A Zulu woman’s experience of Family Constellations:
An interview between Tanja Meyburgh and Lindiwe Mthembu-Salter, 2008:
Tanja: How do you experience family constellations within the context of your cultural ancestry?
Lindiwe: For me, the belief in ancestors is rooted in the need or desire to preserve the memory of the known past generations and the known/unknown lineages. The emphasis of acknowledged the excluded is the foundation of the cure for various ailments, like bodily discomfort, spiritual discord or common need to wade- off misfortune or a curse that will be seen to be projected by malevolent spirits. The good spirits are acknowledged and given the gratitude through sacrificial ceremonies or cleansing rituals. For instance, a person will consult a traditional healer who will facilitate the session of finding a solution or a root cause of the trouble. He or She will throw bones to constellate the wider family picture. When sangoma, or inyanga casts the bones, all of the arrangements are considered carefully, including which way image is facing, the distance between the bones, any unusual configurations in the pattern. The bones will be set to detect the presence of spirits, around the sick person, resentful ancestral spirits, offended nature or malevolent spirits. As Credo Mutwa in Zulu Shaman book, puts it well in page 26, chapter on The way of the witch doctor…`The bones also will hint at how affliction (of ill person or the one under a curse) came about. It could be breaking of taboo, careless or thoughtless actions, a natural weakening of energy,or even `soul loss’, which can be quite serious and lead to wasting illness and death’ It is believed that the person whose part of the soul is lost, and courage has to do with losing part of the soul in one’s heart, makes a person vulnerable to illness, and this can be from the effects over use of certain machines or new technologies that are not compatible with a person’s anatomy. It is very important to attend to the avoided messages in life. As in family constellations session, representatives are often correct and speaks to the truth of the story of the person seeking life direction through a constellation. Once the diagnosis is done by a traditional healer remedies will be applied depending on the solution or umhlahlo/a picture read on the consultation with the bones. Therapies can include animal sacrifices, massage, herbal teas, salves, snuffs, poultices, roots – herbs etc. As in the western and eastern medicine African diviners play the same role as spiritual leaders of ancient times and are diagnosers of illnesses or mental clutter. I notice in Khayelitsha monthly family constellations workshops where people played roles of representatives in which they were swiftly able to take their roles very seriously, some said it is as if there were seeing visions. As they fed back on their sensations and observations to the facilitator I noticed how they deeply carried authority of the knowing field as representatives. What struck me is to see group’s openness being so spontaneous and came in a natural way of life without so much input given about how F C works.
Tanja: What are your thoughts about FC having origins in SA?
Lindiwe: Family constellations will take a different morphological process because it is like the work is coming back home to its roots for strengthening and solidarity with the transformation in our society. What happened during the period Bert Hellinger was stationed in KZN lots have happened within the healing sectors here and the society that we breed today is evolving. However, some cultural patterns remains as other tendencies changes, for instance in Africa people talk of big families. As one grew up in a big family of origin the whole extensive number of relatives connects the thread that makes the one or united family. For economic reasons breadwinners or head of households have had to seek work or bread far away as the hunter gatherers of the San communities. As a patriarchal society most men were separated from the family through work in the mines etc. Mostly, women will keep the family fires and everyone protected. Years later things have changed and new language to understand the soul and the linkages to all appropriate family members to form a wider picture of the fabric of the heart of the family, poses new challenges. This one of the source of healing of the divisions for families normal functioning. Throughout, the S African history of belittling and treating African cultures as barbaric and obscure often compromised people’s respect and value of their culture, brainwashing us to think we have a culture that is second best. Now there is more empowerment that is seeking to re-accepted valuable aspects of African culture within most circles of existing organisations. Some White ancestral spirits still want to reject and fears the mysteriousness of Africaness. Family constellations work has a potential to reconcile unresolved humiliation projected to those who believe in ancestral power. Sometimes people are guarded and careful with White people incase misinterpreted or misrepresented. History tells us that to be proud of your culture or talking about it might evoke unwanted misfortune and also some pieces are referred to can be treated with insensitivity, which is hurtful and often suspected of white people. White people’s attitude of belief or disbelief in our culture has fueled so much fear and suspicion that need to be acknowledged, apologised for so we can move on in peace.
Tanja: What, do you think, has Family Constellations learnt from Zulu culture?
Lindiwe: Firstly, how the interrupted reaching out affect a person outlook in life. Secondly, how the excluded part or issues in the family & person’ life makes itself known(what ever is excluded consciously or unconsciously) the discourse or chaos represents itself as one attempt to get on with living Thirdly, dreams in Africa speaks serious messages, Credo Mutwa puts it beautifully in his book Zulu shaman, `we believe if you do act out the dream , the creative force of the soul that makes dreams recognises this, and brings you more dreams that guide you and make your life richer and more interesting. We believe that the dreams notice the fact that you notice them. It is not a good thing to ignore your dreams or treat them as if they were inconsequential or silly. I must show the dream spirit that I have received his massage and am prepared to act on it…’ Most of the time when people have crisis in life they do observe and pay serious notice of their dreams. In Zulu I grew up knowing that dreams dreams in us and the self is a vessel of them because that is the time you are in silence and able to connect with the ancestral world. Amathongo – is to sleep which is .being one with star God.
Tanja: What is the risk of doing family constellations in traditional communities?
Lindiwe: Firstly, learning to listen and observe more before engaging your own set of believes, hence repeating old colonial, missionary cultural mental infiltration. Secondly, the risk of being prescriptive
Tanja: What can Family Constellation Work in South Africa still learn?
Lindiwe: More on indigenous culture whether one believes in it or not
Tanja: What should facilitators know before they use constellations model in SA?
Lindiwe: It is important to be informed about the fabric of Safrican society today – through the races & classes that we have. Find literature that informs you about ancient African wisdom and mysteries. We also have a meeting with Western ancestral citizens who happen to land in the African soil as long as my generation as Lindiwe can remember. One should ask a question of `is there anything I am missing as a South African in how the society is reshaping itself ….and what is my contribution with the family constellations to make it happen where I live as a proud South African?’ Everyday I step out of my house to work with other people this insight sounds like a clique but true.
There is lot I would like to add and my perspectives are still finding a voice in me to articulate my role and contribution in the healing forum.
Tanja Meyburgh is a family constellations facilitator and trainer in South Africa. Lindiwe Mthembu-Salter is a counsellor and graduate from the local facilitator training.