Precolonial Africa

418 words | 2 page(s)

Health is one of the greatest values of any person. Therefore, since ancient times, people tried to find any possible methods of healing diseases. Phytotherapy, yoga, acupuncture, and chiropractic are just a few names in the long list of alternative medicine methods. They are especially popular in developing countries. For instance, though nowadays medicine is already different from what it used to be in precolonial times, most African people still prefer using alternative methods of healing.

The methods of native medicine in precolonial Africa were based not on scientific achievement but on the people’s belief in the power of nature, its objects, and spirits. Instead of doctors, there were healers – people with special skills who knew how to use the powers mentioned above for the benefit of people. Langwick emphasizes that the first colonialist considered some of the healing methods to be witchcraft and prohibited them (39-42). The powers of healers were immense: there is even evidence that some of them were able to offer a diagnosis without observation of the sick person (Flint).

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Moreover, healers were able to distinguish between the illness of the body and that of the soul caused by some social factors. Some of them identified only two causes of diseases: spirits and sorcery (Waite). As a rule, a healer stayed with their patient until the latter recovered completely, and only after that, they were paid (Flint). For a long time, phytotherapy, which was the main method used by healers, proved to be effective in most cases till the moment first colonialists brought to Africa new virus strains.

At the present moment, traditional medicine in Africa is still prevalent. It goes without saying that, sometimes, it is impossible to do without modern drugs and methods of examinations, but, in most cases, people still ask healers for help. The main reason for that is that traditional medicine views illness not only as a malfunction of the human body but searches for all the reasons that could cause health issues, while the Western approach views body just as a machine that should needs to be repaired.

  • Flint, Karen E. “Healing the Body. Disease, Knowledge, and Medical Practices in the Zulu Kingdom.” Healing Traditions. African Medicine, Cultural Exchange, and Competition in South Africa, 1820-1948, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2008, pp. 37–66.
  • Langwick, Stacey A. “Witchcraft, Oracles, and Native Medicine.” Bodies, Politics, and African Healing. The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania, Indiana University Press, 2011, pp. 39–57.
  • Waite, Gloria. “Public Health in Precolonial East-Central Africa.” American Historical Review, June 1985, pp. 594–613.

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