Producer, director, writer, cinematographer
February 18, 2006
Ten years ago Dave Cumes saved my life.
I had developed an idiopathic autoimmune disorder that
was rapidly destroying my kidneys. A team of doctors and
a regimen of aggressive chemotherapy at Cedars Sinai Hospital
in Los Angeles were accomplishing very little to arrest
the condition. Things looked grim. Because Dave was a personal
friend of mine I finally confided in him and, in desperation,
I asked, "What am I going to do?"
"Come to Africa with me," he suggested. "I'm
going back for a few weeks as part of my advanced training
before I become ordained as a sangoma. Who knows? Perhaps
a cure for you lies there."
As a film maker specializing in anthropological, scientific,
natural history, social, historical and cultural issues,
I was always curious about the two worlds Dave inhabited,
both aimed at bringing healing to his patients. What I admired
most about his gradual immersion into the mysterious domain
of the sangoma was his remarkable skill at interpreting
'bones,' the fundamental tools of the African shaman, diviner
and medicine man. But 'bones' is a misnomer. A sangoma's
kit does consist of the bones of certain powerful totem
wild animals, but they also comprise other embellishments
and objects, specifically devoted to the needs of each shaman.
Dave's kit consists of coins, dice and even tiny glass and
metal statuettes. What his doctor's black bag is to him
as a surgeon, his deer hide bag of bones is to him as a
During the course of my travels as a documentarian in Africa
I had witnessed bones 'thrown' and interpreted by tribal
sangomas many times, but here was a Caucasian physician
schooled in Western allopathic medicine practicing skills
honed within a system little understood beyond the realm
of the African shaman and using methods whose origins were
lost in the distant mists of a very ancient time. It was
uncanny. He interpreted and understood the bones with the
ease and clarity of reading a newspaper. During the years
of his sangoma training he had occasionally thrown the bones
not only for me but for a bevy of friends and colleagues,
all of whom had been amazed by the profound insights the
bones revealed about each and every one of them.
Experiencing a bone reading with Dave wasn't like visiting
a palm reader in a dingy room at the back of an alley behind
your neighborhood Seven-11 store. Dave's sessions were intellectually
engaging, stimulating, pragmatic and always helpful, carried
out in the calm serenity of the traditional 'ndumba' or
healing hut in the back garden of his home in Santa Barbara.
He provided insight into past, present and future, with
the primary purpose of determining a program of healing
on the physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and,
yes, even psychic levels. Believe me, when Shakespeare gave
Hamlet the immortal words, "There are more things in
heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,"
the bard knew what he was talking about. There are some
paradigms infinitely stranger and stronger than those we
know. Dave proved that to me. A couple of weeks in the African
bush with him brought me face to face with many sangomas,
most of whom could neither read nor write, let alone speak
English. Without exception each one identified my ailing
internal organs and offered herbal remedies. Three of them
were so insightful that, simply by studying the bones, they
pronounced that my disorder was not due to the kidneys,
but to 'bad blood.' More specifically, to 'something wrong
in the blood.' Well, where is the seat of the immune system?
Under Dave's watchful eye I accepted 'muti' or medicine
from them in the form of ground up barks, grasses, berries
and leaves. Then, as instructed, I boiled them, drank them
and bathed in them. Amulets and talismans were placed under
my pillow. Others were strung around my neck. The next time
I visited my physicians at Cedars Sinai in California there
was absolutely no trace of edema (swelling due to fluid
retention, caused by my malfunctioning kidneys), and, more
importantly, the presence of the severe protein loss that
I had been suffering from for years was completely absent.
My doctors were astonished.
"What have you done?" they demanded. "We've
never seen such a dramatic turnaround in lab results before."
Now, six years after that trip with Dave, my condition
is in complete recession. My local doctors still refuse
to believe why. How can they? What Dave Cumes does breaks
the mold of everything ingrained into every medical practitioner
coming out of Western allopathic medical schools. Dave combines
the best of two worlds, but alas few of his colleagues are
ready to accept that fact. His methods are still perceived
as an anomaly, yet his healing works. I have seen it, time
and time again. As he has perfected his skills with bones
and divination methods he is now sharpening his capabilities
in the use of traditional herbal remedies. This is allowing
him to offer a potent combination of drugs and pharmacological
agents embracing the products of modern laboratories with
an incredible variety of time-tested fresh harvests drawn
from nature's bounty. His herbs are gathered not only from
Africa, but from the rich hills, folds, fields and crannies
of his adopted California.
Needless to say, there is more to all of this than my mere
medical case history. I have personally visited Tshisimane.
I was captivated by its beauty, its spell and its unique
ambience. It is ideally conducive to introspection, healing
and rebalancing. It is a quiet oasis of sanity in a world
where distraction, urban lifestyle and false promise fuel
the flames of illness and dissent. The place is surrounded
by loveliness in one of Africa's still-pristine wilderness
areas. No one who goes to Tshisimane does not come away
transformed, healed, reenergized. On my last visit I saw
how much Dave had put into the place, but it was clear how
much still remains to be done. I believe his work and his
one-of-a-kind center are true beacons to us all. His is
a world where dreams, psychic insight, ancient African mystical
paths and a solid foundation of proven Western methods seamlessly
fuse in a way that can make an indelible difference to individual
lives and indeed to the planet as a whole.
I have had the privilege to document and promote his work
through video productions and, in time, we plan to produce
a detailed overview of the fantastic healing power of plants
and indigenous medicines. I urge you to please join me in
supporting Dave's efforts.
Multiple international award-winning documentary film producer.
Recipient of two Emmy Awards and the American Association
for the Advancement of Science's Westinghouse Award for
science programming on television.