African Traditional Medicine is a mainstay of primary health care for the majority inAfrica. About 80% of the population has relied on resources within their environment to survive since God’s creation.
Plants, minerals and animals constitute the major natural resources ever used by mankind for preventative, curative and rehabilitative health in Africa. Like any other continent, these resources have been used for over ten thousand years by traditional health practitioners, who acquired their knowledge and skills through observation, spiritual revelation, personal experience, training and direct information from their predecessors.
Despite numerous attempts at government interference, this ancient system of healing continues to thrive in Africa and practitioners can be found in many other parts of the world. Under colonial rule, many nations considered traditional diviner-healers to be practitioners of witchcraft and outlawed them for that reason. In some areas of colonial Africa, attempts were also made to control the sale of traditional herbal medicines. After Mozambique obtained independence in 1975, diviner healers were sent to re-education camps.
Opposition to traditional medicine has been particularly vehement during times of conflict, when people have been more likely to call on the super natural realm. More recently, interest has been expressed in integrating traditional African medicine with the continent’s national health care systems. In Kwa-Mhlanga, SouthAfrica, a 48-bed hospital combines traditional African medicine with homeopathy, iridology, and other Western healing methods, as well as traditional Asian medicine.
1.1 DEFINITION OF TERMS
1.1.1 TRADITIONAL MEDICINE
Traditional medicine (also known as indigenous or folk medicine) comprises medical knowledge systems that developed over generations within various societies before the era of modern medicine. Practices known as traditional medicines include herbal, Ayurveda, Siddha medicine, Unani, ancient Iranian medicine, Islamic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, Muti, Ifá, and other medical knowledge and practices all over the globe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as: “the health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral- based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being.”
1.1.2 AFRICAN TRADITIONAL MEDICINE
1.1.3 DESCRIPTION OF TRADITIONAL AFRICAN MEDICINE
Traditional African medicine involves diviners, midwives, and herbalists. Diviners are responsible for determining the cause of illness, which in some cases are believed to stem from ancestral spirits and other influences.
Traditional midwives make extensive use of indigenous plants to aid childbirth. Herbalists are so popular in Africa that an herb trading market in Durban is said to attract between 700,000 and 900,000 traders a year from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. Smaller herb markets exist in virtually every community.
There are strong spiritual aspects to traditional African medicine, with widespread belief among practitioners that psycho spiritual aspects must be addressed before medical aspects. Among traditional healers, the ability to diagnose an illness is considered a gift from both God and the practitioner’s ancestors.
A major emphasis is placed on determining the root cause underlying any sickness or bad luck. Illness is said to stem from a lack of balance between the patient and his or her social environment. It is this imbalance that determines the choice of the healing plant, which is valued as much for its symbolic and spiritual significance as for its medicinal effect. For example, the colours white, black, and red are considered especially symbolic or magical. Seeds, leaves, and twigs bearing these colours are deemed to possess special properties. Diviners may use plants not only for healing purposes but also to control weather and events. In addition to plants, traditional African healers may employ charms, incantations, and casting of spells.