Apr 18

uMlahlankosi (Sacred tree for taking the spirit of the dead home)

by in Culture & Heritage

Interview with Thokozile Vilakazi (iNanda- Africa) about the cultural importance of the tree called uMlahlankosi

Interviewer Thomas Mkhabela on 16 March 2013 at Inanda Afrika.


Thomas introduces the topic and Gogo Thokozile

Thomas: Greetings granny

Thokozile: Hello

Question: Can you please introduce yourself?

Answer: My name is Thokozile Vilakazi

Q: Nice to meet you, can you please share your knowledge about the tree called umlahlankosi

A: According to my knowledge about the tree is that when there is a person who has passed away in the household, a branch is taken from the tree and used to bring the persons spirit home(ukubuyisa). Also when you doing the cleansing ritual

Q: Are those the only uses for the tree?

A: According to my knowledge that’s the only use

Q: When it grows how big does it get?

A: It does not grow much it grows to the size of that flower (points)

Q: For someone who does not know it, if they see it along the road to be able to notice it, can you tell us about the shape of the leaves, does it have flowers etc…

A: It is just a small tree that does not grow to a big height and does not bloom flowers and it has green leaves

Q: Do you have any knowledge why they chose that specific tree to be used for that kind of work?

A: I don’t have any knowledge but I think the people before me saw it as befitting the work that is why it is called umlahlankosi.

Q: When it is being used, can you tell us about that process?

A: When someones spirit is being brought home there must be an animal (goat) waiting for us when coming back with the branch and meet us at the gate and talking to the spirit explaining that you have reached home and together taken emsamo.

Q: What are the dos and donts when it comes to using the tree? Like can you use it as fire wood?

A: No I do not remember it being used as firewood

Prince: Can you have it as a plant at home?

A: Yes; you can

Q: So does this mean you cannot useit without the animal and the impepho?

A: It happens if you do not have the other stuff, you can use it. I have seen people using it alone

Q: When you move from one house to another what happens?

A:Let us take Iam the one that has passed away the person who is taking my spirit will tell me that we are moving now to our new home and then he will not talk to anyone along the road until we reach our destination. When we reach robots he must tell me that we are stopping and when we are moving again.

Q: When you reach your destination what happens to the branch?

A: You must place it on the entrance of the house on top of the door

Q: And if it happens you move again what happens do you have to use the same branch or a new one?

A: If the branch has dried up to the maximum then a new branch has to be used. But then that person knows that this is home now

Q: When it comes to the impepho it is said that a woman cannot burn it and address the ancestors; does it also apply to umlahlankosi?

A: According; to me if Iam dead my granddaughter must ask a relative who is an uncle to address me when my spirit is being brought home. But she must accompany the uncle and bring my spirit home

Q: This means it is not used by woman?

A: According to my knowledge, yes since even emsamo a woman is not allowed to talk

Q: Is the tree used to a specific age group? Like maybe grown up man and not a 2year old baby?

A: Im not sure but I think it can be used on any one

Q: So do you have to use it with any one even on a person who died on a car accident, do you have to go to the same spot?

A: Yes exacly that is where you have to really go and bring the persons spirit, let us take he gets an accident here in Africa and gets taken to Mahatma Gandhi hospital and dies there as his spirit remembers being at Africa so you have to go get him in the accident spot first then go to the hospital then you come home.

Q: If a person dies in the war and we do not know the exact spot he died what do we do then?

A: If a person has died in the war and we know that the war was taking place in this location you take the branch and go there and talk to him, if he has heard you, your hair will stand and you will bring the spirit home

Q: Since we use ambulances this days, if a person fell sick and was taken to hospital in an ambulance but passes away on the way what do you do then? Do you take the branch to the hospital or the place where the person died?

A: If you saw the spot where he passed away you can go there first or start at the hospital and then go to the place.

For more information on this topic click on one of the links below:

The Umphafa or Umlahlankosi tree

Traditional Zulu practices for deceased persons  










This post is also available in: Zulu

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