Abel, Caroline, and Kofi Busia. "An Exploratory Ethnobotanical Study of the Practice of Herbal Medicine by the Akan Peoples of Ghana." Alternative Medicine Review 10, no. 2 (2005): 112-122.
The authors, researchers from Middlesex University, did an exploratory ethnobotanical study in Kumasi, Ghana, which is the capital city of the Asante, one of the Akan tribes. Along with the study they evaluated the belief system of the Akan people and how that has laid a foundation for the traditional healing system present. Akan traditional medicine is holistic and is based on the belief that a connection exists between the physical and spiritual worlds to help with healing. The article begins with an introduction to the Akan people’s traditional healing practices that are currently in use and how they classify the different sicknesses that can affect a person, including spiritual sickness, curse from the gods or disease of the body. They go on to discuss the different types of medical practitioners present among the Akan and how they are divided between spiritually based and non-spiritually based healers. The spiritually based healers tend to believe that illnesses can only be treated with the help of spirits while non-spiritually based ones look at medicinal plants and consult biomedical sources for their treatments. The body of this study discusses the use of medicinal plants used in the healing process and tries to uncover how efficacious they really are. It is found that the knowledge of medicinal plants is passed down through family traditions and apprenticeships and that their use and the traditional healing practices are relied upon by a majority of the population. Furthermore, they find that practitioners generally rely upon a combination of biomedicine and traditional practices to diagnose and treat their patients with the different plants. Finally, the study shows that there is a trend towards modernization within traditional healing practices. They conclude that this fusion is beneficial in the long run though because it increases the therapeutic potential of the traditional herbs while still maintaining the cultural heritage and traditions present.
Ademuwagun, Z. A. "Introduction to Part 1: African Concepts of Disease." In African Therapeutic Systems. [Los Angeles, Calif.]: Crossroads Press, 1979.
In this introduction, the various editors emphasize that there is a spiritual basis of disease and illness in nearly all of the African cultures that are examined throughout the many essays in this book. The editors go on to give examples of various diseases and conditions that are recognized to have a spiritual causation, such as mental illness, smallpox, and measles. They emphasize that in some societies, spiritual-possession is a disease in and of itself to be treated. However, while diverse, there is an underlying understanding that the spirit realm is responsible for much of the present ailments. The editors then go on to draw the connection that because many people believe that spirits cause disease, they also see treatment and cure as existing within the realm of the spiritual as well. These remedies come in many forms, in which incantations are used with herbs to transfer spiritual healing powers, or in which possessing spirits are cast through incantations to other beings, such as animals, and then sacrificed. The editors then raise the issues of efficacy and how many of the diagnoses and treatment processes used in this healing system do not appear to actually heal. However, they recognize one essay in particular, in which the author brings up the attributes of the patient-curer relationship within traditional medicinal practice in African cultures. This relationship is built upon the same concepts of disease causation and thus the curer is able to invoke spiritual aspects of this shared culture to provide healing to the patient, who has full confidence in the curer’s ability due to their common understanding of the forces at work.
Beckerleg, Susan. "Medical Pluralism and Islam in Swahili Communities in Kenya."Medical Anthropology Quarterly 8, no. 3 (1994): 299-313.
The author, an associate member of the Center of African Studies at the University of London, explores how the combination of religious ideologies, Swahili culture and illness treatment come together to form a medically plural society. She does this by following the story of one man’s efforts to find treatment for a severe fever as he explores a very unknown biomedical system, traditional medical practices and home remedies. This individual story is part of a larger study that looks at the Islamic traditions present in Swahili heritage, specifically the knowledge surrounding humoral medicine. The idea of the body being influenced by humors is part of a reformed Islamic movement that took hold in coastal Kenya. Within this movement, the idea that another human or spirit can invade the body is rejected and all illnesses are attributed to an imbalance in body humors, which is seen as a natural process. Through the story of the individual man, the author explores the medical pluralism that exists in Swahili cultures. From this study she finds that most lay people do not have an understanding of the humors that can affect the body negatively. But it is more commonly accepted than the very foreign Western medicine that is beginning to take hold within the society. Furthermore, the interpretation of illness causation is changing within the medical practices as religious ideologies shift throughout the region and people’s beliefs change with them. These changes and the multiple healing systems present allow people to choose the healing practices that work best for them and provide a very comprehensive medical system for the Swahili people. Finally, the author finds that it is mostly religious beliefs that shape individual beliefs about medical practices and ultimately influence the ways that people utilize their treatment options.
Besmer, Fremont. Horses, Musicians, and Gods: The Hausa Cult of Possession-
Trance. Bergin and Garvey Publishers. 1983.
This book, written by Fremont Besmer, discusses the Bori cult and the three essential elements of the Hausa cult of possession-trance that include horses, musicians, and gods. The book covers the idea that spirits are responsible for a variety of human ailments and misfortunes. Relief from a spirit-caused illness can be obtained through administration of medicines associated with the afflicting spirit, appropriate sacrifices, and mediumship. Illness then serves the function of marking an individual for cult membership either as a ‘son of the bori’ if male or as a ‘daughter of the bori’ if female. Besmer also covers cult initiation and rites of passage rituals. Spirit possession-trance performances are often conducted and can include gifts to the spirits that represent an individual commitment for givers. Possession-trance is viewed as an altered state of consciousness, which is institutionalized and culturally patterned. It is a learned skill and adepts who enter possession-trance are expected to behave in certain ways and follow cult rules. There are many preparations that need to happen before these ceremonies take place, along with rituals during and after the initiation into the cult. Each spirit holds different characteristics that can help people identify the spirit that is causing illness in the individual. By taking on the gestures and speech of a given spirit, one is performing dissociation. Once one knows what spirit is associated with their illness, specific medicinal treatments are given to help with their cure. Before they know what spirit is causing their illness, general treatments are administered that can help with the cure of the spirit family as a whole.
