Healing.

As mentioned above, a distinctive musical form for Dama / ≠Nūkhoen in west Namibia is the communal arus healing dance. Historical observations and oral history suggest that the arus has existed for at least several hundred years, and probably for far longer. Social disruptions associated with historical events and the advent of modernity mean that the dance is no longer common, but oral histories and historical texts indicate that arus were a core component of Dama / ≠Nūkhoen healing repertoires. In the 1970s an arus was recorded as far south as Okombahe, but now they are only regularly carried out as real healing dances (as opposed to public performances) in Sesfontein. Elsewhere, cultural groups will re-enact the dance, reconfiguring it in the process. The arus holds elements in common with wider African healing dances of the region although its closest relative is the healing dances of the Bushmen.

Dama recognise a range of different causes of sickness. The arus is often used when other attempts to cure have failed or a healer has indicated the need for an arus. Some believe that sicknesses most suitable for collective healing dances are those attributed to invisible sickness arrows shot into the afflicted by the divinity ||Gâuab (also named ||Gamab), as well as by restless ancestors and spirits of the dead. An arus centres around the |nanu aob or |nanu aos – a man or woman who has the healing gifts (also called |gais) of the rain-spirit, |Nanus. The most powerful way for a person to become a |nanu aob/s is to have been struck by lightning. Such a strike, if survived, provides the healer with |gais or healing gifts that live in their body. In the dance the healer is encouraged to ‘wake up’ these gifts so that they can be put to work for healing.

An arus centres around a fire and involves one or more healers, at least three people who sing, clap and beat percussive sticks together, and one or more others who play an arus drum and assist more broadly. The drum is small and simple and when combined with the hand-clapping and stick-beating helps to drive the powerful repetitive song cycles.

In addition to dancing, other healing strategies include plant and animal based remedies drunk as infusions and decoctions or rubbed into small cuts in the skin. Extensive massage, manipulation of joints, rubbing on of remedies, sweating out of sicknesses and blood-letting through small cuts are also common. Today, Dama / ≠Nūkhoen will readily attend biomedical health clinics and hospitals when available and often biomedical treatment is combined with more culturally-traditional treatments.

Led by Jacobus ||Hoëb men in Sesfontein encourage the arus drum to ‘sing well’ so as to support the healing administrations of !Nosa, the current lead |nanu-aos. Photo: Sian Sullivan, Sesfontein, March 2015.

Those with the rain spirit or rain wind (|nanu ǂoab) will dance with the |nanu aob/s to support them in the healing. If the singing is good and the drum sings strongly the healer will also dance well and the |gais will wake up. When the |gais are fully awake the healer can begin to pull out sickness from the afflicted. This is mostly done by sucking out the sickness and sometimes by snorting, rubbing a part of the healer’s body onto the ‘patient’, or by channelling the sickness out of a person into the healer through a stick or along a line drawn in the sand from the patient to the healer. The |nanu aob pulls the sickness into their own body and then expels it either into the fire or by flinging it away.

Healers !Nosa and Christjan Garamub supported by the
arus songs and the arus drum. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sesfontein, March 2016.

Healers !Nosa and Christjan Garamub supported by the
arus songs and the arus drum. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sesfontein, March 2016.

An arus healing dance. Waking up the |gais of the rain,
|Nanus, which lodges within the healer. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sesfontein, March 2016.

Supported by Christjan Garamub (right), the |gais (healing energies of the rain spirit or |Nanus) in !Nosa (left) begin to awake and ‘stand up’ as a healing dance or arus begins in Sesfontein. Behind them a group of men play the arus drum that also supports the healing. Photo: Sylvia Diez, Sesfontein, 2016.

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© 2015-2019 by Future Pasts. Background image: grassland, Erongo Region, west Namibia, April 2008.