Goat horns like this one are used by Zulu healers known as isangoma who specialize in divination and mediation with ancestral spirits. Many illnesses are thought to be connected to spiritual troubles, so Zulu healers are valued for their ability to travel between physical and spiritual realms. Whether through contacting the ancestors for wisdom or using sacred herbs, an isangoma is dedicated to healing, guiding, and protecting the community. To mark the end of their training, an isangoma has a goat slaughtered. Then various parts of the goat are worn to demonstrate the healer’s status. The goat’s horns are filled with an assortment of herbs and medicines, called imithi.
This goat horn was confiscated from a Zulu man after he was jailed in Johannesburg, South Africa in the early 20th century. Such acts are a reflection of a brutally segregationist society that viewed indigenous African religious practices as savage and inferior.
This medicine horn is on display in Objects of Power: The Material Culture of Contested Memory through August 24, 2019.
Research for this post was conducted by CJ James (MA ’19).