Bradshaw Foundation. "San Bushman and Rock Art Paintings of South Africa." Accessed May 9, 2011. http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/rari/bushman.php.
This is an introductory piece provided by the Bradshaw Foundation as an accompaniment to a lecture film that deals with the San rock art of South Africa. The purpose is to provide introductory background on this ancient culture, of which its indigenous inhabitants believe to date back to nearly 60,000 years ago. The origins of present day San people, also known as bushmen, ¡Kung, Basarwa, and Kweh are believed to originate in this culture. The author goes on to give background information about the original societal structure as a hunter-gatherer society, the importance of leisure time, and how they constructed shelter. The author introduces the existence of San rock art today and how it uses general concepts of San culture, such as the Great dance in which a trance is entered and the dancer harnesses a kind of spiritual energy. This power is used in healing, absolving societal tensions, hunting, etc. and thus it is a very important component of ritual healing. Various motifs exist on the rock art, such as specific animals that are crucial to certain healing practices, as well as monsters and spirit people encountered during the spiritual journey of the Great Dance. Finally, the authors describe the methodology used archaeologically to identify these concepts of San culture in the rock art by comparing it to other pieces of San culture such as the art found in the Game Pass Shelter. It is explained how Professor David-Lewis Williams came upon this piece of history and how he compared the two to derive common concepts which would later serve as a ‘Rosetta Stone’ of sorts to deciphering other rock art images throughout South Africa.
Butler, Noah. "!Kung Healing, Ritual, and Possession ." Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 2 (2004): 891-894.
This article describes the !Kung people’s healing practices and rituals. It begins by introducing the !Kung, who reside along the intersections of the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola. Although they are a historically nomadic, hunter-gatherer society, they have begun to settle down and make more permanent villages. They believe in one grand deity that created the universe and also that there are many animal and ancestor spirits that affect individuals and the community directly. These spirits can be indifferent, benevolent or malevolent, but are respected regardless because of the direct relationship they have with the people. The !Kung shamans are more commonly known as healers and their main responsibility is to organize and participate in trance dances. These dances are used as healing ceremonies to communicate with the ancestors and other spirits to heal those who are sick or suffering. This communication occurs during the dance when a healer enters into a trance and becomes absorbed by the spirit or deity. Once this trance and absorption occurs they are able to find where the illness is located in each of the sick and use various forms of ritual paraphernalia to fight off the malicious spirits and heal the person. This dance also functions as a ceremony to choose the future healers in the community. Once the current healers enter their trance they look for young people with certain qualities such as responsibility and a desire to aid the community. Once these individuals have been identified they begin to transfer their power over to them at the dance ceremony and help them enter their training periods. Finally, the trance dances are used to communicate with the ancestor spirits to ask for help in enforcing community ideologies and moral standards. The trance dance is the main form of healing among the !Kung.
Butler, Noah. "Marabouts and Magic (West Africa)." Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 2 (2004): 930-934.
The author of this article explores the West African, Islamic holy men and women known as “Marabouts” who specialize in teaching, counseling, scholarship, healing, divination, magic, and the manipulation of spirits. These holy men and women are seen as embodying Baraka, which is defined as divine blessing. This is witnessed in qualities such as spiritual grace, personal force, unique power, charisma and luck. With this divine blessing, Marabouts are viewed as being closer to God than normal humans and therefore act as facilitators between God, the spirits and ordinary people. Most Marabouts split their time between work and religious specializations such as dream interpretation, clairvoyance, divination and meditation. It is through these different mediums that Marabouts are able to act as healers and uncover diagnoses and ultimately treatments. Marabouts may meditate or partake in any of these specializations on behalf of someone if they need healing or protection by summoning spirits and communicating with them about the problems present in the individual. Marabouts also assume different leadership roles and help the community in group recitation, which is used during religious holidays, to combat natural disasters or end social troubles. Furthermore, Marabouts are in charge of the manufacture and manipulation of various talismans that are believed to have special powers. They also direct people on how they should wear and carry their talismans to receive the most divine power and protection from them. Along with this they help educate people on when talismans must be removed such as during bathing or premarital sex. Through these various positions and responsibilities, Marabouts act as leaders and wise men in their communities to help people when needed or provide sources of healing when illness strikes. Unfortunately, the author finds that Marabouts have recently come under fire by radical Islamic groups who believe their traditions are more related to witchcraft than Muslim teachings.
Callaway, Barbara. Muslim Hausa Women in Nigeria. New York: Syracuse
University Press, 1987.
