Sangoma graduation. Part 1: Vegetarianism

As I mentioned earlier this week, I was away from the 4th to the 11th, attending a friend’s graduation as a sangoma (note that the Wikipedia article needs some work!) in the village of Mtambalala, about 25 minutes drive from Port St Johns in the Transkei. It was a hectic experience, leaving me with lots to consider, and waking up at 4am on Tuesday morning in time to catch a flight from Durban back to Cape Town, and then rushing straight into the chaos of work, means that I’ve been mentally and physically tired this week.

Tuesday was a slightly surreal day, sitting in meetings thinking why am I listening to this crap, but it was also an ideal day, where I felt above all of the little problems at work, seeing them in context as a great game, as I strive to all the time. However a few late nights (my Database Journal article was overdue) soon put paid to that.

It’s not only lack of time that has seen me not yet writing about the experience. It’s also been the difficulty of assimilating everything I’ve seen there, and deciding what to write, and what to leave out.

So, instead of trying to get it all in (effectively attempting a book which I’ll probably never complete), I’ve decided to focus on little snippets of the experience. It’s an ongoing dilemma I have with this blog. I feel I have so much to say, but I’d like to say it in a way that lives up to my high standards, an in-depth exploration up there in quality with my final university philosophy essays, examining all views and doing extensive research on the topic. But, seeing as I don’t have as much time these days, and for fear of falling short, I end up never saying anything.

So, the topic for this post is vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism is a label others have applied to me, and I’ve applied to myself for convenience, as I don’t eat red meat or poultry (I do eat fish). My reasons for the choice include:

  • Environmental. A piece of land used to produce cattle for human consumption, for example, produces approximately ten times less food than the same piece of land would if it was producing crops for human consumption. With the wild lands disappearing all too fast, Amazon tracts turned into McDonalds cattle farms, for example, I can’t support a choice that would contributes to this destruction. The human footprint needs to be reduced in all ways, and over-consumption of food is just one aspect.
  • Health. Meat is particularly unhealthy, especially if it’s not organic, as toxins tend to accumulate in greater quantities the higher up the food chain one goes. Meat usually contains antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticide residues. Meat-eaters are generally much more unhealthy than non meat-eaters. The meat manufacturers push a myth of the more protein, the better. Actually, excessive protein causes acidity in the body, which then is counteracted by the body removing alkaline calcium from the bones to combat this. The result of weak bones? Osteoporosis (Sugared drinks such as Coke of course are even worse for this). Meat-eaters visit the doctor twice as often as vegetarians, and suffer from degenerative diseases ten years earlier (Dickerson, J.W.T et al, ‘Disease patterns in individuals with different eating patterns’, Journal of the Royal Society of Health, vol 105 pp 191-4 (1985)
  • Ethical. I have respect for people who are able to kill an animal and then eat it. I have less respect for meat-eaters who are unable to kill an animal, and want others to do their dirty work for them. I would not want to kill an animal, and so cannot condone myself eating one. I also do rate animals as having higher consciousnesses than plants, which is why I would find it easier to uproot a carrot than to disembowel a cat. Hypocrisy such as people being happy to certain animals, such as cows and pigs, but not dogs and cats, for example, also annoys me.

So, what happened in the Transkei that has prompted me to write about vegetarinism? Nomvukile (my sangoma friend, I have to get used to calling her that now), has had three main ceremonies, involving the slaughtering of a chicken, a goat and now finally a cow.

I was hoping to feel something special about the slaughtering of the cow, done as it was in a ritualistic way, with a respect not present in abbatoirs. Unfortunately I didn’t. The cow took interminably long to die, screeching and screaming. All I felt was disgust. There were also people present (visitors from a nearby backpackers) who couldn’t watch the slaughter, yet just the day before they’d been munching on a hamburger. Others though did feel power in the ritual, the cow giving its life to the sangoma. I’m glad for the privilege of witnessing the ceremony, but it’s reinforced my choices.

A friend (one who was key to me giving up meat in the first place) also mentioned another reason, as well as consequence, of being vegetarian. Greater consciousness. She is now much more aware of everything that she eats. Just where does that tea come from? What pesticides are in that non-organic cucumber? What exactly does sugar, or wheat, or yeast do to her body? I can say the same. Not eating meat, as well as the birth of my son, has sparked an interest in nutrition. I’d say I’m fairly clued up on nutrition, and I’m toying with formalising the studies. I’ve already treated my persistent migraines by giving up coffee (which was hard!), and I feel a healthier now in some respects than I did when I ate meat (the areas where I’m less healthy I attribute to stress and lack of sleep!)


  1. I wanted to leave an interesting comment on your website as well, after reading your comments on Walton’s page. Am I right in asserting that protein from eating animals was crucial to the developement of higher brain function, according to one theory of evolution? Besides that, with the world’s ecological balance so geared towards the growing of animals for food, wouldn’t a “sea change” in eating habits, as you suggest, create an environmental disaster? While I don’t fault you for going “veggie”, I wonder if perhaps your logic might need a protein injection, or just a ham sandwich! Sincerely, from Chris. See by other blog at

  2. You’re right that animal protein has historically been useful in brain development. However, I think we’re beyond that now 🙂 It’s easy to get equivalent sources of protein from plant sources (as well as other nutrients – see this post). Also, the world’s ecological balance is certainly not benefitting from human meat consumption – it’s a complete waste of resources. Changing to plant foods would free up a lot of land.

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