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What is Traditional African Medicine?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Traditional African medicine is the folk medicinal approach that has origins going back to the African tribes of antiquity. Each tribe often had slightly different approaches to treating illnesses, but many people have combined those approaches into regional methods which many similar concepts. Even so, traditional African medicine can be quite variable depending on the practitioner. The overall approach of African folk medicine usually involves a mix of spiritual and herbal elements used in an attempt to treat the person's body, mind, and spirit together.

One of the main aspects of traditional African medicine is the element of spiritual diagnostic techniques. This is the area where a spiritual element often plays the largest role. The traditional medicine practitioner will often use various methods to attempt to divine what is wrong with a person. Sometimes this may go beyond determining exactly what sickness the person has and focus more on exactly why that person is sick. Often there is a belief that most illnesses may have a source that comes from the way a person is living his life or dealing with his personal relationships, and usually part of the healing process will involve correcting whatever problems are detected.

The second most universal aspect of traditional African medicine is the use of herbs to correct various illnesses. The plants used are quite wide-ranging, and some traditions combine herbal remedies with certain animal products. There is very little actual scientific proof for these medicinal approaches, but many of them haven't undergone a thorough medical study, and the people who use them are convinced of their effectiveness. There are some studies into some of the more prominent herbs to see if they produce any measurable effects in the laboratory.

In many parts of Africa, traditional medicine practitioners are extremely common and they are often an important part of people's lives. Western-style medicine can be hard to come by in many villages, and traditional medicine may be the only kind of healing that some people are willing to trust. Some experts are concerned about traditional African medicine because of the lack of evidence for its effectiveness. They fear that some members of the population may never receive adequate treatment because they only trust traditional medicine rather than approaches based in modern science. There is a movement to combine traditional medicine with more modern medical approaches that has gained a foothold in some areas, and clinics have been opened where these ideas are practiced.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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