This book, written by Barbara Callaway, covers mainly the treatment of women in Hausa Muslim culture, but also includes aspects of the more traditional beliefs and practices of the Hausa in regards to shamanism. The pre-Islamic cult of the Bori remains present in the Hausa states today. Bori isn’t seen exactly as a religion but is viewed as separate and distinct from religion. It involves the interference of the spirits in the human world and is essentially a spirit possession cult practiced by those who have been dispossessed by Islam. In Bori, spirits reveal themselves through human beings whom they have chosen or selected. Women turn to Bori to ward off or discover causes of misfortune in their lives, to act against enemies, or to ensure success in some future endeavor. The bori cause spirit possession and can enter into a special relationship with the humans they afflict, which are often women. Through this possession, the spirit will get the afflicted person to do what he or she asks. If they follow instructions, the spirit will lead them to better health. Even though Islam is the predominant belief system in Hausa culture, it is clear that belief in non-Islamic supernatural beings has survived the adoption of monotheistic religion. The spirit world plays an important role in Hausa culture and gives women something to turn to when they need help or fall ill.
Dawson, J. "Traditional Concepts of Mental Health in Sierra Leone." Sierra Leone Studies 18 (1966): 8-28.
In this essay, Dawson begins by discussing the status that is afforded to healers in various tribes in Sierra Leone. He claims that individuals in these tribal groups are culturally aware that the practitioners of healing are associated with mystical or spiritual power and thus are afforded considerable prestige and respect. This prestige is very important in determining the success a healer, or shaman, will achieve in their therapeutic processes. Dawson then goes on to use specific example from various Sierra Leone tribes in which these practitioners are afforded various rites, such as taking out a “swear” on somebody in which the offender of wrongdoing will experience physical or mental illness at the request of the wronged. Therefore mental illness is often attributed to the power of the healer and reinforces the cultural respect that is afforded him. In many instances, the causes of certain mental illnesses are often attributed to various social factors. He therefore posits that the treatment of physical and psychological illnesses will be of no value unless this initial social cause is countered as well. He therefore recognizes that the healing is ultimately efficacious in these instances because the practitioner or healing deals with the individual as a complete entity, treating physical, psychological, and social symptoms. However, for this style of treatment to be effective, the healer and patient must both be culturally aware of the different variables involved. The specifics of these interactions are described in detail.
Drewal, Henry John. Material, Sensorial Religion: The Case of Mami Wata. 2009.
Accessed May 10, 2011.
Henry John Drewal has done extensive research on the Mami Wata religion that is most frequently practiced in West Africa, although it can be found all over the continent. In this particular book, Drewal discusses the various ways that Mami Wata is portrayed and how her followers worship her. An array of objects including porcelain sculptures and vessels, framed pictures, and flowers are given to Mami Wata with the intention of pleasing her. She is known to like beautiful things, which results in her followers offering these gifts. They typically sit clustered on Mami’s “table,” an elaborate seven-tiered construction made especially for Mami according to her detailed specifications. They continually add items to Mami’s table to make it “beautiful” and to please the spirits. Her followers want to please her, because she holds a lot of power in their health and wellness. If something is not right with her altar, her followers may become sick as a result of Mami’s disapproval. Many of her followers will create their own personal shrines in honor of her since one’s health is so important. The person must do what Mami Wata wants in order to remain in good health. If someone comes down with an incurable illness, Mami Wata is to blame. It is believed that the sick person must have done something to upset the spirit, and once Mami Wata takes interest in the person, only she can cure him or her. Although the afflicted person may call upon other therapies to aid their health, one can’t get rid of their illness without the help of Mami Wata.
Drewal, Henry John. Sacred Waters: Arts for Mami Wata and Other Divinities in
Africa and the Diaspora. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2008.
Henry Drewal wrote this book, which covers the artistic aspect of the Mami Wata religion and how her followers set up their altars and shrines to show respect to the spirit. Mami Wata is venerated mostly in West, Central, and Southern Africa. It is one of many spirits under the water-spirit traditions dating back to ancient Africa. Mami Wata spirits are usually female, but are sometimes male. Drewal’s descriptions of Mami Wata include her mermaid-like figure that is often accompanied by a snake. Mami Wata is associated with water and many of her followers become possessed by the spirit when they are swimming or boating. Many of her devotees wear red and white clothing, because those are the colors that represent Mami Wata’s dual nature. In many West African cultures, red symbolizes death, destruction, maleness, and power. On the other hand, white also symbolizes death in addition to beauty, creation, femaleness, water, and wealth. Because of this symbolism, Mami Wata’s shrines are often decorated in red and white to please her. She has a strong connection with healing that results in people blaming her when someone comes down with an incurable illness. The illness of the person shows that Mami Wata has taken an interest in the afflicted person and that only she can cure him or her. There are a number of things the ill person must do in order to regain their health, one of which is a dance performance done to live music where dancers become entranced. When this occurs, everyone knows Mami Wata has possessed the individual, and the healing may begin. The spirit will tell the afflicted person what to do to heal.
Eliade, Mircea. "Approaches." In Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, 3-13.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970.
