African Contemplative Practices

Drama for Life has a strong commitment to deepen the understanding of indigenous cultural practices, and to expand the knowledge of the arts as a vehicle for development, healing and transformation. In response to this, the department conceptualised and convened a research retreat in January 2019, at the Tara Rokpa Centre. The researchers planned to explore “African Contemplative Practices for Healing the Past, Transforming the Present and for Future Flourishing”. The practices were contextualised within the African Arts and Social Sciences, including philosophy, psychology, psychiatry and spirituality.


This retreat was funded through a Mind & Life Think Tank Grant, in order to:

· Categorise African embodied (predominantly movement-based) contemplative practices.

· Develop a scheme of classification of their perceived state and trait benefits

· Design a collaborative, interdisciplinary research agenda.

· Form a professional learning circle of colleagues committed to community building, knowledge- and resource-sharing, and social transformation through contemplative practice.

The following concepts, rituals and interactive performances were presented:

  • Ubizo – this is an ancestral or spiritual calling. It is usually linked with the calling to be an inyanga or sangoma, when one needs to thwasa (attend spiritual training), with a gobela (teacher). It can also have a secular meaning, in the sense that each individual must follow their own unique life purpose in the world, depending on their skills and culture – explained by Gogo Refiloe Moyo and Zola Xashimba.
  • Uphahla – using song and imphepho (sage) to connect with, and seek advice from, amadlozi (the ancestors or living dead) – led by Gogo Refiloe Moyo and Zola Xashimba.
  • Isicathamiya – a dance form developed by migrant Zulu communities combining voice and movement. It enables an embodied understanding of the history of South Africa, particularly of mine workers living in hostels – led by Nhlanhla Mahlangu.
  • Iintsomi – the oral tradition of open-ended story-telling through which African cosmology is relayed to children and community members – led by Faith Nonkululeko Busika.
  • Umgidi wokulingisa – a stamping and drumming ritual traditionally used to bring about trance, adapted to offer a way of deep healing and dialogue for participants to re-establish connections with significant others. Selfhood is regarded as a process involving the internalisation of others from the individual’s environment – led by Bandile Seleme.
  • Djembe drumming – using the drum in conversation with both the drummer and the drum circle community – led by Moeketsi Kgotle.

On-going, interdisciplinary research is planned in the following fields:

  • Creative research, exploring the impact of rituals, practices and performances on both the facilitator and the participants
  • Qualitative research, using phenomenology and thematic analysis, to identify state and trait benefits of African arts-based therapies and contemplative traditions
  • Quantitative research, in collaboration with the neuroscience community, exploring the impact of these relational, embodied, movement-based practices on the brain.