Zulu Muthi Market

A dead, dried-up monkey hangs from the shop, next to a gaping set of shark jaws.

Strips of dried animal skin dangle in a row, and as I walk past, I guess at each remnant’s former animal life: a crocodile, an antelope, a vulture, and several long black mambas.

Beneath the display, on a hand-constructed table, there’s a kind of discount bin of dried animal parts: broken horns, fuzzy pelts, lizard feet and rodent heads. One whiff smells a lot like very dead animals, but these are actually all ingredients for muthi — traditional Zulu medicine.

Durban’s muthi market is one of the largest in South Africa and represents a key aspect of Zulu culture: using the magical qualities of plants and animals to cope with the supernatural world around us.

Ailments are both physical and spiritual, natural and supernatural. Whether you are afflicted by an earache or an unknown evil curse, muthi can solve your ills. All you need to know is the right kind of muthi.

Umlomomnandi is a root that when you chew on it, blesses you with quick wit, a poetic voice and a silver tongue. “If you have this with you in court, you will surely be acquitted!” I am told.

Likewise, every chopped-up bit of bark and root has great magical qualities, and I am amazed by the sheer number of medicine available in this vast outdoor marketplace:

After you take a dose of Istunzi, people will respect you. Iqonqo rids your surrounding of evil spirits. Izinyamazane soothes crying babies, and protects them through the night from evil design. Uvulakuvalike will help a struggling business, and Umuthi Wenhlahla brings good luck.

Knowing what to take and how to take muthi, one consults the inyanga and sangoma. Inyanga are traditional Zulu doctors, or “medicine men” — healers who attribute their trade from father to son. Sangoma are more spiritually-inclined, fortunetellers and diviners (the proverbial “witch doctors”), who offer guidance and can sniff out any evil that may be troubling you.

Most of the people selling muthi in Durban are neither inyanga or sangoma, but are merely herbalists who fill orders. Most of the medicine I saw was made from chopped-up bark or roots. Usually, patients are counseled to make a brew from it, which they ingest and then vomit back up again. They might also steam their muthi and breath in the fumes, or bathe in it.

As a traveler, visiting Durban’s muthi market is a mind-blowing experience, and I am mostly struck by the similarities with aspects of Zulu medicine and the Vodou practice I witnessed back in New Orleans last year. The fact is, African beliefs and medicine have traveled across the world and still play a very real role in many societies today. Even here, in the shadow of Durban’s big city skyscrapers, the buying and selling of traditional muthi is a big business and Zulu rituals are as much a part of city life as surfing and shipping.

I end up buying two bags of muthi: some fuchsia-colored good luck medicine, and a very large concoction mixed just for me, consisting of many different kinds of tree bark, blended specifically for my own personal magical needs.

I look forward to enjoying the results.

A bag of good luck medicine in the Durban Muthi Market (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Comments

  1. […] out with vampires, witch doctors, hottentots and graffiti […]

  2. […] Luck. Durban’s Muti Market is a chopping, stirring, shouting kind of marketplace for traditional African healing — from […]

  3. […] Zulu Muthi Market by Andrew […]

  4. Zakhe Mongameli
    Cape Town
    October 30, 2013, 12:31 am

    How to get orders and price list of the muti,

  5. Amis
    South Africa
    November 27, 2013, 5:18 am

    Nice article and i just bookmarked your website.
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  6. Thabsile
    United Kingdom
    December 17, 2014, 7:53 pm

    If I want to buy umuthi what must I do?

  7. gugu
    pretoria
    April 3, 2015, 5:35 am

    what kind of muthi can i used to bring back my man we didnt brake up but he is drifting away please help

  8. nosihle
    nanda
    July 11, 2015, 1:25 am

    I need a number cz I need a strong muthi I need 2 c the person nd talk face 2 face

  9. Sboniso
    Pietermaritzburg
    August 14, 2015, 5:24 am

    I need a strong muthi kuthi abantu bangisabe nd bangilalele mangibatshela into.

  10. Thabiso
    Pretoria
    January 26, 2016, 2:51 am

    Gugu did you get help, if so, can you please share information?

  11. Chris
    isangoma.com
    April 13, 2016, 5:15 pm

    all the muthi you need.

  12. Nomusa
    Pietermaritzburg
    May 25, 2016, 3:27 am

    Good day
    What i like to know is that how to get powerful muthi

  13. yandiswa
    capetown
    March 6, 8:39 am

    i need a luck muti for my business

  14. Betty
    Pretoria
    March 22, 3:53 am

    Which muti can I use to get job and men

  15. vusumzi
    cape town
    May 3, 4:01 am

    Which Muthi Can I Use To Have Luck & Clean All My Debts?

  16. Mthandazo
    Maclear
    May 23, 12:41 pm

    Ngifuna umthi osrong we baseness pls

  17. Pamela
    cape town
    June 8, 2:11 am

    ngifuna umuthi wenhlahla umuthi ovula kuvaliwe .Ngifisa ukuthola umuthi wempinda ukuthi bonke abangigadlalo basuke kimi .Ngifuna umuthi oqedelela isichitho .

    thank you

  18. doctor
    secunda
    June 30, 6:51 am

    I need muthi for enlarge my penis .mvongoti

  19. doctor
    June 30, 7:03 am

    chemist where can i get mvongothi to enlarge

  20. Khanyakude
    Pretoria
    July 5, 6:09 pm

    I’m a traditional healer you can email me on nyangarising@gmail.com or text 0815383097

  21. traditional healer
    South Africa
    July 6, 10:47 pm

    DO YOU NEED A SPELL CASTER TO HELP YOU BRING YOUR EX BACK CONTACT HIM TODAY FOR YOUR HELP @ EMAIL; lovespellsolution@yahoo.com or whatsapp him on +12815919421

  22. Phindile
    Botha's hill
    July 12, 2:50 am

    Bring back my ex

  23. Gcobisa
    cape town
    July 14, 8:48 am

    Ndicela umthi for I business I customer size zibaleka ndingathethanga

  24. bheki
    Groblersdal
    July 31, 8:37 pm

    Ngicela umthi wempinda bonke abangisukelako zibuyele emva
    Nomuthi ostrong wokuqhela

  25. […] Image courtesy of digitalnomad.nationalgeographic.com […]

  26. Jacob
    Nw
    September 5, 5:45 am

    Send me yur contacts to call u

  27. Jacob
    Nw
    September 11, 9:58 am

    Pls send the contact number

  28. anonymous
    bluff
    September 17, 10:17 pm

    I need muthi to bring back my lover please help

  29. Violet
    October 1, 5:04 am

    I had a spell cast by someone called *Dr. Todd*, before I found you other spell casters were very nasty to me. I was worried that maybe they did something to make my situation worse. Dr.Todd, you broke and cleansed those bad spells and put things right with the binding love spell. I don’t know where I’d be without the spell casting services you render, (manifestspellcast@gmail. com OR manifestspellcast@yahoo. com)

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  30. Futty
    Kwamashu
    October 4, 10:16 am

    Ngidinga ukuthi ozokhulisa business lami bathenge Abantu bajoyine ngaphansi kwegoma lami