What gives these small objects such powers? Called ukubhola or amathambo in isiZulu, tinholo by Tsonga and Shangaan people, emathshambo by Swati-speaking people – the sangomas say these small objects give the ancestors a way of speaking to us and answering our questions. Some people believe the real power is in the wisdom, experience and sensitivity of a good healer, one who intuits and understands a clients’ needs and anxieties. Others say that, though this is so, it is the voice of the ancestor that enables this.
Sometimes called divination dice, they are extremely valuable to their owners, and each piece carries particular significance or may have a special reference (it might represent a dominant male figure, for example; this broad category would have a specific reference relevant to each context).
When a sangoma is initiated, her or his collection of divination dice is consecrated, and an incantation is chanted to the ancestors. By throwing the bones and then interpreting the configuration in which they fall, the sangoma, with the help of the ancestors, can tell a client what to expect in the future, advise on an illness, explain a difficulty, find what has been lost, and help plan a way forward.