Muthi Bomvu contains traditional red herbs used in indigenous healing.
The meaning of the colour symbolism of red, white and black :
The earliest record found (at present) associating these colours with a diviner is Isaacs' 1836 description of a renowned sangoma whose one eyelid was painted red, the other black and her nose and hair were blackened. Tyrrell also notes that the 'first ancestors' were said to be coloured, one red and the other white. The function of the sangoma (traditional diviner healer) to access and derive power from the shades, would therefore reinforce this ancestral and colour association.
Of several sangomas interviewed all note that the three colours (black, red, and white) are associated with 'power' and were suggested by the shades. This may allude to another dimension of colour relevance. Ngubane outlines the significance of black, red and white medicines for the isangoma. These principally herbal medicines: black (imithi emnyama), red (imithi ebomovu) and white (imithi emhlope), are used (serially in that order) in a ritual context and also have 'symbolic meaning'. Essentially they are to establish a 'balance between the person and the environment' . Red and black are equivocal as they represent both good and bad, while white represents power and ultimate well-being. Red and black medicines are used to expel 'what is bad' and also to strengthen the body against future 'attacks', whereas health will only thereafter be restored with white medicines.
Red medicine is also often worn in bottles suspended from the neck and in this case the intrinsic power of red equivocally counters evil.
Red is described as ubeja, a word used for the concept of `I will win' (the association is to red being a colour associated with emotion and the will).
These medicines are further terminologically distinguished as ubulawu, insizi ( powder from charred herbs, roots or animal medicine, always black), and intelezi liquid or white medicines said to possess the ability to render the evil of sorcery ineffective.White is always the concluding medication.
Ngubane further notes how the colour sequence is linked to the 'cosmic order day and night'. Thus those who are ill or polluted are referred to as being 'without light and in the darkness' (i.e. black) and require cleansing, whereas white (umhlope) is associated with light (ukukhanya) and daylight which therefore represents life and good health. Thus to regain what is described as 'mystical health' requires a progression from night to day or black/red to white. Given these connotations the isangoma wearer of these colours in effect displays their access to the intrinsic power and 'mystical integrity' conveyed by these powerful colours.