Paulina N. Moses Swakopmund-Long ago, our forefathers treated illnesses with stems, roots and leaves. Even though it is now referred to as alternative medicine, African traditional medicine existed long before the modern pharmaceutical medicine currently at our disposal. While not widely used anymore, some of our people, especially those in rural areas, possess an in-depth knowledge of the use of medicinal plants and some still make use of traditional medicine when they fall sick. The Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s Strategic Framework on African Traditional Medicine stresses that each member country should have legislation in place to control and promote the use of traditional remedies. Therefore, Cabinet has acknowledged traditional healing in Namibia and about four years ago discussed the introduction of a Traditional Health Practitioners Bill. The Bill, which falls under the Ministry of Health and Social Services, aims, as stipulated in the document, to “provide for the establishment, constitution, powers and functions of the Traditional Health Practitioners Council of Namibia; to regulate the registration of traditional health practitioners and the practising of traditional healing”. With the passing of the Bill, traditional healing would be made legal. Amongst other communities who reside in the Erongo region, the Topnaar, specifically those around the Rooibank area, are predominantly famous for their use of indigenous plants for medicine. This community is famous for the use of the aboriginal food plant, the !Nara. Here we met with a herbalist, elder woman Katrina Haoses, who gave us a discourse on the use of the !Nara in her community, which is clear testimony that African herbs are still prominent in rural areas. “The roots are pounded and placed into a tight-lid container to be used in cases when someone is sick,” explained Haoses. Traditional healing is not exempted from urban areas. We travelled to the DRC informal settlement in Swakopmund to witness the practice of an Oshiwambo traditional healing method, called ‘okufulwa’, which is similar to massaging. Okufulwa is a healing method used to treat ‘endjandja’ which is a stomach ailment. The patient, Ndapewa Erastus, said: “I hear that the massages are more effective and helpful as opposed to going to the hospital. Because if you go to the hospital and get an injection you might end up disabled. That is why I decide to go for a massage. They say you should not take pills for endjandja.” Traditional herbalist, Anna Makanda, said she inherited the trade from her grandmother. “I was always around my grandmother, observing how she gave massages. I then imitated her and that is how I learnt to give stomach massages,” reminisced Makanda. Around the Omatjete area, which is an Ovaherero settlement, we visited farm Okonjainja Otjoruharui in the Daures constituency, which a sanctuary for medical plants. Here we were welcomed by Madam Gertze, who took us on a tour around the settlement. She explained that the roots from the Onduraturaua tree are used to treat diarrhoea in children while adults who suffer from the same ailment are treated with leaves from the mopani tree. The leaves from the Omumborombonga are used to treat cold and fever. The Omuzema tree is ideal for cleaning teeth. Gertze explains that for instance when people have problems with their legs and feet, elephant dung is boiled in water. The diseased leg is then placed in the elephant dung mixture for healing. There is another aspect of traditional healing which involves the use of spirits. It is this spiritual aspect of the healing that has many sceptical of traditional healing. Many believe it is nothing but witchcraft. The indigenous medicinal plants are used to treat not only the physical symptoms but also go deeper by treating what is believed to be the spiritual origins of the disease. Elephant dung as explained by the elders is used as a remedy during spiritual healing. Around the Usakos area, we also met with elder man, David !Xabiseb, who took us around the dry fields in the locality. Pointing to a seemingly dead tree, he explained: “The roots of that tree over there are for flu and are also used when you are coughing. They are very good for flu.” In his house which is located in the location, !Xabiseb prepared an aloe vera mixture, which he says is ideal for many ailments, including the common cold. !Xabiseb was accompanied by traditional leader, Ben !Xuiseb, who stressed the importance of recognizing these remedies nationally. “I believe that our leaders in cabinet should support traditional healing, and allow us to bring these discussions at a platform. If these discussions of how we used to survive do not take place, our traditions can die. Even if you are in the bushes and your head aches or your stomach aches, you do not know which herbs to take. But our ancestors knew and used the herbs. They knew which branch to break off and chew to heal themselves.” Plants like devil’s claw, which is indigenous to Southern Africa, has now become a great medicinal asset to the western community. This plant is used to treat illnesses such as arthritis, but is mainly packaged as aspirin and is the most used over the counter painkiller called ibuprofen. Regrettably while the rest of the world is recognising the value of these medicinal plants and African remedies, the unfortunate situation is that the indigenous people are losing the healing methods and knowledge that are part of their generic heritage. In 2012 Namibia reached a milestone by starting the process of finalising the much-needed Traditional Health Practitioners Bill, which will not only legalize traditional medicine but also regulate and promote the practice. The Bill is of importance because it will integrate the essential parts of our traditions and history into the country’s development. The government is concerned about the welfare of the people and that the Bill is not intended to ban but regulate the practice of traditional healing. Cases of dubious healers or ‘witchdoctors’ who deceived their patients are not rare in reports in the local media. Leaders have spoken out about the dangers of these unscrupulous healers who do nothing but benefit from the distress of people who approach them for services. The main aim of the act is to give power to the formation of the Traditional Health Practitioners Council of Namibia. The council will function by registering traditional health practitioners and keeping a register in respect of the different categories of traditional healing. The council’s objectives are to protect and serve the interests of the members of the public who make use of, or who are affected by, the services provided by registered persons. •Paulina N. Moses is an information officer at MICT in Erongo region.
2018-02-09 09:58:52 7 months ago