In this introductory chapter, Eliade introduces the origin of the word shaman so as to qualify it as an acceptable label for the facilitator of healing in Shamanistic practices. In order to distinguish this role from other religious or therapeutic systems that resemble shamanism, Eliade establishes the shaman by his relation to the spirits. Here he gives distinguishing characteristics of this relationship, quoted in the work, as being one in which the shaman is able to control the spirits and communicate with them, rather than being possessed by them. Therefore the shaman is ultimately defined by his interaction and mediation of the spirits rather than becoming their vessel. He then goes on to explain the presence of shamanism in various regions throughout the world, and how they are influenced by similar religious practices in those regions. Therefore, while there are universal values that are present in shamanistic practices throughout the world, they differ in many ways as well. After establishing the various subsections of shamanism, Eliade summarizes the various cosmological belief systems that characterize each subsection. Finally, Eliade ends with the claim that while the shaman is the locus in the community for religious (spiritual) and medicinal (healing) power, he does not exhaust the religious life of the rest of the community. Rather, his separation or spiritual crisis from the rest of the community marks his new life as a shamanic healer.
Eliade, Mircea. "Role of the Souls of the Dead." In Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, 81-85. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970.
In this chapter, Eliade begins by reiterating the role of the spirit guides in initiating shamans: the shaman’s future role is determined by a chance encounter with some spiritual entity, which may take various forms depending on the culture, and which begins a familiarity between the shaman and the spirit that will guide him to this new life and provide teachings. Eliade then goes on to describe this particular relationship within the various cultures, and emphasizes the different ways in which spirits initiate the future shaman and are able to utilize him as an intermediary. For example, in some cultures, many different spirits, along with the initial spirit guide, can contact a shaman. Finally, Eliade points out that while the means of initiation differ from region to region, seeing spirits in dream or wakefulness is the determining sign of shamanic vocation. However, the shaman does not merely earn the role by the presence of these spirits; rather, the spirits provide a means of entering into contact with the divine, spiritual realm and it is thus up to the shaman to engage the spirit, through dream, trance, or otherwise, and enter this spirit realm as well. Eliade then goes on to describe the ‘possession’-like interaction between future shaman and spirit guide in which his contact with the souls of the dead, known as spirits elsewhere, signifies him being dead as well. Thus the shaman performs an act of dying to truly reach the spiritual realm and earn contact with the spirits. However, this culture did not pertain to African Shamanism and thus is not used in this work.
Eliade, Mircea. "Shamanism and Psychopathology." In Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, 23-32. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970.
In this chapter of Eliade’s anthology, he deals with the hypothesis that shamanism is another form of mental illness. Eliade’s first example tracks the parallel between shamanism and epilepsy in Arctic and Siberian regions. The defining characteristics of Arctic shamans, such as long nights, extreme cold, vitamin deficiency, the desert solitude, etc., may have influenced the inhabitants nervous systems and given rise to either mental illness or shamanic trance. Eliade posits then that the difference between shaman and epileptics is that the shaman can actively control when he enters these trance states, usually through the use of hallucinogens. Eliade’s next example features South Asian and Oceanian shamanism where the line between shamanism and mental unbalance is very fine. Epilepsy and extreme nervousness are usually associated with shamans in this region as well. Eliade then goes on to discuss that in various Indonesian cultures, shamans are usually very sickly and weak before they reach their vocation. He recognizes that this initiatory sickness is common in many other cultures as well, often representing the sign of a future shaman. He proposes that the shaman is not merely someone who suffers from a great sickness but someone who is able to cure himself with the help of a spirit guide and thus must have been bequeathed some supreme knowledge of healing. Eliade then goes on to conclude this chapter by pointing out that the defining feature of a shaman is that although he is subject to mental illness or intense sickness, it is the control and equilibrium that define him, as he is able to control these afflictions.
Ephirim-Donkor, Anthony. "Twin Cult of the Akan (Ghana)." Shamanism: An
Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 2 (2004): 942-945.
This article examines the religious practices of the Akan tribe and specifically the special cult that exists for those who are born as twins. The Akan reside in Ghana and along the Ivory Coast. They believe in a monotheistic creator called Odomankoma Nyame and exist as a matrilineal society. The Akan believe that the void between heaven and earth is filled by the abosom, “deities”, who are the offspring of God, but live on earth. An obosom ba, “children of a deity”, is someone whose mother asked for a deity’s intervention during a difficult childbirth and pledges that child to the deity for its purposes. These obosom ba hold a special place in society because they are seen as being related to the deities and can therefore communicate with them. Twins also hold a special place in the community because they are seen as a gift from a deity who shows favor to certain women. The children of deities and twins are the only ones considered to be called into the clerical profession. Within the clerical profession there are three different categories: priests, prophet-mediums and doctors. Although the three roles overlap, each still receives special training that lasts about a year. At graduation, the new medium is required to demonstrate their skills at a public gathering by dancing themselves into a trance or being absorbed by a deity. It is through this that the community can communicate with the spirits and in turn God. Twins also have a special role in society during the harvesting of crops. An annual festival takes place during this time to give thanks to the deity of twins, Abam Kofi. During this festival many libations are offered to the deity and all twins in the community are part of a ceremony where they enter a trance state and communicate and give thanks to the deity. Through this, they hope the spirit will provide protection to the community.
Giles, Linda. "Swahili Healers and Spirit Cult (East Africa)." Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 2 (2004): 938-942.
