Spiritual Healing


Witchdoctor, shaman, healer, medicine man--whatever their title, they are often the focal point of indigenous cultures worldwide, using their wisdom, knowledge of natural remedies, magical powers and ability to communicate with the gods and spirits for the good of the community. These images, drawn from the archives of the Royal Geographical Society, document a variety of traditional medicine practices

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BELOW: a Buddhist healer, Bhutan, 1905. This photograph was taken by John Claude White, who was the photographer on the infamous Younghusband expedition into Tibet in 1904. The monk holds two ritual instruments: a hand drum called a damaru and a trumpet made from a human thighbone. Traditional Buddhist medicine remains integral to Bhutan's culture and is today incorporated into the country's health system; BELOW RIGHT: a local doctor attends to a patient, Zimbabwe, date unknown. Sub-Saharan Africa has a long history of traditional medicine, and today, many people use the services of healers because it's cheaper than buying modern pharmaceuticals--the World Health Organization extimates that 80 per cent of Africans still rely on traditional medicine

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LEFT: Basonge witchdoctor, Congo, 1947. The traditional religion of the Basonge (or Songye) people of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo is based on the belief in a benevolent deity named Efile Mukulu, whose evil counterpart is Kafilefile. The spirits of dead ancestors are believed to affect harvests, health and female fertility, in both good and bad ways. The nganga, or diviner, defends the living against witchcraft, can communicate with the realm of the ancestors, and has the knowledge to make 'medicines' known as bishimba--symbolic materials such as skin, horns, shells, beads and cloth that are imbued with magical properties. The Basonge community is particularly known for its wooden carved fetishes, known as nkishi (singular)/mankishi (plural), which help to protect the village from enemies, ward off evil spirits and aid fertility. Larger mankishi are prepared for the benefit of the whole community; smaller ones can also be created for use by individuals to solve personal problems. A fetish is endowed with magical powers when the nganga embellishes it with bishimba; ABOVE: Kavirondo medicine man, Kenya, 1934. Kavirondo was a generic colonial-era term for two tribal groups that live close to Lake Victoria's Kavirondo Gulf, now known as Winam Gulf. The groups are culturally similar but linguistically different: one, the Abaluyia, speaks a Bantu language; the other, the Luo, a Nilotic tongue. Today, they are the secondand third-largest ethnic groups in Kenya respectively. Their traditional religion is based on the belief in a supreme creator and in ancestral spirits, and despite the modern prevalence of Christianity and Islam in Kenya, many still believe in the spirits. Both men and women can practise traditional healing--this 'medicine man' appears to be female. The role of the medicine man in both cultures encompasses creating herbal remedies to treat illnesses, which are often attributed to the activities of vengeful or jealous witches. The identity of the man intently looking over the healer's shoulder isn't known RIGHT: Mapuche shaman, Chile, date unknown. …

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