In Healing the Exposed Being, Robert Thornton presents a new vocabulary and ontology for understanding fundamental concepts of a regional version of the Ngoma cult, found throughout the Bantu language-speaking areas of Africa. He is thus able to provide a more integrated anthropological account of beliefs and practices that have survived from pre-colonial to postcolonial times, describing them in their own terms rather than presenting them as a reflex of modernity or reaction to colonialism, or as a consequence of neoliberalism or other social, political, economic or historical factors.
Bungoma, the knowledge and practice of ‘traditional healing’ in eastern Mpumalanga, is built on the fundamental premise that all persons are exposed to each other and to other person-like agents, including ancestors and witches, among others. This mutual and inescapable exposure is the condition for the possibility of healing, but also ultimately the cause of all illness, misfortune and death.
Against this, the sangoma as healer attempts to augment the self of the exposed being through protective magic and by exposing relations between tangible (living human) and intangible (spiritual) agents or persons. Bungoma comprises multiple modalities including trance, music and rhythm, divination, herbal lore, teaching and learning, craftsmanship and healing. The aim of bungoma is to enable patients to heal themselves by transforming their personal narratives of self.
Thornton brings this local anthropology and its therapeutic applications into relation with global academic anthropology by exploring it through political, economic, interpretive and ecologicalenvironmentalist lenses.