African Traditional Medical Health Practices; Beliefs And Concepts

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

African Traditional Medical Health Practices; Beliefs And Concepts


Medical health practice is one of religious practice in African Tradition. It is a means of securing the lives of the individuals. Among all communities in Africa, life is regarded as sacred. Each individual’s life is seen as a gift from God to the community and to the family.

Ihiala Local Government Area which is located in Anambra State is a community of people who hare and believe in African traditional World view and Institutions.

This work is to know African Traditional way of medical health practices, and its application and concept in Ihiala L.G.A of Anambra State. There are many ways of medical health practices now in Africa more than ever before. We need to study African Traditional Medical health practices and its belief and concept in Ihiala as a community. This will help to correct the false impression people have about African traditional way of medical health practices.

Chapter One

General Introduction

1.1 Background of the Study

African is a large continent with many countries that have different tribes and cultures. Nigeria is one of the countries in Western part of Africa. In Nigeria, there are thirty-six states among which Anambra is one of them, and Ihiala L.G.A is one of its local government area in Anambra South Senatorial Zone. It is made up of nine (9) autonomous towns.

Practice of medicine is an important part of indigenous religions in Africa. Disease in this part of the world is normally regarded as having some spiritual cause. African traditional medicine is a medicine known and practiced by Africans from time immemorial for the health need of her people. It has an important place in health care delivery among Africans.

In Ihiala L.G.A, according to Obiaofo, it was believed that African traditional way of practising medicine have power to sustain the lives of every individuals in the community, it is used to counteract the powers of destruction and evil spirit. It is beneficial to man and important to the religious and social life of the people.

Practice of medicine is important to any religion especially in the case of African traditional religion. In Ihiala L.G.A, many people seek out diviners on a regular basis. There are generally no prohibitions against the practice. Those who tell fortunes for a living are also sought out for their wisdom as counsellor and for their knowledge of herbal medicine. Practice of African traditional medicine is an important part of their religion. Healers are reputed to have professional knowledge of illness (pathology), surgery and pharmacology (roots, barks, leaves, and herbs). Some of them are also reputed to diagnose and treat mental and psychological problems. The healer advises in all aspects of life including physical, psychological, spiritual, moral and legal matters. They also understand the significance of ancestral spirits and the concepts of witches (hence the colonial term witch-doctor). Ihiala people believed that traditional African medicine is a holistic discipline involving indigenous herbalism and African spirituality, typically involving diviners, midwives and herbalists. Practitioners of traditional African medicine claim to be able to cure various and diverse conditions such as cancer, psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure, cholera, most venereal diseases, epilepsy, asthma, eczema, fever, depression and healing of wounds and burns.

Traditional African medicine with its belief that illness is not derived from chance occurrences, but through spiritual or social imbalance, differs greatly from western medicine which is technically and analystically based. Diagnosis is reached through spiritual means and a treatment is prescribed usually consisting of an herbal remedy that has not only healing abilities, but symbolic and spiritual significance.

1.2 Statement of Problems

Despite the importance and strong points of African Traditional Medicine, there are some problems associated with it especially as it is practised these days. These problems have almost discredited the very important heritage.

First among these problems affecting African Traditional medical practices today is, there are misconceptions about the concept of African traditional medicine in African countries, even among the people in Ihiala L.G.A. An average Ihiala youth especially people who live outside the community or outside Africa, develop their idea of African traditional medical health practices from films or stories. These films or stories often portray the African traditional medical health practices as evil, diabolic and in human acts that should be done away as practiced by evil and primitive people.

Another problem associated with African traditional medical health practices according to Omonzejele (2003) is when it resort to spiritual explanation for the causation of ill-health which is attributed to many mystical forces. This factor limits African traditional medicine to the extent that it is extremely difficult to provide explanation and evidence in accordance to basic epistemology for the cure of aliment even when the therapy is effective. For instance in Nigeria, everyone knows that orthopaedic cases are best handled by traditional practitioners, but the connection between the broken leg of hen and the treatment of a patient with a broken leg is quiet difficult to explain. In Western medicine, scientific explanations are usually provided on how a particular drug works with body chemistry, in that wise, one cannot expect the west and non-Africans to accept any kind of cure or advances in medicine by Africans without adequate explanation.

