Amagqirha have an important role in traditional Xhosa society. Becoming a igqirha is a complex process. Firstly, a person has to calling from his or her ancestors. This calling is expressed by a state called thwasa. The symptoms of thwasa are vague and differ between individuals. Symptoms include suffering from stomach ache, nervousness, severe pains in the back and possible periods of unconsciousness.
Persons experiencing thwasa become withdrawn and are often troubled by dreams.
They have visions of the future and communicate with ancestors who appear in dreams
in the form of an animal, usually a dog.
What is the cause of Thwasa?
Ancestors are believed to cause the state of Thwasa. They do this because they believe
that that person should protect and heal people and hence become an igqirha.
Refusing this call is believed to be dangerous because it can result
in the ancestors sending madness or death.
How Can Thwasa Be Cured?
Thwasa is regarded as a type of sickness. The only cure for thwasa is for the
person suffering to undergo formal training to become an igqirha.
During this training period the person is called an Umkhwetha.
To do this she has to go to an practising igqirha and live with her during the 'healing' process. The igqirha accompanies the patient through the community and finds offers training in the collection of roots, bark and other herbs for which are used as medicines. Trainees must wear short braided skirts and a skin bound over their forehead. They are not allowed to wear jewellery except beads around their wrists, neck and ankles.
Rules given during training
During the period of thwasa the trainee has to live a secluded life at home.
She cannot attend celebrations or other social occasions.
She must only shake hands with people much older than herself.
She must eat from her own dish using her own spoon.
She must avoid sexual contact, for blood exchange might harm her and nullify the effect of medicines she might recieve or precribe.
Completing the Training
After the trainee has completed the training a celebration is held. The invited audience sit around clapping and chanting. The new igqirha dance with invited amagqirha. They have their own unique techniques of dancing.