The Bird of Heaven
The Story of a Swazi Sangoma, by Peter Dunseith
Home | Synopsis | Extracts | About the Author

A Brief Synopsis of
'The Bird of Heaven'

This book traces the development of Mandla, a young Swazi sangoma (traditional diviner) as he confronts the dark powers that threaten his nation and his soul. Weaving a rich tapestry of symbolism and mythology, the Bird of Heaven reveals a way for each individual to strengthen his inner king and overcome the dark wizardry of his mind. The name Mandla means strength, and the book tells the tale of Mandla’s journey to empowerment through self-knowledge and discipline.

Set in the mountain kingdom of Swaziland, where belief in witchcraft and magic is part of the living reality of daily life, the journey of Mandla is a universal allegory for the spiritual development of young boys of all cultures in transition to manhood. As an apprentice sangoma, Mandla learns about traditional African medicine and magic. He goes on a quest to find the muti bag bequeathed to him by his ancestral guardian spirit. He discovers inner qualities of courage, truth and imagination, which he must use to combat the servants of the dark wizard. By capturing a bird of heaven, he is initiated into the mysteries of Nkosatana, the princess of heaven who controls the forces of nature. However he loses all his powers when the wizard traps him in a web of deceit.

Mandla accompanies the young men of his village to the Incwala, the great festival of the Swazi nation. This festival takes place every year in Swaziland. It is a time when the king is strengthened and the nation is unified. The young men of the nation journey on foot to a distant river valley where the sacred lusekwane shrub grows. They cut the thorny shrub by the light of the full moon and bear the branches back to the royal kraal, where the elders weave an enclosure. The ceremonial strengthening of the Swazi king takes place within this thorny sanctuary.

The lusekwane journey is the culmination of Mandla’s rite of passage. He discovers a treasonous plot, and only he can save the life of the king. In the arena of the cattle kraal, a final confrontation is played out between the young sangoma and the wizard. Through the lessons that he has learnt and his integrity of character, Mandla is enabled to call upon the vital energy that sustains all life. He saves the king, and he in turn is saved.

Contact Peter Dunseith