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Ukutshopa – African acupuncture therapy

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Unbeknown to me, ukutshopa is something that is apparently unknown to most South Africans. This article will be a brief introduction to this African practice.

What is ukutshopa?

At its simplest ukutshopa is a type of acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of therapy that involves the insertion of needles through the skin to treat pain and other conditions. Acupuncture therapy is more prominent in Chinese traditional medicine. Like acupuncture, ukutshopa is a type of therapy that involves an insertion of a sharp object through the skin. However, ukutshopa is a practice that is more prominent in African traditional medicine.

In African traditional medicine, ukutshopa is a type of therapeutic treatment that is used to heal the body. As a practice, it is similar to ukuthoba and ukufutha (steaming). Ukuthoba and ukufutha use water as a medium to heal the body while to ukutshopa uses a perforation tool as a medium to heal the body. Ukutshopa, ukuthoba and ukufutha are practices used to heal the body from the outside-in. In contrast, ukupeyta and ukuphalaza heal the body from the inside-out.  

How does ukutshopa work?

When pain or tension is felt in a particular area of the body, ukutshopa can be used to relieve the pain or tension. Ukutshopa works by gently puncturing or perforating through the skin of the affected area repeatedly.

What paraphernalia is used?

Unlike acupuncture which uses needles to pierce through the skin, ukutshopa makes use of a porcupine quill, known in Zulu as inzengo. Even though some people use bicycle spokes and threading needle to pierce the skin, traditionally, a porcupine quill is used. In most cases, the porcupine quill is used along with umuthi (medicine) that is usually in a powder form. The porcupine quill and medicine are both usually stored in a container. People who do not believe in using traditional medicine (such as “converted” Africans) still use the porcupine quill (without the medicine) to relieve pain and tension in the body.

Uses of ukutshopa

Ukutshopa is a healing practice in traditional medicine that can be used to cure various types of conditions.

  • Ukutshopa is used to treat formication (a sensation of insects crawling on the skin). African traditional medicine classifies formication as a magical illness caused by sorcery. As such, treatment with ukutshopa will include medicine.
  • Ukutshopa is used to cure headaches. Depending on the severity of the headache, ukutshopa can be used in conjunction with umbhemiso (a type of medicine that you sniff and makes you sneeze away the headache). 
  • It is used to treat swollen feet and painful legs.
  • It is used to treat pain occurring in a specific part of the body.
  • It is used to relieve tension in the body.

Warning and Caution

It is not recommended for a person to start using ukutshopa on themselves without any training or guidance from a well-trained or experienced person. Even though it has never happened before, it is possible for a person puncture an artery with ukutshopa, especially when using a needle in the neck and shoulder region.

The neck has the aorta (the main and largest artery carrying oxygenated blood to the rest of the body). Using ukutshopa incorrectly could result in puncturing through the aorta which could be fatal.   

Sometimes, when performing ukutshopa blood will come out. This happens even when the person performing the act is well-trained with years of experience. A small amount of blood is normal. Even with acupuncture small amounts of blood may come out. When this happens, apply pressure on the bleeding area, rub medicine, and place a bandage on the area.

When large volumes of blood come out, stop immediately. Apply pressure on the area and seek medical assistance.

In conclusion, ukutshoba is a curative therapy, just like acupuncture, that is used to treat aches and pains.

Learn about other traditional rituals by accessing, Ukuchatha – Enema – Colon Hydrotherapy – Jala Basti Kriya and Ukuphalaza – induced emesis [Kunjal kriya]

Safety precaution

The use of traditional medicine in prescribed dosages will yield good results. Misuse and abuse may lead to complications. To learn about correct dosage, consult a traditional healer or a herbalist. You can also visit or email: to learn more about traditional medicine.

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