This article examines the Swahili’s healing beliefs and practices and how those are influenced by various sources such as Islamic traditions. The Swahili are a group of people from the East African coast who speak Swahili as a first language and share certain Muslim ideals and culture. These Muslim practices are combined with certain indigenous African practices to create the healing system that a majority of Swahili people utilizes. There are several different kinds of Swahili healing specialists including scholars/teachers, diviners and traditional healers. The Swahili’s beliefs about spirits are complex and vary depending on the location and tribe. Some are influenced by Middle Eastern concepts and Islamic beliefs depending on their level of Islamic training, literacy or religious tolerance of the spirit world. The main distinctions in spirit typology are whether the spirit is Muslim or pagan, and whether it’s from the coast or the interior of East Africa. The spirits can be further divided into different groups, which are often the focus of specific spirit possession cults. Although most spirits are harmless, there are some that can enter into humans and cause illness, bad luck, barrenness or other misfortunes. Relationships with spirits can take two different forms; either possession or association. Often, these relationships begin unintentionally or as a result of inheritance. This spirit is said to “climb” into the person and often first manifests itself as an illness. Once this happens it is up to a spirit medium or healer to diagnose the spirit and either exorcise it or placate it. People can also enter into spirit cults to protect themselves from this possibility or seek help once this happens. Because spirits are seen as the ultimate cause of disease and illness among the Swahili, it is the spirit mediums that are viewed as traditional healers within this culture.
Marshall, Lorna. "The Medicine Dance of the !Kung Bushmen." Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 39 (1969): 347-81.
The author, a researcher for the International African Institute, describes the medicine dance put on by the !Kung bushmen located in South West Africa. The medicine men who organize and participate in these dances are curers of most illnesses in the community. They believe that the main way to rid someone of sickness is to draw it out of them through a series of actions known as the “curing rite” that occurs during the dance. This dance is a common occurrence in the community that lasts all night and draws all members to it without any regard for family, band or friendship. Although there are several reasons to hold the dance, its main purpose is to protect people from sickness and death through a “general curing” of all present at the dance. It is performed for actual illnesses and for mysterious ones that the !Kung believe can be present without that person knowing it. The medicine men are the primary dancers and healers during the dance, but women also play an important role by supplying the music and singing and clapping. This begins in the early evening and within an hour or two the medicine men enter their trance and perform the curing rite over all the people by laying on their hands, drawing out the ills and casting them away. The dance is also used as a way to alleviate anxiety and fear surrounding illness and is a socially acceptable outlet for the emotions associated with this. Furthermore, the dance is used to drive away death or those spirits who bring death to the community. Along with examining the dance itself, this paper also explores the different behavioral and belief elements that come together to create the ideologies behind the dance.
Ngubane, Harriet. Body and Mind in Zulu Medicine: Ethnography of Health and Disease in Nyuswa-Zulu Thought and Practice. London: Academic Press, 1977.
This book covers an overall history of South Africa and Zulu healing. It explains chiefdom and clan structures that make up a big part of this society. In addition, there is mention of the natural causes of illness and the differences between biological and sorcery explanations. The importance of ancestry is emphasized and how people distinguish between ancestors that can punish or reward and ancestors that are powerless to do this. The level of the attack from the ancestors determines the severity of illness. Someone that can stand up and go about his or her day is not taken as seriously as someone who must constantly lie down. Zulu medical practitioners, inyanga (male) and isangoma (female) prepare special medicines. People usually consult diviners, who are generally female, to find out the cause of their troubles. The patient might decide to enter a new contract with this diviner or instead choose to go to an inyanga. The insangoma often refers the patients to an inyanga. More information is included on ceremonies and their effect on health, such as weddings and sacrifices that must be made as an important part of keeping balance and staying healthy. Also, the book has an explanation on color symbolism in Zulu medicine. Black, red, and white are the colors used for “treatment of mystical illness.” Both black and red are used to expel from the body what is bad and also strengthen and prevent the body from future attacks. In order to regain good health, white must be used. It would not be sufficient to only use black and red. This is a standard that Zulu practitioners use in diagnosing and healing patients.
O’Brien, Susan. “Pilgrimage, Power, and Identity: The Role of the Hajj in the Lives of Nigerian Hausa Bori Adepts.” Africa Today 46 (1999): 11-40. Accessed May 13, 2011.
This article, written by Susan O’Brien, discusses the popularity of “non-Islamic” healing practices and spirit medium-ship in the Muslim heartland of Saudi Arabia. It examines the role of the hajj in the lives of contemporary Bori practitioners in northern Nigeria. In Northern Nigeria, access to the hajj created the opportunity for some pilgrims to reinforce and strengthen the very local Hausa conceptions of Islam in both material and symbolic ways. Although Islam is the predominant religion practiced in this area, alternative healing practices are still being used throughout the region in addition to Islamic traditions. Spirit worship is widely used and looked at as a powerful mechanism for healing the ill. Although the majority of the population follows Allah, many still continue to worship the spirit world for additional help in healing. Many believe that the spirits are angry when one falls ill, and they need to please the spirit world in some way before they can be healed. In the Bori cult, the spirit causing the illness often possesses the sick person, and one must perform a ritual in order to get better. During this ritual, the person carries the traits of the spirit and the spirit will inform the person what to do in order to heal. It is a widespread belief that certain spirits have different traits and are associated with different illnesses. When one becomes sick, they can determine what spirit is causing the illness by their symptoms. This is a common route taken by the sick in order to regain their health. Although Allah is the overarching God in this area, underlying spirit worship is still very prevalent.
