Despite healthcare systems and facilities being widely accessible, traditional healing methods remain relevant in the 21st century – sometimes to complement modern medicine.
Traditional healing refers to health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating indigenous healing and wellness while using ceremonies; plant, animal or mineral-based medicines; energetic therapies; or physical/hands on techniques.
During ancient times, indigenous communities relied only on traditional healing and such medicine because there was no modern medicine and health facilities to turn to when in need of healing.
Like South Africa and Tanzania, Namibia also adopted the Traditional Healers’ Practitioners (THPs) bill in 2014 to regulate the registration of THPs and the practising of traditional healing.
The bill highlights the different categories of traditional healing and requirements for Namibian citizens and persons who are not Namibians to provide for the establishment of the Interim Traditional Health Practitioners Council of Namibia and to provide for incidental matters.
The Namibian Medicine Regulatory Council told this publication that the council is in the process of finalising guidelines for the regulation of complementary medicines (CM), including traditional medicine.
“The guidelines intend to ensure that the level of evidence for quality, safety and where applicable efficacy, concerning the CM products are rigorous enough to protect the Namibian public and maintain consumer confidence,” informed the registrar of medicines at the council Johannes Gaeseb.
He added that those who intend to import CM products have the request for a “letter of no objection to market” for such products for the purposes of custom clearance into the country.
CM products include African traditional medicine, Chinese, Western herbal medicines, homeopathic and others.
Matireike Mbendura (62), who is from Opuwo and now based in the capital, is a recognised general traditional healer by the health ministry.
He feels Namibia should create a more conducive environment for traditional healers to openly practise their calling and enable the practice to co-exist with modern medicine since not all health issues can be solved with pills and surgeries.
Those seeking his help are expected to bring a goat, have it slaughtered and all it takes is him looking into the intestines to tell what the problem of the client is. To those who can’t afford or don’t have access to goats, he gets consultation fees, uses a mirror and is able to diagnose the situation.
“There are different types of illnesses, even hospitals do say they have done their best to some patients when they are responsive to medicine, and they do recommend traditional doctors in some instances,” stated Mbendura.
Namibians over the years have resorted to traditional means of solving various problems, be it health related, cleansing or simply other matters that need divine intervention.
He added: “If I do my ritual or diagnosis and it turns out to be something I cannot see or can only be solved by modern medicine, I do tell them (clients) to go to clinics and hospitals. I do that to a lot of people and that is the only way we can co-exist as health practitioners.”
“I do not have any problem with modern medicine. We should be able to work together. When pills given or prescribed by medical doctors do not work, you can come to me and I will find ways and see what the problem is,” shared Mbendura.
He said it is a calling and he is gifted when it comes to readings, and can tell if one is bewitched or whatever other issues persist.
“If I have established the course of the illness, you are free to request me to solve it since I discovered the core problem and I will help. It is a calling because I was born with it and later told robes around it by my uncle from the Angolan side, who is no more. His will to help others through traditional means passed onto to me when he died,” he said.
Mbendura said he was bewitched growing up and his uncle cured the illness and that’s what enabled him to start practising.
Mbendura said: “Most of my clients seek assistance when they have been bewitched, those who have no jobs and things are blocking their paths, it all depends on whatever problem you have that needs my intervention.”
His clientele reaches as far as Kaoko, where he practised for more than 10 years before moving to the capital for a greener pasture operating from the Katutura Youth Complex and in other parts of the country depending on who needs him.
“The only reason why I have been getting clients is that those I have assisted got fruitful results and they always recommend me to others who might have similar problems that need my intervention,” stated Mbendura.
*Ndapewa (30), a healer from Windhoek told New Era that both traditional and modern medicine are effective and those seeking traditional remedies should be specific when it comes to the type of service they need.
“It is necessary for clients to correctly seek the appropriate healing. Where the issue is not spiritual, then modern medicine or such practices should be sought. None should replace the other,” she commented.
Ndapewa, who was initiated last year said most of her clients come for services such as readings, dream interpretations, mediumship, and these are usually people in her circle or per referrals.
She added: “The law is against manipulative and healers (especially witchdoctors) who end up committing crimes such as fraud and disguised as healers. No law restricts the practice of traditional healing in its purest form.”
Ndapewa stated that people can’t differentiate between traditional healers and witchdoctors as some attempt to consult for wrong reasons, an indication they do not know the difference between a healer and a witchdoctor.
*Ndapewa – Not her real name