Healing In Africa

African cultures have been known for the import placed upon spiritual healing for generations. However, healing in Africa is not limited to spiritual means, or divination, but also includes the use of plants and so forth in the treatment of a number of different ailments. African medicine and healing has evolved over the centuries, having once been the job of a wise witch doctor to now being incorporated into secular medicine to different degrees.

In addition to the natural treatments discovered by indigenous African folk, colonialism and the introduction of other cultures meant that healing techniques and products were soon infused with influences from Greece, ancient Egypt, Islam and, of course, Christianity. As discoverers, explorers, missionaries and others began to visit and occupy different parts of Africa, they brought with them their own methods and ideas.

In general, there have been five main ideas and / or practices of healing identified in Africa. These are:

1. Empirical therapies – this is based on observing a sickness and the way it progresses, rather than on conducting any sort of official scientific tests or research.
2. Ritualised therapies – singing, dancing and the metaphorical use of objects (whether bones, stones or a calabash, for example) are believed to have the power to heal. This method is often used in conjunction with physical medicine. Ritualised therapies are highly charged and depend very much on how the ailment is perceived. These types of therapies are used when the person’s illness is believed to be as a result of upsetting the ancestors or some other form of conflict between the human and spiritual worlds. Only those deemed especially blessed for this role are able to perform such rituals. This type of treatment may involve sacrificing an animal to the ancestors, which can become quite costly to those depending on their stock for food and money.
3. Collective therapeutic rites – those who have recovered from an illness then become healers in this particular field, helping others to be healed.
4. Divination – in this arena, the healer will examine a patient’s misfortune, finding a cause for it in his or her interactions with others (e.g. if hurtful words have been said to another person, the patient may be suffering from stomach ache). This is a result of “natural causes” (as perceived by western thought) being attributed to action by God. Therefore, ‘divine’ methods of treatment need to be employed, rather than physical ones. Divination is usually used when:
a. The condition is worsening without logical explanation and despite conventional treatment.
b. Death is sudden and inexplicable.
c. Illness or death happens at a time at which there are disputes or conflicts among those close to the victim or sufferer.
d. Illness strikes only one side of the family and not the other.
In the case of divination, there might be a logical explanation regarding the illness (e.g. malaria caused by a mosquito bite), but the diviner would possibly provide information as to why that particular person was made ill and not the rest of the family, for example.
5. Adaptive Order – this concept holds that your health is a result of good cultural values and actions.

In times past, the healers would collect medicinal plants from the wild, specifically chosen for each case that they treated. Over time, this led to the growth and cultivation of a range of such plants specifically for storing and using by the medicine man or witch doctor. Therefore, the domestication of plants and livestock as well as the settling of communities all played an integral role in the evolution of medicine and healing in Africa.

The areas that were first visited by European settlers and the like were the first to begin a modernisation process. In West Africa, Islam and Arabia’s influence became significant in the healing spheres of the locals. This also accounts for there being a great common ground of health-related terms and ideas, since settlers from Europe occupied places all over this vast continent

Another major influence in the African healing practices and principles of various areas has been the ecological area in which different cultures are situated. The presence of the tsetse fly or the proximity of a tropical forest, for example, all have influences on the health and illnesses of the locals.

There are a number of basic concepts that Africans use to make sense of illnesses and the formulation of healing methods. These concepts include:

1. Physical structure – a whole, undisrupted being is a healthy one. Disruption (or the non-perfect) suggests sickness. In this theory, white suggest purity, red indicates transition and danger and black is a symbol of human chaos.
2. Balance – harmony or balance between and among humans and their environment (natural and spiritual) is necessary to achieve good health. Imbalance, according to this concept, causes illness.
3. A ritual state of purity – this concept presents purity (or wellness) as something that is only achieved when the dimensions of the human world are correct. If these are out of balance, the body is polluted, impure; therefore, suffering illness.
4. Coolness versus heat – coolness is perceived as indicating health and style, while heat has connotations of conflict and illness.
5. Flow and blockage – this is a widespread notion and refers to the flow between the physical body and exchanges within its society. If there is no correct flow, the result will be disease, infertility, witchcraft and constipation. However, a good flow will lead to wealth and prosperity.

All of these concepts make use of the imagery by which a particular disease is perceived, rather than practical observation and study. However, they link closely to physical medicinal cures or treatments. For example, severe stomach cramps may be attributed to their being an evil snake in one’s gut. Medicines are administered. Once the cramps are eased, the power of the medicines is attributed to their quelling the beast within, rather than to its physical curative properties.

Divination is incredibly widespread across Africa. However, the particular items used in order to conduct divine treatments vary from one area to another. They range from carved figures, bones and other natural objects.

As Islam and Christianity have infiltrated African cultures (and vice versa), there has been a seeping in of African (or pagan, non-religious) rituals and more traditional worship. Today, there are many independent African churches that employ similar methods of healing and divination, although very different to any of the healing accounts appearing in the Bible (which did not involve showy displays, song, dance and ancestor worship). Since it was only when the Christian missionaries began to occupy Africa that their religious beliefs and ideals were introduced, it is little wonder that the deeply-entrenched cultural beliefs remain so prominent today.

Because of the very real links to their culture and worship, healing and medicine remain a major part of the lives and customs of Africans today.

Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.