Why are we ashamed of our traditional medicine?

By Thandekile Moyo

I HAVE SOME strange markings on my chest. Well, I think I used to have them. I looked for them the other day and could not find them in the mounds of fat I have acquired over the years.

Two parallel lines that look like the number 11. I have always been fascinated by them and I have forgotten who told me they are scars from being cut by a razor blade to administer some herbal medicine.

Most children born before the 90s have them. In our culture, when a child is born, they have to be protected from various spirits and diseases so, several medicines are administered to them.

I cannot claim to know the nitty-gritties of this custom as I am what they call a “born free” in my country. This is someone who was born after independence and knows nothing about our nation’s suffering, especially at the hands of Whites.

The markings on my chest are a reflection of the faith we as Zimbabweans have in our traditional medicine.

Ironically, I also have a small scar on my right arm from an injection given to all children at birth.

This shows that I was born in a “modern” hospital, where all the immunisations necessary were administered.

I am sure when the doctors discharged my mother and I, they were confident I was a healthy baby and my chances of survival were high.

But it is now clear that my parents (or grandparents, as I suspect their hand in the mutilation of my chest) did not share that confidence; for they must have quickly whisked me away to what I imagine to be some “dingy, dirty, dark” and smoke-filled hut where some “witchdoctor” took a razor blade and slashed my baby soft skin and rubbed some “smelly” concoction into my veins.

I can only imagine how I must have wailed! And then, when my son was born, I recall his relatives insisting that he be taken to some old woman for a similar process. His fontanel (inkanda/nhova) would not close properly or might fall in or something along those lines, they said.

I am surprised then that most Africans are so embarrassed by their belief in traditional medicine that we only ever revert to it at birth and when all else has failed.

The only time we go to our traditional healers, named “witchdoctors” by our colonisers, is when all else has failed and we are on our death beds.

This is when we finally say okay, why not try that route. Sometimes we are saved and unfortunately most of the times it is too late.

We also have those that “double dip”, going to the hospital and also visiting inyangas in the dead of the night. While this could be alright, at times the medications react with each other and we have the danger of an overdose.

Believe it or not, at the end of the day, all medicines, whether orthodox (modern), foreign or traditional, are mostly herbs. And of late, we have seen the rise of faith healing, confusing my already indecisive people even further.

Sometime in the new millennium, our honourable ministers experienced what I perceive to be the most exciting incident of their lives. They saw diesel coming out of a rock and saw Zimbabwe’s problems vanishing into thin air.

I believe they were already picturing us as the region’s source of natural diesel. But Alas! This was not meant to be as they had been duped by some mischievous woman who was clearly aware that deep down, every Zimbabwean believes in ancestors and their capabilities.

Yes, we do believe in them, but not enough to stand proud and invest into researching and upholding our traditions.  We are ashamed of this belief to the extent of doing all things traditional Nicodemously, like thieves in the night thus falling prey to charlatans hoping to make a quick buck.

Conmen are aware that we are embarrassed to be associated with our tradition so very few of us will report them as we do not want anybody knowing we ever went that route.

Just recently, pictures of an honourable minister holding an anointed cucumber, her face showing her to be clearly in the spirit, went viral.

In the same period we saw another honourable receiving an anointed handkerchief and clutching it tightly in his hand as if he was afraid he would lose it and see his life fall apart.

We have heard reports of highly respected government officials being spotted at this or that shrine and accused of backing this or that prophet.

It is not unheard of for politicians to shock us to death by donning apostolic garments towards election time only to see them back in their Assemblies of God uniforms soon after attaining victory.

One then feels that it is this hopping from one belief to another that leaves us exposed as a country. It translates to the model of how our government is run. We are just going blind without a definite course or point of reference.

While acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with having different beliefs one feels that as a nation, and even as a continent, we need to have a clear position.

Seeing as our government is a hotpot of different religions and beliefs I cannot help but wonder which one we refer to whenever we need a solution. Without a position, we are open to anything as long as we think it can benefit us materially.

Regardless of the hidden costs, we prostitute ourselves to the highest bidder. If a Muslim tycoon offers us a billion dollars for education on condition that we teach Islam in schools, because we have no position, we quickly agree.

When an English Atheist comes with US$2 billion for the same cause and demands Christianity be struck off the curriculum, we drop the Muslim and ride on the Englishman.

Clearly, without a position, no roots, and no firm establishment our African governments can only drift, waiting for the biggest bait (like fish in water).

We claim not to be a Christian State but we demand that people swear on a Bible, under Christian oath in court. We pray before official meetings.  And, when the heavens close and rain doesn’t fall, public notices for national all night prayer meetings for rain are made while secret delegations visit Njelele to plead with our ancestors for the same rain.

On a personal level, in families, we have a father who believes in traditional healers, a mother who is a staunch Seventh Day Adventist and their kids drift between the two until they are old enough to choose their own paths.

Without a position, everything about us is mediocre, shallow and superficial. Without a position our traditional medical systems that have the potential to change lives, remain shrouded in mystery.

Without a position, we have a justice system that claims to be decolonised but still forces our pitch black judges to wear wigs. Without a position, we have an entire nation believing in “witchcraft”, petrified of “witches” and a constitution that is unclear about where we stand on the subject.

It seems as if all our belief systems (traditional healers, spirit mediums, etc) are bunched together under the term “witchcraft”. Without a position, we have all ministries operating independently, disconnected from each other, giving us headaches as they tell us one contradictory position after another.

Without a position, and a clear doctrine stating our vision, goals, beliefs and priorities we are drunkenly staggering from one year to another, one term to another, achieving nothing and depleting everything.

It is then critical to ask: How do we solve national and personal disasters without a position? We surely need to know where we stand, be it in terms of politics, religion, medicine or feelings.

January 2017
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