The thunderous Indian Ocean waves crashed ferociously over the rocks on a beach in Kwa-Zulu, South Africa. Over three meters high, they pounded the beach where swimming was prohibited for the day due to their ferocity and the strong undercurrent.
Two people stood holding the hands of a third figure who knelt in those turbulent waves. I was bewildered by their behavior, wondering what they were doing, fully clothed, wading further out into the rough water. At one point, the waves swept the trio off their feet, rolling them in the surf as they floundered, struggling time and again to regain their footing. Other curious beach goers ventured closer, seeming to question whether or not to provide assistance, nobody apparently too keen to intervene. Once the odd threesome were back on their feet, I realized this was a ritual? initiation? baptism? of some sort. I meandered over to another onlooker to ask if she understood what was happening. She kindly explained that the large woman was a sangoma, a healer using traditional African medicine (muti) and divination, and that she and her assistant were initiating a prospective sangoma (by near drowning, from my perspective). The initiate probably ingested a fair amount of sea water during this fascinating ritual which included the sangoma calling out to the heavens and several times holding the initiate face down in the salty waters. I asked my friendly informant if it would be acceptable to take photographs as I didn’t want to offend anyone and have the sangoma cast a hex on me, to which she responded positively with a giggle. I wasn’t the only bystander avidly capturing this OMG moment.