From helping Trance Aunty during consultations to soothing a sore tooth, never underestimate the power of the clove.
Picture: Kiru Naidoo
From helping Trance Aunty during consultations to soothing a sore tooth, never underestimate the power of the clove. Picture: Kiru Naidoo

Opinion - Scents of superstition

By Kiru Naidoo Time of article published Aug 23, 2019

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Opinion - “If the laung busts you know what is means,” winked Trance Aunty.

Spiritualists back in the day commanded crowds of punters with a handful of cloves. Rows of rough wooden benches lined the narrow cemented pathway. At the end, Trance Aunty’s bright yellow, wood and iron temple nestled in between two towering six-family flats.

A bright fluorescent tube hung from a wire catch above its corrugated iron door. The light beam was thrown five or six metres across the huddled crowd. No one in my township of whatever faith or supposed sophistication can pretend not to have entertained the thought of consulting her.

Whether excess wind, a nagging manager or a furniture account in arrears, there was always a convincing solution from Trance Aunty.

“Tonight we must take this man temple,” whispered Yoganathan.

The soft urgency of his voice attracted Miss Joseph’s stern march to the back of the classroom.

“Mannetjies, what is going on back here?” Quasimodo jumped to his feet, “Devil caught Bruce, Mevrou.”

Our little friend was bent double rocking theatrically. Bubbles of spittle escaped the side of his clenched lips. His flat palms held his ears in place. His eyes rolled to the back of the head.

“Last week he crossed a egg with spots in the four corner road, Mevrou,” Quasimodo volunteered.

Our superstitions ran deep.

“Take him to the office,” she screeched.

Yoganathan yanked Bruce by a flailing arm and frog-marched him to the principal.

Ten minutes later, armed with a stern letter that his parents were unlikely to see, Bruce was on his way to the 10 o’clock karate double feature at Adam’s Cinema. The classroom settled back into the routine of pubescent mischief.

During the tea break, Yoganathan was summoned to the staff room. Miss Joseph walked him to the remote end of the school ground.

“Can you make an appointment with the trance lady for my friend?” Yogs figured himself an able contact.

“First you must get the list from P Lala’s shop, Mevrou,” came his ramrod-straight reply. She slipped a R5 note into his hand.

That afternoon Yogs spent all of 50c on limes, camphor, an apple, banana and orange and, of course, a hefty sachet of cloves.

Miss Joseph arrived that evening under the cover of darkness and the wide brim of a sun hat. She was going to be consulting on behalf of her friend. Trance Aunty beckoned her into the temple.

The brass tray flaming with acrid camphor touched the top of her head, ran along her arms and down to her feet. Trance Aunty flicked the cloves into the flames. One after the other the cloves sprang, crackled and burst.

“Too much eyes and jealousy for you, ma,” she diagnosed.

The remedy was telling all one’s troubles to a freshly laid egg, dotting it with coloured powders, throwing it over the left shoulder at an intersection and hurriedly walking away without looking back.

Last week, I lay in the dentist’s chair under the radiant smile of an oral hygienist of generous proportions.

“There’s a lot going on in your mouth,” she chuckled.

“Cloves,” I shot back.

At the first sign of a toothache, we always went for the ancient ayurvedic remedy of clove oil. For fresh breath, I even chewed on a couple of cloves, knowing that the oral hygienist was going to come really close. More than a couple of cloves go into our breyani to help with digestion. If too much breyani gives you worms or gas then a mixture of cloves and cinnamon will solve that problem.

Ayurveda also has a remedy for my rheumatoid arthritis with cloves apparently being good for quelling inflammation and removing toxins.

If you feel the cold or flu coming on, a good chai with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and lemongrass is sure to have you feeling tip-top in no time.

Muscle cramps can be relieved by massaging with clove oil, but check with my doctor friend next door in case your skin is as delicate as that of my oral hygienist.

If, like Miss Joseph, you want to bring back a lost lover, I will have to fix an appointment with Trance Aunty.

* Naidoo is a historian with a passion for local culture.


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