A health asset that combines the physical/natural world with the spiritual/supernatural worlds, which western medicine is unable to do.

Benefits of African muti - Comment on 2014 July 7

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The social history of Africans has been one that is indispensably connected to a total integration of life that connects the physical and the spiritual. Read more:

The decisive mark of the medicine of indigenous peoples is the integration of the spiritual into their science and the decisive lack of the medicine of modern science is the absence of the spiritual in their attempts to help men.

To take away the supernatural from men makes quackery out of medicine and reduces man to a pure material being and increases suffering and mortality.

Actually it is not so that the spiritual side of life must play a consideration with the choice of healing possibilities, but, because all physical shortcomings have spiritual causes, the actually only decisive one is the spiritual aspect. This is exactly the reason why we should not pray for physical healing, but for that man recognizes his spiritual shortcomings and starts to remove them. But not excluding the spiritual side of medicine is at least a start.

There are no physical problems, which are not based on spiritual problems. The entire material world exists because there was a spiritual problem.

An article from Africa follows:


Benefits of African muti

The use of muti was back in the headlines when a witness at the Marikana Commission revealed the mineworkers used muti to protect themselves against the police. Here examines the role of muti in the 21st century.

African medicine, or muti, which is dispensed by herbalists, still serves a meaningful purpose in African communities, says Professor R Simangaliso Kumalo.

What is the role of muti in the 21st century?

I do not think this is an appropriate question. The social history of Africans not only on the continent, but in the diaspora, has been one that is indispensably connected to a total integration of life that connects the physical and the spiritual.

Africa may be modernising, but the fact remains that there are many people who are still using and believe in muti. It has to be understood that African medicine is just one phenomenon of nature, which is available, existential and some sections of society appeal to it for power and control.

Does it work?

That may not be the most important question. Rather, it should be, does it still serve a meaningful purpose in African communities, and the answer is clearly yes. If you ask an African who believes in muti whether it works, then the answer will mostly likely be affirmative. This is because this person’s social history is connected to the use of this form of medicine.

The starting point is belief. If one believes in something, then it works for them, but if they don’t, it doesn’t work.

In oppressive environments (where people are enslaved and human rights denied), that do not facilitate justice on behalf of the poor, muti becomes an alternative power of resistance.

Such a question is like asking Christians if the Holy Spirit does work, or whether belief in Jesus Christ does produce miracles. The answer to such questions depends on to whom the question is posed.

African medicine is dispensed by a herbalist, or, in Zulu, an inyanga, ngaka, in Sotho and ixwele in Xhosa. These are people who have knowledge of plants and medicine. It is of significance that this medicine is still thriving and people are using African medicine in numbers, in spite of its relegation to an inferior status by both the Eurocentric missionaries linked to the colonial project, and the proponents of western medicine. The fact that people continue to use it shows that it is playing an important role in their lives; otherwise it would have been long forgotten if it was considered ineffective.

I think there are five reasons why this form of medicine continues to thrive, even in modern society.

1 The medicine is considered by many to be effective.

2 It is easily accessible to the poor.

3 It is more cost-effective than much western medicine and has fewer side effects.

4 It addresses physical, psychological and spiritual concerns. So it is holistic.

5 People who grow up in a rural environment are more open to embrace the use of such medicine, because they are also encouraged by the African indigenous churches and religions.

Therefore, its efficacy is directly linked to its integrative health capacity. This is a health asset that combines the physical/natural world with the spiritual/supernatural worlds, which western medicine is unable to do.

Does better education reduce the belief in it?

African medicine is accompanied by a world view that combines the secular and the sacred. It is informed by belief and spirituality and not just a material phenomenon.

People believe that how they use the muti can become life-giving or life-denying. It has power to heal as well as to cause harm. It has both positive and negative energy. In fact, proponents of African medicine do not call it traditional, but rather African. They ask the question: “Why should it be called traditional when other medicine is not referred to as traditional?”

Education does not do away with the African world view embedded in most people. This means that not all educated people change their minds from their belief in the power of African medicine. What changes are the methods which they employ in accessing and using medicine. So instead of visiting an inyanga or ixwele, who has a less sophisticated way of diagnosing illness and processing the medicine, they are likely to go to hospital, where the diagnosis will be done through doctors who are competent in employing scientific methods of diagnosing human complaints.

However, not all human problems are solved through the scientific medical diagnostic process. There are some psychosomatic illnesses that involve overcoming “invisible” and powerful forces that unleash perceived evil upon people who seek to do good.

In these areas Western medical practitioners and their medicines manufactured in laboratories may prove to be ineffective, because they do not recognize such evil forces as real.

It must be stated that some Africans do not regard western and African medicine as being in conflict. They embrace what works. Some will start with African medicine before they go to hospital, or once they have come back from hospital they go on to consult with the inyanga. However, the bottom line is that people have not changed their attitude towards medication. They still believe that it works.

One of the key reasons for this is that most African people hold on to the cause-effect philosophy of life. So their pain or joy, exploitation and oppression are understood to have been caused by some forces that are against or for them. So for the miners of Marikana, the police were just evil, life-destroying agents of an oppressive force behind them which they needed to resist.

Consulting a sangoma and herbalist was an attempt to employ what they believe to be a more powerful force that could deal with the evil system. They believed that they were wrestling with “principalities and powers” and engaging in spiritual warfare. To fight bullets that kill they wanted protection not from “earthly forces”, but supernatural power.

This is a cosmology based on the philosophy of Ubuntu, the interconnectedness of people and the rest of life, including the spiritual. It is of interest that these days herbalists and (diviners) do not have to be uneducated people, but you have highly educated and sophisticated people who are also practising as izangoma and inyangas.

In fact, African medicine is no longer just a specialisation of African people, but has crossed racial boundaries. Now you find coloureds, Indians and white people who are practitioners of African medicine. The future of African medicine is growing and people become more and more educated. They do research and discover the potential of some of the herbs.

Is the belief in it beneficial, as in the belief in religion?

There are good and bad practitioners in every religion, therefore people can be abused by rogue practitioners. However, where the practice is carried out with integrity, it becomes beneficial to people and the community. People have challenges – for example, finances, marriage, ill health, unemployment, unhealthy relationships – for which they are seeking informed solutions. Some may be tricked by deceivers providing easy but unworkable answers. Others may be helped with primary health care through the use of remedies to heal some ailments before a person can receive further medical attention. In other countries like China and India they have found ways of mainstreaming traditional medicines as another form of improving public health. We can do the same in our context.

As much as we need to know the benefits, we also need to be conscious of its liabilities. That is why its regulation by the relevant stakeholders under a careful monitoring system by the government is crucial to control its use and avoid its abuse. It is important to note that people will never stop using this form of medicine, especially the poor, as they remain more vulnerable to being manipulated by African indigenous doctors or being killed in the process of seeking help from a system that is not regulated by the health professional bodies.

Kumalo is associate professor of religion and governance, School of Religion Philosophy and Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal


Kumalo speaks of Eurocentric missionaries and these so-called Christians came to Africa to not really preach Christ but their orthodox religion. And one of their doctrines is actually to discourage people to seek the kingdom of God by them telling everybody that the seeking of the supernatural is wrong and evil and therefore discouraged the people in Africa, who believed in the supernatural and even remained in contact with their deceased, from practising their relationship with the kingdom of God and become more or less unbelievers like these clerics coming from Europe.


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