Early Christian missionaries in Africa used this term “sorcerer or sorceress” to refer to individuals who were believed to intentionally use “incantations, ritual, and various substances” to mount psychic attacks against other people. They were believed to direct destructive black magic in the direction of their victims. These individuals are called umthakathi among the Zulu and moloi among the Sotho. “Evil sorcerer” or “evil sorceress” was most often the preferred term used. Unfortunately, they are often referred to simply as ‘Witch doctors” This is a healer that uses ancient knowledge to heal people.
In the case of most African communities, the person claims to get guidance and knowledge from the ancestors. In the case of witch doctors the knowledge is passed through generations with which apprentices taken from the family. Herbalists who also fall in this category are a little different, their craft can be learnt without a calling but many Sangomas a tribe within southern Africa and witchdoctors are also herbalists using natural remedies to heal the sick. Sorcery can also generally take on the form of spells, poisoning or other physical injury done by someone secretly to someone else or his crops and animals.
Witches, evil magicians and sorcerers all fall into the category of the most hated in the community. The Longman dictionary defines sorcery as magic that uses the power of evil spirits. People most often fear to associate with them, to eat in their homes or even quarrel with them in the case that they might bewitch them. in every African society, one would often hear endless stories about these people and thus how they affect our everyday way of life. This topic seeks to burrow into the concept of healing and sorcery in our society and how the latter influences the former and vice versa.
Healing can be defined as a spontaneous event that comes about through that kind of a particular of grace. Healing can happen at anywhere and at anytime. It can also mean to cause an undesirable condition to end. Healing can also be defined as the process of curing or becoming well, the process of curing somebody or something of becoming well. This can take the form spiritual healing, physical healing, emotional, psychological or mentally. To the African whenever something goes wrong in the normal course of his life, his family or the community as a whole he begin to speculate immediately what had caused it.
It has never been enough to answer how it happened because as religious as the African is he would also want to know why it happened and especially to him or a particular person. The African does not stop at only finding out who or what had caused things to go wrong. They try to put right what gone wrong, to heal, to cure, to protect, to drive away evil and also to counteract or neutralize the evil used by these mystical forces . This tendency of the African permeates into every aspect of his life especially his health and welfare.
When the African falls ill it is most often believed to have been caused by some evil powers, bad magic, witchcraft or sorcery. Most often than not, a diviner is sought to find out why the individual is suffering from that ailment. Measure are the n placed in place to curb, cure and prevent the illness from coming back next time. But this does not mean that every aspect of sorcery is bad because sorcery can be divided into two main categories; malevolent sorcery and benevolent sorcery. This therefore means that sorcery can be both used for good or bad.
For example, the ancients Mayas, health and medicine among the ancient Maya was a complex blend of mind, body, religion, ritual, and science. Important to all, medicine was practiced only by a select few, who generally inherited their positions and received extensive education. These shamans act as a medium between the physical world and spirit world. They practice sorcery for the purpose of healing, foresight, and control over natural events. Since medicine was so closely related to religion and sorcery, it was essential that Maya medicine men had vast medical knowledge and skill.
It is known that the Maya sutured wounds with human hair, reduced fractures, and were even skilled dental surgeons, making prostheses from jade and turquoise and filling teeth with iron pyrite. In understanding Maya health and medicine, it is important to recognize that the Maya equated sickness with the captivity of one’s soul by supernatural beings, angered by some perceived misbehavior. For this reason, curing a sickness involved elements of ritual, cleansing, and often herbal remedy.
Research of Maya ethno-medicine shows that though supernatural causes are related to illness, a large percentage of Maya medical texts are devoted to the treatment of symptoms based upon objective observations of the effects of certain plants on the human system. Herbal remedies were eaten, drank, smoked, snorted, rubbed on the skin, and even used in the form of enemas to force rapid absorption of a substance into the blood stream. Cleansing techniques such as fasting, sweating, and purging flushed substances out of the body and reshaped consciousness.
In Africa, a sorcerer can be sought to cure ones illness. They could also give measures in ensuring the prevention of certain illnesses too. Even though it is most common to find people go medicine men and herbalist for prescriptions these special people can also be looked for in times of ailment. Even though sorcerers themselves are the causes or reasons behind most illnesses it is believed by Africans to go them because they are the best people to offer cure because they are the very ones that caused that particular illness.
The process mainly used by these sorcerers in curing their clients is mostly through African traditional medicine or their systems of healing. This is mostly through divination and the use of herbs. The task of the cure or sorcerer is to diagnose the disease, usually by divinatory techniques and then to apply the spiritual remedy, such as retrieving a lost soul, removing a disease-causing object, or exorcising an evil spirit. They can cure ailment from physical, spiritual, emotional to psychological.
The sorcerers who in this case can be referred to as Traditional healers are generally divided into two categories those that serve the role of diviner diagnostician or diviner-mediums and those who are healers or herbalist’s spiritual means, while the herbalist then chooses and applies relevant remedies.
The diviner provides a diagnosis usually through spiritual means, while the herbalist then chooses and applies relevant remedies. Traditional healers “tend to take a ‘holistic’ approach to illness, treating the patient’s spiritual and physical well-being together.
The WHO therefore thus concludes that traditional medicines: Include diverse health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and or mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises applied singularly or in combination to maintain well-being, as well as to treat, diagnose or prevent illness. This does not however really dissociate traditional medicine from biomedicine aside from the belief that come with it.
One of the definitions given for ‘African Traditional Medicine’ by the WHO Centre for Health Development is the following:
The sum total of all knowledge and practices, whether explicable or not, used in diagnosis, prevention and elimination of physical, mental, or societal imbalance, and relying exclusively on practical experience and observation handed down from generation to generation, whether verbally or in writing. The WHO due to the above mentioned point has formally recognized the importance of collaborating with traditional healers.
It has organized a number of expert consultations and conferences, and has issued guidelines on traditional medicines, traditional healers and also the collaboration between biomedicines and traditional medicines.
Because traditional medicines use biological resources and knowledge of traditional groups, it is often linked to biodiversity conservation and indigenous peoples’ rights over their knowledge and resources. From the above it can be concluded that religion has a major interplay with healing when it comes to the African society, thus sorcery. Sorcery can therefore be cause or cure for ailments in our traditional societies.
Sorcerers are therefore very important in every African community because of the inadvertent role they play in the society. Sorcerers if well utilized can help propel the African traditional community into greater developments. REFERENCES Houston S. , Stuart D. , & Taube K. , 2006. The Memory of Bones, University of Texas Press. Saliba, J. A. , 2008. Medicine Man, Microsoft Student[ DVD].
Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation. Mbiti, J. S. , 1991. Introduction to African Religion. Sno-Isle Regional Library System, Marysville: Washington. Opoku, J. , 2012. Lecture Notes on Africa Traditional Religion, Healing and Medicine [Leaflets] KNUST.