Again the fallout of Africa’s economic woes has also contributed to the problems facing African traditional medical practices. There are many traditional medical practitioners, most of them are mere charlants who like the sophists of the ancient times make huge sums of money from the trade. In the past, traditional health practitioners only saw what they did in terms of services to their communities where one cannot really afford to be dubious. The African traditional practitioners of this present day move from the rural to urban areas with the sole purpose to enrich themselves. They are patronised by unsuspecting patients. These mobile practitioners of African traditional medicine sometimes do not know anything about African traditional medicine. They are just merely people who were unable to cope with present economic situation thereby having no other option than to resort to this type of trade. They are in the business perhaps because most Africans somehow have confidence and believe in African traditional medicine.

Furthermore, the methods and procedures of using or the trial of new drug before its application on humans in African traditional medicine is weak. That by using the bark of a particular tree which was effective in animals does not show good and enough reason that the same bark will be effective in treating human beings that has a similar ailment. The African traditional practitioners hardly have knowledge of botanical properties of the drugs they use. They are unable to anticipate the effect the drug would have on humans at the trial stage, which he ought to share with the subject as to enable them make informed consent or refusal. They only hopes that the drug “works” without adverse effects. This kind of act is quiet insufficient because the drug may not only “work” but may be harmful to the subject (patient).

However, in other to correct these problems, misconceptions, the African Traditional Medical Health practices should be studied as it is an important religious liturgical act, and also of great value and significant to every individual and the society as a whole in almost all sphere of life.

1.3 Aim of the Study

The aim of this study is to explore African tradition, with specific interest in her traditional medical health practices. Consequently to delineate the social stance of Ihiala L.G.A in the African Traditional Medical Health Practices.

1.4 Limitations of the Study

This study has many limitations which include:

The limitation imposed by lack of finance: In this case the researcher did not have enough money with which to carryout the study, and so she has to borrow most of the time.

Limitation imposed by lack of time:

This case the researcher did not have enough time to carry out a research of this nature. Lack of time therefore restricted the development of this research work.

Lack of enough materials in the area of study:

In this study, the researcher did not get enough materials with which to carry out a study of this type. This is because, the topic is a relatively new one and the literatures on it are very scanty.

Problem of distance:

In this case, the researcher had to travel from Benin to Ihiala to see her interviewers.

Unco-operative attitude of some of the respondents: In this case, some of the people interviewed did not give the required response to the researcher during the course of the research work.

1.5 Scope of Study

This study focused on the concept and belief of African Traditional Medical Health practices in Ihiala L.G.A. Ihiala is one of the L.G.A in Anambra South Senatorial Zone, and it is made up of nine (9) autonomous towns viz: Uli, Ihiala, Okija, Azia, Mbosi, Isekke, Orsumoghu, Uburuisiuzo and Lilu.

1.6 Research Methodology

A qualitative research designs were adopted in this study using descriptive approach in the analysis. Literary works, field studies like observation, interview, media report and oral literature, were used as research tools.

The data collected from using different research method was analysed and carefully organised to present a clear detailed intellectual concept of African traditional medical health practices, its belief in Ihiala L.G.A. The data provided by this work listed observation and interview as primary instrument, literary material and internet sources copiously used as secondary source of data collection. The dictionary is used for definition and clarification of terms.

1.7 Clarification of Terms

Considering the fact that certain terms and concepts used in this write may have more than one meaning, the researcher hereby offers the meanings of such words as they are used here in:


This stand as being part of the beliefs, customs or way of life of a particular group of people that have not changed for a long time. Older methods and ideas rather than moderns or different one.


This is connected with ways of treating illness that do not involve cutting the body.


This is the state of being physically and mentally healthy.


A way of doing something that is the usual or expected way in a particular organization; habit or a custom.


Something that you believe, especially as part of your religion.

1.8 Significance of the Study

This study is significant for a number of reasons which include:

  1. This study is important because it can influence other researchers in this regard.
  2. Through this study, African traditional medical health practices will be revealed to the entire world and not Africans alone.
  3. Through this study, the belief and concept of African traditional medical health practices in Ihiala L.G.A is also elaborated.
  4. Through this study also, activities of various African traditional medical health practitioners will be revealed and direct their patronisers more to use their discretion.

