Specialization and referral among the n'anga (traditional healers) of Zimbabwe

Trop Doct. 1990 Jul;20(3):109-10. doi: 10.1177/004947559002000306.


PIP: Traditional medicine is the source of primary care for most Zimbabweans. N'angas (traditional healers) are consulted for their political and religious powers along with their healing powers. The Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association was formed and is officially recognized by the government and has a constitution along with departments of education and research. Each member pays annual dues. Herbal remedies are used. Most n'angas say they are possessed by a healing spirit which they invoke while treating the patient. These n'angas practice specialization--the extent to which the n'angas claim expertise, outside of which they will refer a patient to others. The referral and specialization practices of a select group of n'angas in and around the capital, Harare are studied. 30 n'angas from 7 suburbs of harare were interviewed personally at their place of practice in 1987. All 30 claimed to specialize in the treatment of certain illnesses. They specialized in spiritual, not just medical, problems. The n'angus referred to other n'angas for either or both of 2 reasons: 1) most referred patients for whom their treatment had failed; and 2) patients were referred for suffering an illness which that certain n'anga could not cure, usually because their healing spirit did not give them the cure. There were some things that the n'angas would only send to western medical practitioners and hospitals. These were mostly accidents or emergencies. "Abnormal illnesses" were never referred to Western practitioners and hospitals. "Abnormal illnesses" were caused by evil spirits such as "ngozi." The n'angas were divided over what to do about the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). 1 n'anga sand that he was so good at curing AIDS that he was flown to America to treat a patient. Others would send AIDS patients to hospitals. Most all Zimbabwe natives are descended from Shona and Ndebele cultures.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Specialization*
  • Zimbabwe