Africa has so much more to offer spa culture than just hammams, including ancient massage techniques based on native healing philosophies, shamanism, original accessories, natural products and music.
Such techniques are being brought alive by modern practitioners. Wellness coach Amy Beke has developed the Digui from the north-west. Historically, this massage is given by a mother to a child after birth to relieve muscle pain and nervous tension. Beke’s interpretation includes swathing the body in African shea butter and performing long stretching and enveloping movements, vibrations and deep pressure massage in an invigorating rhythm with a backdrop of traditional music and rooibos tea to finish.
Since 1998 Carol Mathebula has been teaching the Vunkuwa healing massage from central Africa. Inspired by her grandmother and shaman rituals, it combines vigorous rocking from head to foot, plus fast and intense rubbing, stretching and kneading of the legs and back to recirculate energy and unlock areas of imbalance and tension. Massage oils sourced from native medicinal plants – such as immune-boosting lemon bush and stimulating green wood – are also used.
I am both Belgian (working as a trainer for Sothys) and Congolese and my own Congo Massage® is a holistic treatment to relax, detoxify and energise. It starts with a long reflexology session using baobab oil and follows with a whole body massage first by hand and then with accessories to loosen the muscles more deeply and help with drainage. Accessories include wooden rungu sticks, traditionally used by Maasai warriors, and manefaing handles, like a poultice made of sacred red earth, used by Cameroon healers. The treatment tempo varies from frenetic to calm according to the beat of the djembe drum.
Due to the lack of massage schools, scientific validation of treatments and the continent’s negative image, African massage has struggled to expand internationally. Yet tourism development has spurred some countries such as South Africa and Namibia to offer traditional therapies. And as local practitioners such as Beke and Mathebula travel globally with their own creations, they’re slowly spreading the word… African massage is a trend to catch.
Contact Julie Lombe
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