Ottenberg, Simon. Igbo Religion, Social Life. Africa World Press, 2006.
In this book, Ottenberg examines the use and purposes of shrines in the Afikpo Igbo Religion. The Igbo of southeastern Nigeria are a sedentary horticultural people with a population size of about five million. Igbo religion is characterized by the presence of numerous shrines and spirits for use on a communal and individual level. There are a number of shrines that are found in each community with a specific purpose, in addition to personal shrines that are used by a specific individual to serve his or her needs. Igbo spirits are believed to provide various forms of protection and assistance. There are different shrines for various purposes including protection of the community, the health and wellness of the villagers, and the protection of their crops. One shrine in particular, the “Egbo,” is closely identified with the compound as the residential area of the major patrilineage. It is one of the first shrines to be established when a new locality group is started. The Egbo guards against evil of any kind entering the compound including the bad and sorcerous intent of persons and other evil spirits. The Egbo is believed to help, along with ancestors, in providing general welfare to inhabitants and protect against poor health, lack of children, etc. People carry certain rituals around these shrines and hold ceremonies that serve specific functions like ensuring a good harvest before the changing of seasons along with rituals for the sick that need help from the spirit world to regain their health. If the villagers don’t give enough respect to the shrines and the spirits they represent, bad things may happen.
Pritchett, James Anthony. "This World and the Other World." In The Lunda-Ndembu: Style, Change, and Social Transformation in South Central Africa, 286-318. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.
This chapter focuses on revelation and divination among the Ndembu. The diviners are the ones who are called upon to identify the spiritual agents that are destroying the world of the living. They are the ones that must decide which ritual to perform when something goes wrong such as alleviating a case of infertility or driving away a spirit. To become a diviner, Kayong’u, who is the principal spirit for all diviners, must “catch” the person trying to become a diviner. This often causes a violent illness and if the person survives it, they have the choice to begin training with a diviner to learn their ways. This privilege of being a diviner is not simply granted. Instead, the person seeking to become a diviner must pay a high price that might consist of a cow, pieces of good fabric, and a large sum of money. Unlike other forms of African shamanism, the Ndembu are often skeptical of the diviners and whether their methods will in fact work. Ancestry plays a large role in this society as well. They are thought to be a part of daily life as they are fed by other community members and are believed to attend important events and rituals. If people from “this world” make eye contact with spirits from “the other world,” they are likely to suffer a mental illness. Along the same lines, if someone disrespects the spirits, then they will induce illness on whoever acts against them. In addition, this section mentions the effects of Christianity and colonialism and the influences that they left behind such as more acceptance of the medical system introduced by missionaries. The Ndembu system was not completely eradicated because Christianity took the middle ground and tried the herbal remedies.
Sackey, Brigid. "Asante Shamanism (Ghana)." Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 2 (2004): 910-13.
The author of this article describes the Asante people who are part of the Akan people, the most dominant ethnic group in Ghana. The Asante religion is based on a belief in the spiritual and material world that are separate and yet constantly interacting. Most of the shamanic duties within the Asante religion are personified within the functions of the priesthood (akom). The main role of the Asante shamans (akomfo) is to be an intermediary between divinity and human beings. The spirits possess the shamans and give them the knowledge to cure diseases, find solutions to problems and interpret dreams. The Asante also believe that when a person becomes ill, his soul is thought to have run away. Thus the shamans are also in charge of locating the soul and restoring it to its rightful place. The ascension to shamanism within the Asante is either through a vocational calling or as a hereditary right. Once selected, the candidate must undergo three years of training under the watch and guidance of a trained shaman. This initiation has three distinct phases including separation, transition and reincorporation and the initiate must adhere to many taboos and rituals. After the three years the initiate graduates in both a private and public ceremony where they are tested for proficiency. Once they’ve passed, they are able to begin their career as a shaman. This means they will have the knowledge to heal sick members of the community, cure infertility, restore lost items and train others to enter into priesthood. Along with the shamans, the Asante also have herbalists and experts in protective charms. These three medical practitioners make up the traditional healing system for the Asante.
Turner, Edith. "Discussion of the First Ihamba." In Experiencing Ritual: a New Interpretation of African Healing, 83-102. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
This is an account from Edith Turner, Victor Turner’s wife. They both lived among the Ndembu as anthropologists and studied them. Victor Turner originally studied the Ihamba ritual of the Ndembu in the 1950’s and Edith Turner returned later to complete a restudy. The Ihamba ritual takes place when a patient is been bitten by the tooth of a dead hunter, which is thought to help the hunter in his endeavors. When the tooth is ignored, it enters a person’s body and travels along the veins, biting and inflicting disease. The ihamba tooth is the tooth of a dead hunter that is wandering about in search of meat. A spirit afflicts the living until it is treated with respect and fed meat, satisfying its desire. Doctors remove this by cupping horns after a long ritual. This chapter also discusses more on Ndembu healing and hunters. It explains that contemporary healers in this society do not invoke the help of the patient’s ancestor spirits as in the past because missionaries have taught the people to regard such spirits as demons and idols. Ndembu healers drink leaf medicine at every Ihamba as well as posses the tooth, which gives good luck and strength to the hunter. In addition, there is mention of medication during childbirth, which is extremely strong and may even kill the baby as a part of the Ihamba. Edith Turner notices that while men played the largest role in Ihamba in the 1950’s due to blood of huntsmanship, things changed upon her return in the 1980’s. Women began to have a more important role in the society and thus in this extremely important ritual as well. References to childbirth and femaleness were incorporated and applied.
