Seeing a praying mantis means that the divine spirits--symbolized by the sun,
moon, morning star and the southern cross--are sending an important message that
needs to be interpreted. Dancing near a sacred fire gives the power to heal.
The Tsodilo Hills were created by the Great God, Goaxa, who turned a man and
his two wives to stone.12
Just a few of the different beliefs that the !Kung hold onto, there is a
deep feeling that the spiritual world is a part of all aspects of their life.
It determines health, death, as well as the abundance of food and water.
It is believed that misfortune, death, or even sickness are all results of
invisible arrows shot by spirits.
Rituals and Ceremonies
Dancing and ceremonial smoking are the only types of religious ceremonies
that the !Kung have. In fact, one of the !Kung's favorite pastimes is dancing,
which is used to bring luck during the hunt, curing sickness, bringing rain as
well as for religious ceremonies.
In order to stop the spiritual arrows that harm the village, they perform a
healing dance. In this ritual, they dance around a fire until they reach a
trance state which activates a powerful force called n/um. In this state, they
are able to heal everyone around the
Another dance that they perform is to aid in the removal of evil spirits.
Because it is believed that women are weaker than men, women are the only ones
who generally have evil spirits in their bodies. During this dance, men circle
around a crouched woman pulling the evil spirits from the woman and into their
bodies. At the height of the ritual, the men collapse into a trance falling,
whether it be in the fire or on the ground. When they awake, they scream and
cry freeing the spirits.1
The spiritual leaders in the !Kung are considered diviners and healers. In
theory, both men and women can become healers by going through an apprenticeship
with an experienced healer. In practice, though, !Kung women usually spend
rituals clapping and singing supporting the spirit and protecting the healers
from hurting themselves.9 The
healer uses trances to both heal and communicate with their ancestors.
They believe that their ancestors are involved in curing rituals, but
strangely they do not revere the
dead.12 In fact, if someone
dies at a specific camp, the village will move away and never camp at that
spot again. If they can avoid it, they will never cross the place where someone
has been buried. If the must pass by a grave-site, they will throw a pebble on
the grave and mutter under their breath to the spirits for good luck. They
believe that a spirit will remain active on the spot above the grave-site, so
they will not step on the spot to ensure that they do not offend the
Functionally, religion serves many purposes in the !Kung culture. The !Kung
rituals provide a community bonding experience as well as serve as medical
services to the community. Again, the roles of men and women become very
apparent from the viewpoint of the religious ceremonies (or the roles people
play in these ceremonies). Women serve as a support structure to allow the male
healers to safely achieve their trance states and perform the rituals that are
Within the !Kung society, there doesn't appear to be any conflicting views
on religion. Religion was less a belief or set of rituals, it was ingrained in
everything that they did. It served as entertainment, communal activities, and
even for medical needs. Because of the need for reliability on each other to
ensure survival, questioning religious beliefs is generally the least of the
worries that surrounded the !Kung's lives.
Religion is a very important part of the !Kung way of life. They do have
the standard religious symbology (e.g. divine symbols representing various
gods), but religion also represents a way that the !Kung can interact with the
spiritual world to affect their life. Viewing healers as communication
gateways with their ancestors, they can not only have a chance to cure their
ailments, but in addition this interaction provides them a way to actively
influence their own fate. With this perceived influence, the symbols are very
important to the core community spirit within the !Kung village.