the muti market

Muti is traditional South African medicine, and I suppose I was expecting the muti market in Johannesburg to be an evocative, enigmatic and almost spiritual place. But it wasn’t. In fact, it couldn’t have felt further from that. Located under a flyover in the middle of a major road junction, it’s an open-sided functional red brick building. As is so often the case, the idea of authenticity doesn’t match the image conjured up by expectations. But this isn’t a market for the benefit of tourists or for show.

There’s not much trade being done today, making us feel all the more conspicuous, and whilst the traders aren’t all exactly hostile, some are and at best they are stand-offish and give us sideways looks. There’s a feeling of tension in the air that is unsettling. It’s quite shocking to see the exotic animal parts spread out to dry in the sun, and there’s bag after bag of bark and roots and vegetal matter to use in recipes unknown to us. Old pint bottles of spirits line up in the sun containing orange hippo, iguana or lion fat, and dried snake skins (to protect from bad muti) hang next to dismembered animals hands. The deeply coloured body parts contrast sharply with the reused bright coffee jars and ice cream tubs nestling amongst them. It’s not easy for us to determine what any of these seemingly random things are used for and it is mostly sangomas (healers) that come here to buy for their recipes for everything from making you play better football to improving sexual prowess to finding lost cattle.

Special thanks to Papa Lossgott for bringing us.

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