Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Witch Doctors

Witch doctor
A witch doctor originally referred to a type of cunning man who treated ailments believed to be caused by witchcraft. It is currently used to refer to healers in some third world regions, who use traditional healing rather than contemporary medicine. In its original meaning, a witch doctor was emphatically not a witch himself. Witchcraft-induced conditions were his area of specialization.

(Picture above left: Five sangomas in Zululand).

Recourse was had by the girl’s parents to a cunning man, named Burrell, residing at Copford, who has long borne the name of “The Wizard of the North:” but her case was of so peculiar a character as to baffle his skill to dissolve the spell, Application was next made to a witch doctor named Murrell, residing at Hadleigh, Essex, who undertook to effect a cure, giving a bottle of medication, for which he did not forget to charge 3s. 6d., and promising to pay a visit on Monday evening to the “old witch,” Mrs. Mole, and put an end to her subtle arts... ... the news of the expected coming of the witch-doctor spread far and wide, and about eight o’clock there could not have been less than 200 people collected near the cottage of Mrs. Mole to witness the supernatural powers of the Hadleigh wizard. -The Ipswich Journal (Ipswich, England), Saturday, September 25, 1858

Witch doctors in Europe
The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first record of the use of this term was in 1718, in a book by Francis Hutchinson. Charles Mackay's book, Extraordinary Popular Dillusions and theMadness of Crowds, first published in 1841, attests to the practice of and belief in witch doctors in England at the time.

In the north of England, the superstition lingers to an almost inconceivable extent. Lancashire abounds with witch-doctors, a set of quacks, who pretend to cure diseases inflicted by the devil. The practices of these worthies may be judged of by the following case, reported in the "Hertford Reformer," of the 23rd of June, 1838. The witch-doctor alluded to is better known by the name of the cunning man, and has a large practice in the counties of Lincoln and Nottingham. According to the writer in "The Reformer," the dupe, whose name is not mentioned, had been for about two years afflicted with a painful abscess, and had been prescribed for without relief by more than one medical gentleman. He was urged by some of his friends, not only in his own village, but in neighbouring ones, to consult the witch-doctor, as they were convinced he was under some evil influence. He agreed, and sent his wife to the cunning man, who lived in New Saint Swithin's, in Lincoln. She was informed by this ignorant impostor that her husband's disorder was an infliction of the devil, occasioned by his next-door neighbours, who had made use of certain charms for that purpose. From the description he gave of the process, it appears to be the same as that employed by Dr. Fian and Gellie Duncan, to work woe upon King James. He stated that the neighbours, instigated by a witch, whom he pointed out, took some wax, and moulded it before the fire into the form of her husband, as near as they could represent him; they then pierced the image with pins on all sides -- repeated the Lord's Prayer backwards, and offered prayers to the devil that he would fix his stings into the person whom that figure represented, in like manner as they pierced it with pins. To counteract the effects of this diabolical process, the witch-doctor prescribed a certain medicine, and a charm to be worn next the body, on that part where the disease principally lay. The patient was to repeat the 109th and 119th Psalms every day, or the cure would not be effectual. The fee which he claimed for this advice was a guinea.

Witch doctors in Africa
(Picture right: Shona traditional healer, or n'anga (Zimbabwe).
The witch doctors in Africa are known as 'sangomas' in southern Africa. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first use of the term "witch doctor" to refer to African shamans (i.e. medicine men) was in 1836 in a book by Robert Montgomery Martin (1803?-1868).

