Healing and the African Culture

Authored by: Maurice M. Iwu

Handbook of African Medicinal Plants

Print publication date:  February  2014
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9781466571976
eBook ISBN: 9781466571983
Adobe ISBN:


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An African indigenous system of medicine is composed of three essential parts: the active medicinal substance, which may be plants, soil, insects, or animal parts; the spiritual forces, the gods and God; and the human spirit, which includes the healer and the patient. Although plants form the main active ingredients of the remedies dispensed by the medicine men and women, plants perform other very important functions in the healing processes. In this latter role, plants are considered as sources of vital energy, and in some sense a participatory entity, rather than a lifeless object used in healing. Traditional African medicine therefore presents an enigma to most Westerntrained minds. Although modern science has validated many of the remedies used in traditional medical practice in Africa, the fundamental concept of this system of healing is far from properly understood. Our perception of the African worldview, as Sylvia Williams once remarked, is “like fragments of a mirrored glass held to the light, tracing history and its connections in a process that can shimmer. With a slight turn away from the light, however, the glass becomes, cloudy and no longer shines.” 1 This chapter presents this underexplored aspect of African traditional medicine.

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