s place in modern societyMethods, Myths, and its Place in Modern SocietyRace, Class, and Ethics in PsychologyTraditional African medicines, and the spiritual healers that administer these medicines are an important part of African society. For many centuries and even millenniums these healers with there spiritual and naturalistic remedies have been responsible for taking care of the African world as we know it. Traditional African medicines have been a greater help to all of society and modern science, but still lie at the root of much controversy over its ability to be a valid healing tool.
Some doctors and scientist believe that a possible placebo effect may be the root of what makes these remedies and rituals work; but there is also evidence that suggest that many of the ingredients found in our medicines today are also found in the natural animal and plant products used by the healers. In fact many pharmaceutical companies have recently been looking at the content of these natural substances in hope of finding chemical compounds that can help modern science in producing modern medicines to cure disease.
Despite modern day societies use of the healers remedies in modern medicine, there still seems to be some confusion as to who the healer really is and what their motives are. Many people using nave thought process perceive the healer as one practicing witchcraft. This may be due to the disbelief that natural substances are capable of healing, or the belief that ritualistic and spiritualistic ceremonies and practices stem from evil or voodoo. Despite all of this opposition and change into a more scientific world, the healer remains as one of the most sought after people in the African world, and even in large African cities were western health care services are available, traditional healer compete for business in the world of health care.
The profession of being a traditional healer in Africa is one that is and has been usually passed down from family generation to family generation. Becoming a traditional healer requires an intense amount of SBA, an ancient Kemetic word meaning teaching, learning, wisdom, and study, or overall deep thought(1). In fact, the process of learning to become a healer consist of a very high level of learning; it is necessary that every healer be taught properly, in order for him or her to be able to share his knowledge properly with the forthcoming generation. For the aspiring healer, one must first become a good learner and listener before one can become a good teacher; the two concepts of teaching and learning are intertwined, one hand washes the other. Once this level of SBA is reached as a healer, the whole world is seen in a different light so says Asa G. Hilliard. III. Sounds are heard that no one can hear, visions that no one else can see are seen by the healer.
After his training the healer walks through the same world every person walks through. But he sees signs others just dont see. He hears sounds others dont hear. The same tree that just stands there dumbly to everyone, to the healer its leaves have something to say. The healer learns the meaning of the rivers sound, of the sounds of the forest animals. And when he needs the curing spirit from a plant , if his eyes are well prepared , he may see from a great distance some small sign of a leaf that is ready to be taken(2).
This distinction between the healer and the common man puts the healer in a position of power and respect in most African communities. Achieving this elevated level of perception and awareness is due to the process of years and years of mental focus, good teaching, and spirituality. Studies on spiritual healers have found the group to be very heterogeneous, not having much in common relating to their religion, sex, or level of education. According to Msiu and Chhabra there are four main types of traditional healers(3). There is the herbalist, who treats his patients purely by using herbal medicine, minerals, and animal extracts. There is the herbalist-ritualist, who along with herbal remedies uses rituals to help diagnose and treat health problems. There is the ritualist-herbalist, who bases healing rites on the attributes of the specific spirits deemed responsible for a patients problems. And then there is the spiritualist, who performs socio-cultural rituals and divination. His therapeutic activity extends beyond illness to problems of daily living. Even in the profession of natural medicine, there are many different options for different problems that people have to choose from as we do in modern society, the only difference is for Africans this has been a norm for hundreds of years. Along with all of the different distinctions and classifications of healers sometimes comes some confusion, and often times ignorance as what a healer really is. Many times in western society when a spiritual healer is referred to people tend to assume that along with being a healer comes an aspect of witch craft and voodoo. Voodoo is a religion that is derived from African polytheism and ancestor worship or a person who deals in spells and necromancy. In fact, healers and “witch doctors” are actually in some ways enemies or nemesis. This confusion dates back to the times of the Salem witch trails and controversy. In a book called I, Tituba, Black witch of Salem, by Maryse Conde the story of a black slave accused of being a witch in Salem because of her herbal healing practices is portrayed showing the misconception of this practice. Tituba was just a healer for her fellow slaves, since they did not and were not allowed any better medical care. This discrepancy is one that detracts from the validity of healers in western society, but unfortunately for western society, most of the worlds many other communities, races, and societies of people practice some form of herbal medicine or healing. Traditional medicine and western medicine differ often times in their concept of the cause of illness and disease and their approach to healing. I African societies the cause of illness or discomfort is sometimes ascribed to forces arising from angered ancestral spirits or evil spirits and witchcraft. All factors of ones social and economic environment are considered in diagnosing problems physically and mentally in peoples lives. Western medicine does not answer the questions which Is most commonly asked by people struggling with illness: “why is this happening to me and not someone else? Traditional medicine sees the supernatural as the cause of most major illnesses. Smaller medical issues are usually handled with herbal healing . Many scientific test have found important properties in herbal healing remedies like salicin from willow, quinine from cinchona, artemisin from quin hao, and gedunin from azadirachta indica(4). But for the African when a plant remedy is used as part of the treatment regimen, its physical characteristics like its aroma, taste, color and nutrient value, along wit h the rituals attending its preparation and administration are more important than its pharmacological content.
One modern discovery that has not made itself present in traditional medicine is the use poisons as drug therapy. In western medicine, controlled amounts of poisons are used to alleviate the most stubborn and difficult viruses. For the African healer, poisonous roots have been deliberately left out of treatment methods. For example the highly poisonous Calabar bean was employed for centuries in South Eastern Nigeria for witchcraft ordeals, but not for healing purposes(5). Because of negative uses of such poisonous plants and herbs, most herbalist over time have chosen to stay away from using poisons as healing agents.
Scientist now have also come to believe that African traditional medicine is strongly affected by the placebo effect. The placebo effect is now accepted as a major component of the clinical benefit of therapeutic interventions. Practices that enhance belief in a treatment regimen can contribute to clinical benefit, irrespective of the direct cause of the illness(6). In traditional African medicine every procedure is elaborately ritualized , optimizing the placebo contribution to healing. This is not to suggest deceit, instead it acknowledges ancient African healers as using this practice long before western medicine even began to incorporate a high sense and effort to promote belief in methods.
African traditional methods of healing have had a very influential part in the society of the world. Healing by natural remedies is bigger that African methods in healing; people all over the world practice “home-made” remedies of healing and solving problems, its just not acknowledged as so. More than 95% of the world is spiritual in some sense, and almost all of us look to the spiritual in times of need and despair. We are all human beings, Africans are no lesser of a people than us living in westernized society and culture. Fundamentally we are all the same; we think the same way intuitively , conceptually , and intellectually. Instead of seeking to discredit a “different” method of health care and healing, we should embrace it, and possibly consider incorporating it into our own methods and ways of living.
Bibliography:Bibliography1) Hilliard, Asa G. III, SBA: The reawakening of the African mindMakare Publishing Company 1997.
2) Okpako, David T. , Traditional African medicine: Theory and pharacology explored. From Trends in Pharmacological Sciences & Toxicological Sciences.
December 1999, Vol 20 pg. 482-4863) Gessler, M.C. , Msuya, D.E. , Nkunya, M.H.H. , Schar, A. , Heinrich, M. , Tanner, M. , Traditional healers in Tanzania: sociocultural profile and three short portraits. From Journal of Ethnopharmacology, (1995) Vol. 48, pg. 145-160
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