Tracing African Roots: Sicknesses can be spiritually induced

Friday Chisanyu

The presence of mild ill health is regarded by many people as a normal part of life. It is believed that people cannot always be in very good health because of poor living conditions and the presence of witches and spirits in society but if the symptoms persist and are severe, the individual is likely to enter a second stage in which he seeks professional help.

At this stage others delay seeking medical care for as long as possible, sometimes taking medicines suggested by relatives and friends. There are some other factors which may motivate patients to delay seeking medical care – these are fear of hospitalisation, one’s position in the family, fear of disturbing relatives and some medicines’ side effects. Sometimes money is the challenge. Before the sick individuals seek professional help they communicate with their relatives, friends, family members ,workmates and employers. These people influence them in the choice of therapy.

Many people will consult modern medical practitioners in hospitals and private clinics while some section will consult traditional medical practitioners. Sometimes the illness, depending on the stage, can be attended to by several types of medical practitioners. There “ a is relationship between people’s ideas concerning the cause of illness and the treatment sought.

Many people believe that illness may have either a “normal” or an “abnormal” cause. Illnesses such as cough, slight fever and headaches are generally regarded as ‘normal’ since they occur from time to time in the life of individuals and are usually of a fleeting nature and may disappear completely.

Normal illnesses are usually treated with modern or traditional medicines. Choice of treatment in this kind of situation largely depends upon the cost of each type of treatment and its accessibility. The patient’s knowledge on side effects on each type of treatment contributes a lot on choosing his medication. Many people agree that normal illnesses are caused by such things such as germs, bacteria, bad food, accidents, poisons and dirt.

But when an illness such as a headache persists, it ceases to be normal because it is regarded as unusual for a headache to fail to respond to treatment. Many people believe that such illnesses are sent by social agents such as ancestral spirits, angered spirits and witches.

Once an illness has been defined as abnormal, most patients consult traditional medical practitioners because they know that modern doctors are unable to attack the cause of abnormal illnesses. An angered spirit may be someone who died uncared for or perhaps was not buried according to his customs. It is believed that the spirit of such a person may wonder restlessly and may finally settle on someone.

The patient’s relatives play an important role throughout the illness partly because in certain cases relatives are held responsible for an individual’s illness and can therefore be considered as extended patients. A much clearer example is where a member of the family commits an anti-social act. The angry ancestors may choose not to punish the wrong doer with illness but the brother or children.

Many people will refer such an illness to modern practitioners but will have to take their patients to traditional medical practitioners. This often happens when the illness which was initially regarded as normal is redefined as abnormal by the patient and members of his social group. This is when both modern and traditional medicines fail to achieve the expected results on patients.

Many patients who choose traditional medical aid initially or switch to it eventually also seek modern medicines again. This change of therapy is more likely to occur when traditional medicines fail to cure the illnesses. This happens to patients who will also be taking modern medicines. Sometimes it happens when the patient and his or her social group are unable to accept the practitioners’ diagnosis.

Friday Chisanyu is the President of the Zimbabwe National Practioners Association(ZINPA).

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