Turner, Edith. “General Characteristics of Shamanism in Africa.” Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 1 (2004): 887-888.
This introduction to Shamanic African societies first introduces the basic belief systems underlying the practice. They suggest that most Africans understand the world as created by God in which ancestral spirits were given governance over the active world. Therefore the spirits are deeply involved in the doings of everyday life in Africa, and therefore play an essential role in the healing system. The editors go on to describe the belief that spirits are responsible for most affliction, as it is seen as a manifestation of their dissatisfaction with their kin. Therefore village Africans hold rituals, led by a shaman, in which they perform various rites in order to welcome the spirit into the proceedings and appease them so as to remove the affliction. The editors then go on to describe the role of the shaman in these villages, in which he embodies wisdom and is able to intuit the nature of afflictions and the state of the sick person, and thus gain a complete understanding of how to heal the affliction. Most often this involves direct communication with the spirits, which is a unique power attributed only to shaman. The editors then explain generally how the shaman is initiated throughout various African cultures. This initiation usually involves a dream in which a spirit guide approaches the future potential shaman and begins to guide him through teachings and experiences that will prepare him for his future role. Secondly, a shaman may be approached by a spirit guide in a terrible sickness in which the spirits coach him through the healing process and thus endow him with the great knowledge of how to cure others. Therefore, these familiar spirits always guide the shaman and even upon his full initiation to his role he is still educated through dreams about the items and medicines that he may need in order to cure a patient.
Turner, Edith. "The Medicine Quest for the First Ihamba." In Experiencing Ritual: a New Interpretation of African Healing, 31-53. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
This chapter of the book explains how the Ndembu collect their medicine during this important Ihamba ritual. It shows how dependent they are on nature and the spirit of their ancestors as they talk to them along this journey. In order to get the medicine, they must mark a greeting tree and look for the Ihamba which they must not let escape. There is a certain technique that the doctors use in order to cut the plant. Once they find the plant they are looking for, they talk to it because they believe their ancestors, who taught them the skills that they are practicing, inhabit it. This is an important aspect of their healing because this is how they get their herbs as well. Once they go through the entire process, the healer can prepare the medicine for the people who need it. He uses the collection of herbs and plants to make the medicine that is known to be very strong. Because of this, it is always kept covered as it is cooking. However, before giving the medicine to the patient, the doctor must have it first in order to protect himself from Ihamba that might escape the patient and enter his body. There is a ritual that includes pointing legs to the east to prevent the Ihamba from escaping through the toes where doctors would be unable to catch it. Next, red clay is used to mark the patient’s body as the doctor treats the patient and is given the medication.
Wall, L. Lewis. Hausa Medicine: Illness and Well-being in a West African Culture. Duke University Press, 1988.
In this book, Lewis L. Wall provides an introduction to Hausa culture and practices in regards to medicine. Outside of the predominant Muslim culture, there are subcultures that believe in a complex spirit world, sorcery, and witchcraft. One of these subcultures is called Maguzawa Hausa, and the essence of their religion is the veneration and sacrifice to various spirits. Many of these spirits have their own names, characteristics, and powers. They believe that spirits are directly linked with causing illness and that illness must be alleviated by supplication, sacrifice, and traditional medicines. Through the manipulation of the spirits’ powers, the Maguzawa try to control their world and mitigate the misfortunes they are given. Hausa paganism believe the cause of illness derives from two possible origins: either inanimate, unconscious forces in the physical environment or as the result of the intrusion of some conscious, malevolent power. Another aspect of the spirit world is the bori, which are specific spirits that cause spirit possession. The Bori cult is the social and religious institution that centers on inducing, maintaining, and regulating the intercourse between the spirit world and the members of the cult. Possession by the spirits usually manifests itself first as a slight coughing and builds up until the person takes on characteristics associated with the given spirit that possesses the individual. The trance-possession ritual is one way that a spirit connects with an individual and can lead to healing. Other methods of healing in Hausa culture in addition to worshiping spirits are herbal medicines. Many herbal remedies and the plants from which they are made are common knowledge, so individuals and families often have their own special remedies to cure certain illnesses. The use of herbal remedies to cure specific ailments constitutes the largest portion of Hausa therapeutics.
Walter, Mariko Namba, and Eva Jane Neumann. Fridman. "Cape Nguni Shamanism (South Africa)." Shamanism: an Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 2 (2004): 914-19.
