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Traditional healers: is this sinister reputation rightly deserved?

 Lepeli Moeketsi

Can a traditional doctor really help?

“Truth behind traditional healers”, was the headline in a recent newspaper article that caught my interest.

From the article I got an impression that most people do not really understand what traditional healing entails.

In addition, I got a feeling that there are “traditional healers” who intentionally confuse and mislead people about traditional healing. 

As a result, I find a need to indulge in this matter and try to clarify some concepts and practices inherent in traditional healing.

There is a need to open the eyes of Africans, especially young people who seem to be ignorant about their African heritage.

It is upsetting to hear a bright African or Mosotho girl or boy cursing traditional healers, calling them thieves and malicious practitioners. 

The article I refer to and my own experience has shown me that most Africans are “coconuts”.

A coconut is black on the outer layer but white inside.

It seems like most people in Lesotho are westernized Basotho, they disregard our African heritage and world-views, but hold Western mentality and tendency with high esteem.

Hence a Sesotho adage, setlhare sa Mosotho ke lekhooa translated as “a cure for Mosotho is a white person”.

The aforementioned Basotho seem to be trapped in Western categories of thought regarding healing.

As Africans or Basotho, at least westernised ones, we take western scientific and philosophical outlooks as our terminus ad quo – starting point.

This is both unfair and unfortunate!  

Since there is no effect without cause, there must be reasons why there is this sinister reputation to our traditional doctors.

Firstly, we must ask ourselves, what lies behind the sinister reputation which traditional healers have acquired?

Secondly, is it really deserved? By placing a traditional healer in his /her social context, we can understand traditional healing better. 

The obvious reason is that there are bogus traditional doctors and witchdoctors who make the integrity of the profession highly questionable. These have turned the good image of sincere Basotho traditional doctors; hence many people have lost their interest and faith in the powers of traditional doctors.

Another reason is that most Africans or Basotho are “coconuts”.

This makes them so westernized that they cannot even appreciate their rich African traditions.

Everything for such people is good only and only it is from Europe or America. This is so sad!

Christian missionaries are solely to be blamed of all these. Their characterization of the African or Basotho traditional doctors as ‘a witch’ or ‘a witchdoctor’ is a misnomer!    

While they might make use of western health care services they still, from time to time, consult a traditional doctor.

I cannot see why our “coconuts” need to make a breach between the western and traditional healing, or sacrifice one for the sake of the other! 

Our westernised and Christianised Basotho think traditional doctors are a “greedy lot whose aim is to scam money out of people” and that they “take advantage of people’s desperation to make money”.

And sadly, such Basotho refer to our traditional healers as witches!

In as much as I am also Christianised, I think this conception about traditional healers is totally erroneous.

There are still western-doctors who charge unreasonable fees, but yet fail to diagnose our diseases.

What do our “coconuts” say about them?

Are those doctors too a “greedy lot aiming to scam money out of people?”  

A question may be raised, so how can we differentiate between witchdoctors and genuine traditional doctors?

Here is the answer for you westernized and Christianized Basotho: One cannot be a witch and a doctor at the same time.

I am making this assertion because knowing how to cure witchcraft cannot turn one into a witch.

Referring to Africans or Basotho traditional doctors as witchdoctors was obviously intended to imply that they specialized only in treating witchcraft.

A traditional doctor will never cast spell upon anybody. He/she can neutralize a spell or stop it.

The moment a traditional doctor harms a person, they cease to be a traditional doctor.

The correct name for such a person is a sorcerer, one we call moloi … doer of evil deeds.  

My question is: Do Basotho traditional healers rightly deserve this sinister reputation of being called bogus and witches?

I think it is very unfair to our traditional doctors and to some of us who are undiluted Africans and Basotho.

To say call traditional doctors are bogus and witches is patently wrong and false.

Those who think like that should revisit their logic. 

For all postmodernists or westernized Basotho and even “coconuts”, I urge you to appreciate our rich Sesotho culture and world-views.

You should be aware that our African or Sesotho traditional healing emanates from the observation that the inherited western health care system does not provide an adequate understanding of life, death, health and disease within the African context.

For example, while western medical practice sees disease as malfunction of the body, in African context, disease is seen to have ‘a causal link between the visible and invisible world’.

We do not need to convert our Basotho traditional health care into western health care system.

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