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Umbelini: The Voice of the Unconscious

Penny Norris
Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought, 2003, 45 (1): 14-33.


"Umbelini is an African word for intestine. In the culture of the amaXhosa, a branch of the Nguni nation (which includes the amaZulu), the intestine is the place where the gods speak to us - and we hear their voices, feel their grip, and know the terror of their power in our guts. In the psychological terminology of Jung, this umbelini experience might be called the voice of the unconscious. The culture of the amaXhosa people form the Eastern Province of South Africa was, up to a few decades ago, exclusively an oral tradition. Kings, praise-poets (the king's poets), families, witchdoctors, and other individuals handed down education, history, and customs from generation to generation. Human behavior, religion, and ethics were preserved and immortalized in music through epic speech-songs. The amaXhosa have a saying that music is life - and, in this sense, it is."