday. But I mostly believe in it because they believe in it. I am not sure that it would work on me necessarily. Plants are proven to heal, like homeopathy in the states. I am not sure if those mentally ill people in Shoshong were cursed. They very well could have been. It doesn't mean that it explains their condition, but it could be a contributing factor.
You don't have to believe in the superstitions to see how well the local plants can heal. And that's amazing. I love that the locals are so connected with the Earth. Being able to live directly from the Earth is beautiful. And there will always be things that we don't understand. Every culture will develop its own explanations for these events. We have them too...what is the difference between seeing a traditional healer and wearing your "lucky bracelet" to help you for the big game? What is the difference between reading bones to see if your journey will go safely and praying to God to protect you for the same trip? They are all different sides of the same coin.