Small Package, Good Things – Swaziland

A touch of magic


A medicine man from Swaziland with his original clothes

Mahlalenyonini Mnisi, the medicine man of Shewula, lives in the foothills. We had been granted an appointment and waited in his garden among the goats and chickens. Finally appearing in a red shirt and neatly ironed cream trousers, Mr Mnisi looked more like a Home Counties GP than a traditional healer. He directed us into his ‘chemist’, a small room filled with hundreds of potions, powders and strange pastes in bottles and jars. We sat on straw mats and waited for him to join us.

Transformed, Mahlalenyonini reappeared several minutes later wearing an animal-print sarong, a jackal fur around his head, and dozens of beads, horns and sticks around his neck. A skinned vervet monkey swung between his legs.

“Being a healer is a calling,” he said, snorting some ground tobacco and emptying the contents of a small straw bag on the floor. He studied the objects laid out before him. There were beautiful seashells, delicate feathers, the bones of lions, leopards and baboons, and a lone domino. “How the pieces fall help me choose which medicine to prescribe.”

Mahlalenyonini’s expertise extends far beyond common colds and indigestion. He’s the village’s go-to exorcist and regularly treats those unlucky in love. “I blend a special concoction for people who cannot find a partner. They wash their bodies with it to cast away the bad luck and love comes to them.”

With such talents, I couldn’t help but wonder if he could turn his magical attention to Africa’s far bigger plight.

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