Sangomas of Southern Africa
Sangomas are the traditional healers in the Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa and Ndebele traditions in southern Africa. They perform a holistic and symbolic form of healing, embedded in the beliefs of their culture that ancestors in the afterlife guide and protect the living. Sangomas are called to heal, and through them ancestors from the spirit world can give instruction and advice to heal illness, social disharmony and spiritual difficulties.
Sangomas have many different social and political roles in the community: divination, healing, directing rituals, finding lost cattle, protecting warriors, counteracting witches, and narrating the history, cosmology, and myths of their tradition. They are highly revered and respected in their society, where illness is thought to be caused by witchcraft, pollution (contact with impure objects or occurrences) or by the ancestors themselves, either malevolently, or through neglect if they are not respected, or to show an individual her calling to be a Sangoma. For harmony between the living and the dead, vital for a trouble-free life, the ancestors must be shown respect through ritual and animal sacrifice.
A Sangoma is called to heal by an initiation illness, often psychosis, headache, intractable stomach pain, shoulder or neck complaints. She will undergo Thwasa, a period of training including learning humility to the ancestors, purification through steaming, washing in the blood of sacrificed animals, and the use of Muti, medicines with spiritual significance. At the end of Thwasa, a goat is sacrificed to call to the ancestors and appease them.
Sangomas are steeped in ritual. They work in a sacred healing hut or Ndumba, where their ancestors reside. They have specific coloured cloths to wear to please each ancestor, and often wear the gallbladder of the goat sacrificed at their graduation ceremony in their hair. They summon the ancestors by burning a plant called Imphepho, dancing, chanting, and most importantly playing drums.
Sangomas are able to access advice and guidance from the ancestors for their patients in three ways: possession by an ancestor, or channe; throwing bones; and interpreting dreams. In possession states the Sangoma works herself lingpossesses her body and communicates directly with the patient, providing specific information about his problems. It can be very dramatic, with the Sangoma speaking in tongues, or foreign languages according to the specific ancestor, or dancing fervently beyond her normal ability.
Accessing the ancestors' advice through the bones is an alternative to the exhausting possession states. The Sangoma possesses a collection of small bones and other small objects like seeds, shells etc, each with a specific significance to human life. For example a hyenalion bone signifies a thief and will provide information about stolen objects. The Sangoma or the patient throws the bones but the ancestors control how they lie, and the Sangoma then interprets this metaphor in relation to the patient's life. In the same way, Sangomas will interpret the metaphors present in dreams, either their own or patients'.
Sangomas will give their patients Muti, medications of plant and animal origin imbued with spiritual significance, often with powerful symbolism - lion fat is given to promote courage. There are medicines for everything from physical and mental illness, social disharmony and spiritual difficulties to potions for love and luck. Muti can be drunk, smoked, inhaled, used for washing, smeared on the body, given as enemas, or rubbed into an incision.

Sangomas function as the social workers and psychologists in their community. They know the local dynamics and can counsel appropriately with this background knowledge.
The formal health sector has shown continued interest in the role of sangomas and the efficacy of their herbal remedies. Western-style scientists continue to study the ingredients of traditional medicines in use by sangomas. Public health specialists are now enlisting sangomas in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS. In the past decade, the role of all types of traditional healers have become important in the fighting the impact of the virus and treating people infected with the virus before they advance to a point where they require (or can obtain) anti-retroviral drugs.
Sangomas far outnumber western-style doctors in Southern Africa, and are consulted first (or exclusively) by approximately 80% of the Black population. While for many they provide the healing needed, there are some causes for concern. Chalatans who haven't undergone Thwasa charge exorbitant prices for fraudulent service, and not all countries in southern Africa have effective regulatory bodies to prevent this practice. Some Sangomas have been known to abuse the charismatic power they have over their patients by sexually assaulting them, sometimes dressed up as ritual. Repeated use of the same razor blade to make incisions for Muti carries HIV transmission risks in regions where the disease is rife. Western-style doctors have seen a number of cases of patients with serious gastrointestinal problems through the use of Muti, especially in enema form, and have even coined the phrase "ritual enema induced colitis". Zulu children may have up to three enemas a week.
One of the most famous and well respected sangomas worldwide is Vusamazule Credo utwa also known as the Zulu Shaman.



Today's brainteaser is another set of 10 'Trivia questions. Can you answer all 10 correctly?

01 What did Robert von Bunsen invent in 1855?
02 How many people play the game solitaire?
03 What is the next number in the sequence 36, 48, 60. 72 ....?
04 Where would you expect to see a mirage?
05 Where did the boomerang originate?
06 Where is Arthur's seat?
07 What is the title of George Orwell's novel about life in the future?
08 On what tree does spaghetti grow?
09 Which metal is a liquid in normal condition?
10 Which is the Holy city in Saudi Arabia to which Moslems make their pilgrimages?

You can check your answers in tomorrow's Journal.

Two Pig Stories

Pig In Love

Pigin' Out

Questions You Just Can't Answer

Why is the person who invests all your money called a broker?
Why do we chop a tree "down" and then chop it "up"?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?
Why do we wash bath towels; aren't we clean when we use them?
If work is so terrific, how come they have to pay you to do it?