Chapter Five

Conclusion, Evaluation and Recommendation

5.1 Conclusion

As the term “medicine” stand to mean any substances that can bring about a change, heal a sickness anywhere, anyhow, African Traditional Health Medicine is the act of using the technique and means that are indigenous to the sick person. It is quite different from Western Medicine, in that it entails much more than restoring the processes of the physical body. It addresses the patient’s physical, mental and social well being. Its components include therapeutic fasting and dieting, surgery and bone setting, massage, herbal medicine such as the use of plants, bark, leaves, mineral substances e.t.c. In terms of metaphysical division, prayers, incantations or invocations are offered to some mysterious and powerful forces.

For the practices of the traditional medicine in Ihiala Local Government Area which is mostly carried out by different healers given different titles as to indicate their specific function in the community. For instance, a medicine man or woman may be a spiritual healer, midwife or medical herbalist (Dibia). These healers were interested in all aspect of optimal health. In treating or curing of disease or illness, they use plants to increase good fortune balance energy, reconcile emotional problems in personal relationships and prevent generalise events of misfortune. They also make use of talismans, ancient symbols and amulets to assist the transformation of the individual from sickness to good health.

African Traditional Health Medicine is of great value and important to all aspect of life. It improves man’s standard of good living by securing the lives of every individual in the society, by the use of its natural resources which is always available.

5.2. Evaluation

The study of African Traditional Health Medicine has not proved to be an easy one as a result of the challenges on the limitation of study. Despite that, the research work has pointed out the African tradition, her beliefs and concept, with specific interest in her traditional medical health practices, and consequently delineate the social stance of Ihiala Local Government Area in the African Traditional Medical health.

The work has also achieved in establishing the fact that African traditional health medicine is a practical means of using the available natural resources in securing, curing and enhancing the lives of every individual in the universe, which stands as the main purpose of religion in Africa, as to improve the standard of living of every individual in the society.

The work has contributed in examining the beliefs and concept of African traditional health medicine in Ihiala Local Government Area, and how it is being practiced among the people of that area. It has pointed out how various plants, leaves and other natural substances is used to prevent and cure different kinds of illness or diseases. It is of the belief that the use or practice of traditional African medicine not only solve the physical or body problem of man, but as well treats both the image, mind and spiritual problem of man for a normal living of the individual.

This work also tried to give impression that, the practice of African Traditional medicine is not just a fetish, superstitious, pagan or diabolical practice, but a practical aspect of religious act. Therefore, the healing process of ten attempts to appeal to God because it is ultimately God who cannot only inflict sickness, but provide a cure. Africans have a religious world view which makes them aware of the feasibility of divine or spirit intervention in healing, with many healers referring to the Supreme God as the source of their medical power.

However, a research like this cannot claim to have every details concerning the practices of African Traditional Health Medicine, its beliefs and concept in Ihiala Local Government Area because of the limits of time and space, and also as a result of lack of accurate written materials or documents. The work depended on participant observations, oral interviews, limited materials and other sources that does not provide accurate information, hence there is still chances for improvement and changes.

5.3 Recommendation

There are much to learn from traditional medical health practices. The practitioners should make their practical acts more healthy, more exciting, more open for study, in an organised and tidy environment, in order for people especially the average youths who live outside the community or outside Africa to have a clear understanding of this act, and not to regard it as primitive, fetish, diabolic or superstitious act.

Herbal preparation should be studied with the idea of using them to replace more toxic, synthetic drugs. Some of the traditional medicine use in harming or carryout other in human act should be totally avoided and changed. The good ones that brings good health to human life should be improved.

The inability of the traditional medical practitioners in recommending the dosage in which one is to take for a particular medicine is making African traditional medicine weak. So the practitioners should make changes on that.

Also the use of charms and amulets to cure diseases and illnesses is an uncertain and clouded practice that requires more scientific investigation.

Again with the importance of African traditional medicine, government should make an adequate provision as to promote the practice of African traditional heath medicine, and developed a kind of national policies that include legislation for regulating the practices, training, and licensing of traditional medical practitioners. Also government and private enter – preneurs should invest on traditional medicine for this will assist in providing regular supply of drugs thereby solving the problem of shortage of drugs and equipment which most of the medical centers lack. It will also improve the balance of payments of the countries by reducing to minimal the amount of money expended on the importation of foreign drugs.

African traditional medical practitioners should also improve by producing medicine into capsules and cough syrup for both children and adults.

In addition, African traditional medicine needs refinement and scientific evidence for treatment of ailments. With this African traditional medicine can operate and function side by side with Western medicine in government health centers.

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