Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Education of Traditional Healers in Zimbabwe: A Pedagogy of Conflicting Paradigms

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Education of Traditional Healers in Zimbabwe: A Pedagogy of Conflicting Paradigms

Article excerpt


This work is a slightly revised version of a paper presented by the author at the international conference, Learning and the World We Want at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in 2003. It has never seized to intrigue this writer that African people, especially traditional healers, can function in their trade both as scientists and as practitioners of mysticism simultaneously without experiencing a sense of conflict or contradiction. In Western or Eurocentric thinking, this would be considered irrational, illogical, senseless and actually impossible. Nevertheless, this paper explores how traditional healers teach their students/apprentices, how to function proficiently in the two paradigms of science and mysticism to examine the concept of pedagogy where we have not only the teacher, student and the subject matter as the main players, but also the role played by metaphysical entities such as ancestral spirits and other metaphysical entities.

It is hoped that the ideas raised in this paper will help to initiate discussion based on the expansion of the concept of pedagogy and address the gap in the scholarship of teaching and learning where the context is believed to be affected by supernatural entities. It is the author's sincere hope that the academy will be able to create space for this discourse. The author also believes that this topic has not received due attention from educational practitioners and educational theorists alike, both in Africa and in the West. This is largely because in the West, the Eurocentric knowledge system, which is dominated by science and rationality, simply rejects notions of an education structured around the mystic, or the unknown. Among African people, there has been some reluctance to delve into matters spiritual, mystical or metaphysical as subjects of academic study and analysis due to either fear to discuss these mystical forces or for a respect for them or both. The author thinks that the period of reluctance to discuss this topic should be over and that African academics and others interested researchers should take a stance and give explanations and descriptions of the phenomena in their experiences, especially concerning a pedagogy that is believed to be affected by metaphysical forces.

Role of Traditional Healers in Society

Traditional healers are practitioners of traditional medicine. The WHO (World Health Organization) defines traditional medicine as, "diverse health practices, approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plant animal and or mineral techniques and exercises applied singularly or in combination to maintain well-being as well as treat, diagnose or prevent illness." (Richter 2003) The traditional healer is generally someone who a community would recognize as proficient to provide health care and practice medicine with the use of plants and animals, and thus, implores the help of spirits and mystical powers (WHO 2002).

Hoff (1992) acknowledges the significance of traditional healers as a whole. The use of traditional healers especially in Africa has been well documented. Traditional healers' clinics contribute to public health care in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Birham et al 2011). In Tanzania, people generally first consult traditional healers before they go to Western clinics. (Makundi 2006). Traditional healers are highly regarded in Sudan (Ahmed et al 1999) and also in Nigeria especially among the Yoruba (Oyebola 1980). In Swaziland, Green (1985) found that children with malaria were first treated by a traditional healer before they went to a Western clinic. Faith in traditional healers is evident in other countries as well. Of particular note are Malawi (Zachariah et al 2002), Mali (Diallo and Graz 2006) and South Africa (Nxumalo et al 2011). In a study carried out in Zimbabwe, it was found that almost a quarter of those surveyed used traditional medicine as a first choice (Chavanduka GL 1978). …

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