Understanding traditional African healing
In the past pre-colonial times, traditional healers are very resourceful and played a pivotal role in many spheres of the people’s lives since they had the medical knowledge storehouses. IN the recent past, many Africans are beginning to show interest when it comes to the health aspects of their lives and even material possessions and relationships. While there are lots and lots of phonies out there, some people have embraced African traditional healers and have been giving testimonials on how they got help. Traditional African Doctors haven’t been left behind and embracing Modern means of getting their work out there by using both traditional means of advertising and modern internet-ready means like posters on social media. For our Case study, we take a look at African Doctor Zingoo who is based in Tanzania but offers his services across east Africa. His services range from spirituality to herbals and psychotherapists especially for those with commitment issues. His clients claim that he has been able to successfully help them track their stolen goods. In his enterprising spirit, he is an active social media user and promotes his work with posters like the one below.
The World Health Organization defines health as a complete state of physical and mental wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. This definition is in line with the practice of African traditional healers who look at the whole body (physical, mental, spiritual), as opposed to modern western biomedicine heals only the affected parts of the body and is forever looking for germs.
Traditional healers have long been down upon by the government, Religion, and biomedicine as charlatans and unscrupulous antagonists of biomedicine who exploited an ignorant population. The church often associates them with Black Magic and witchcraft which isn’t further from the truth. But a deep dive into African traditional healing practices you realize that they are based on beliefs that have existed long before the development and spread of modern medicine. These practices vary widely between different African countries, in keeping with their social and cultural heritage and traditions.
In the African context, illness always has a reason. The reason is the most important aspect of the disease—more important than an exposition of the illness itself. In the African traditional setting, the question “Why am I ill?” is more important than “what is the nature of my illness?” It follows, therefore, that a detailed biomedical explanation based on the germ theory is foreign and irrelevant to African concepts of illness. The medicinal use of herbs is said to be as old as mankind itself. WHO estimates that herbalism is three to four times more commonly practiced than conventional medicine worldwide. And even conventional doctors rely heavily on plant-based medicines: an increasing number of prescriptions are plant-based.
The term “witch doctor” is pejorative, but it captures something that “traditional healer” conceals. There are two schools of African medicine: those who rely on herbs and those who remove spells. Or who, if they have evil hearts, will cast them for money. Traditional healers, like medical doctors, are not a homogenous group. The term traditional healer is an umbrella concept that encompasses different types of healers with different types of training and expertise. The different types of traditional healers include diviners, traditional surgeons, and traditional birth attendants.
The diviner uses bones and other paraphernalia to talk to the spirits of the ancestors to diagnose and prescribe medication for different physiological, psychiatric, and spiritual conditions. This category includes those that deal with schizophrenia and being possessed by the spirits of the ancestors that can be healed without the possessed person becoming a traditional healer himself or herself.
To become a traditional healer a special calling from the ancestors is required. This calling can come through what is generally called an ‘illness’ in the Western paradigm. These include schizophrenia and psychosis, as well as constant visitations through dreams by one’s ancestors and apparitions instructing a person to become a traditional healer. The authenticity of such callings is verified by a diviner who advises on who should undergo training at an appropriate trainer.
Moreover, not every qualified traditional healer is qualified to train prospective traditional healers. Training of traditional healers is a specialty and yet another calling, in addition to simply being a healer. A traditional healer has to be called to become a trainer of other future healers. Some traditional healers combine both the normal traditional healing and who specialize in the training of prospective traditional healers.