This section explains the history between the Cape Nguni people and the Zulu of South Africa, where they were originally one community before they settled down in separate places in South Africa. The Cape Nguni occupied the eastern seaboard of the southern part of Africa. For this reason, Cape Nguni and Zulu healing often overlap and use some of the same systems. In addition, it gives an explanation of healer-diviners and herbalists and how some called izangoma have the ability to combine both into one practice. Positions such as omniscient diviners and revealers are options for healing a wide range of illnesses. Healer-diviners play a large role in this society since people from all classes and walks of life come to see this healer. The role of this healer is to find the root of a problem and perform rituals directed at ancestors, trances, and ecstatic healing methods. Another important aspect is the initiation of the Cape Nguni diviner, which starts when there is a state akin to spirit possession. It goes further to provide a counter-argument that the healer-diviners might malpractice and they must take responsibility for what they have done. Another kind of healer is the nolugxana who is an uninitiated novice diviner who employs his acquired skills and knowledge as healing. There are a number of specialist diviners including omniscient diviners, ventriloquists, revealers, appeal diviners, bone diviners, extractors, and mirror diviners who help with numerous kinds of illnesses. In addition to this, the Cape Nguni have witch finders who specialize in scrutinizing a client’s social, business, or neighbors for bad intent. Each of these plays a certain role in the healing process and when someone has an illness, they go to whichever they find is most appropriate.
Walter, Mariko Namba., and Eva Jane Neumann. Fridman. "Yaka Shamanistic Divination (Southwestern Congo)." In Shamanism: an Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 2 (2004): 951-54.
This section explains that Yaka divination includes a belief that ecstatic communication or exchange is possible between humans, spirits, and the animated life world that reinforces connections of “other-worldly” and “this-worldly.” A brief history of the Yaka, located in southwestern Congo and a part of the Bantu ethnocultural group, is given to form a context as well as sociology of the society. Women take care of the agriculture and domestic aspects while men do the hunting. The section also explains the foundations of Yaka divination. They trace their origins to the institution known as Ngoombwa weefwa, which is derived from one of the major cults of spirit possession and healing responsible for the Yaka mediumistic style of divination. It is common in rural areas that there is only one diviner for a population of two thousand people. Yaka diviners play a large role in both rural and urban settings. In the city, people are more likely to visit with the diviner one-on-one as opposed to a family event. Last, there is an important note about how a person becomes a diviner in this society. Becoming a diviner begins with getting a chronic illness that reveals the innate gift of clear-sightedness in the afflicted person. Then the body is put through a sort of physical trial and if the candidate is able to divine in the wake of this crisis, then she is pronounced ready for initiation. Diviners communicate between the worlds of the living and the spirits. Some Yaka diviners have been converted by members of churches and have changed their methods to address troubles and illnesses in the name of the Holy Spirit.
Washington, Kevin. "Zulu Traditional Healing, Afrikan Worldview and the Practice of Ubuntu: Deep Thought for Afrikan/Black Psychology." The Journal of Pan African Studies Vol. 3, No. 8 (2010): 23-39.
This article does a nice job of summarizing Zulu healing. It gives a quick overview of the main aspects of this system and breaks it down into more specific healers and illnesses. The traditional healer is always a person of great respect in the community and a medium between the uMvelinqangi (God) and the amadlozi (ancestors). Since uMvelinqangi exists within everything, the healer must connect with the universal force to manifest the full power of uMvelinqangi. For this reason, the Zulu’s have a strong connection with the earth. People who visit the spiritual healer must engage with the community and somehow give back in a way that shows ones efforts to restore order and balance within the self and the community. The three main healers are inyanga (traditional doctor/herbalist), a male who has gone through a period of training with an accomplished inyanga for at least one year, isangoma (diviner/counselor), a person is chosen by the spiritual realm to be a sangoma after an ukuthwasa (life transforming experience), and umthandazi (faith healer), who has the ability to prophesize, heal and divine using prayer, holy water, baths, enemas and steaming baths. Washington also includes an explanation of illnesses. Illnesses are organized on the basis of their casualty. One category of disease is umkuhlane (illnesses of a natural cause), which include isithuthwane (epilepsy), isifuba somaya (asthma), and ufuzo (familial/genetic disorders) such as isidalwas (mental retardation) and uhlanya (schizophrenia). Another category is ukufa kwabantu (metaphysical disorders that exist among Afrikan/Black people). This includes disorders that are common among people with shared cultural/spiritual background and experiences.
Whitley, David S. “Archaeology of Shamanism.” Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture 1 (2004): 16-21.
In this excerpt from Shamanism: An Encyclopedia, the editors claim that shamanism is associated with hunter-gatherer societies and thus it is posited that it may be the first religious system brought into the Americas and perhaps the first religion or belief system of humankind. The editors then introduce the ways in which shamanism is typically evidenced in archaeological research, including paleoethnobotanical data on hallucinogenic plants, iconography and symbolism, and other types of ritual or ceremonial remains. The chapter goes on to deal with four general topics that are currently being discussed in archaeological debates to try and determine the first emergence and timeline of shamanism as it spread throughout the world. The first topic is the time-depth of shamanism in Siberia and Central Asia, the second is the Paleolithic rock art of Western Europe, the third is Western European Neolithic passage tombs, and finally the fourth is San rock art in South Africa. The editors first posit through findings in Siberia and Central Asia that Siberia is most likely the origin of New World shamanism and therefore must be Paleolithic in age (dating back to 10,000 years ago). However, many disagree with this hypothesis and instead suggest that shamanism evolved in many different cultures at different times, rather than diffusion from an original emergence. They then go on to study shamanism in Europe, in which they date the emergence of shamanism in the archaeological record from multiple sites at around 4,000 BC. Finally, and most importantly, the editors introduce findings in South Africa from the San culture dating back to around 4,000 BC as well (the Neolithic era).