Rituals of Power in Southern Africa: an Investigation of the Healing Dance of the !Kung in the Context of African Rituals of Power

Date of Graduation

Spring 1997


Master of Arts in Religious Studies


Religious Studies

Committee Chair

Karl Luckert


The San !Kung, or !Kung Bushmen, are peoples of the Kalahari desert in southern Africa. This thesis describes and explains certain aspects of !Kung healing, within the context of community-wide dances. The dance is the primary setting for the relationship between the !Kung and their gods and ancestral spirits. In the dance setting their belief in the healing substance, n/om, is explicitly expressed. This substance, n/om, is felt to reside within the body of certain individuals. It is placed by the great sky god, //Gaoan, or by other healers. The dance heats up n/om in the belly of the dancer. When this happens, n/om rises up through the body as vapor. When boiling n/om vapor reaches the head of the dancer, he or she enters a state of !aia. !Aia is described as a trance or altered state by most researchers. During !aia, experienced dancers are able to heal all present. The healer lays his/her hands on the participants and "pulls" out their sickness. In order to discuss the !Kung dance, I have chosen to offer extensive summary of their environmental and cultural contexts and description of normative !Kung behavior. This presentation is based on the descriptions of !Kung culture and religion found in European and American anthropological sources. Although I have not offered new primary data to the discourse on the !Kung, the following work demonstrates some new insight into !Kung culture and religion by both critiquing and supplementing previous discussions.

Subject Categories



© Jeffrey Clark Ruff