Natural, the local way

Muti exhibition celebrates traditional healing
Jemima Beukes
Traditional medicine, which is the oldest pharmacy and market in the world, has in recent decades been shelved for Western cures, yet experts believe reintegrating it may be Africa’s saving grace.
The Museums Association of Namibia on Wednesday launched a small, mobile exhibition which focuses on the medicinal use of plants by traditional healers in Namibia and to encourage discussion about the role of traditional healers in Namibia today.
The exhibition at the Unam School of Medicine was opened by Dr Kalumbi Shangula, pro vice-chancellor of the Health Science Campus, and is expected to end today. Jean-Pierre Ilboudo of Unesco’s Windhoek office said some illnesses that puzzle modern medicine can often be cured by traditional medicine.
According to Ilboudo, originally from Burkina Faso, Namibia can use West Africa as an example in organising its traditional healers in order to collaborate with modern doctors.
He said in Burkina Faso it is acceptable for a modern doctor to refer a patient with an ‘incurable’ disease to a traditional healer.
“In my country they have two symposiums yearly where all the medical doctors meet with traditional healers to discuss the new findings they have for the six months. And this is what we need to do in this country,” he said.
Unesco is currently looking at launching a programme that would see to it that an inventory is established of the number of traditional healers, the work they do and which plants they use.
Ilboudo added that it would be advisable for the Namibian government to register all the plants found locally and used for medicinal purposes as a way to reclaim the property rights of communities.
“Such as the case of devil’s claw, do you know how I got to know about that plant? Twenty years ago in France, they put it in cups, and you know you can only find that plant in Namibia and Angola and nowhere else in the world. Meaning people have taken it and sold it to the Western people, and this is a big loss to the country, and I am sure there are many plants like that,” he said.
He added that it would be a further loss if the government failed to value and label communities’ intellectual property.

Traditional matters
This comes at a time when the Business and Intellectual Property Authority Bill (BIPA) is being discussed in the National Assembly.
The health minister Bernhard Haufiku said last month that he believes there is a need for the government to consult and get input from traditional authorities.
“In fact, I have instructed our legal person to send the bill to our Traditional Authority Council. I would not want to take it to parliament before the relevant stakeholders are consulted. We do not want to leave people out, especially on issues that directly affect them,” he said.

Cure or Muti?
Anna Kooper, also known as ‘Ousie Namas’ lamented the lack of interest from Namibians, many of whom have written off their own cultures.
Kooper, who had been taught by her late grandmother since she was 13 years old, said tourists are the only people interested in local remedies, but they only want the knowledge.
Ousie Namas is a traditional healer from the !Khob !Naub Conservancy located some 15 kilometres north of Keetmanshoop, which covers villages such as Blouputs, Blouwes and Itsawises. She uses ostrich egg, porcupine, baboon faeces and jackal liver for her remedies.
Her most common remedy is what is locally called “hotnospoeier” or “Apu” in Khoekhoegowab, a concoction of ground ostrich shell, jackal liver and the faeces of a porcupine.
Hotnospoeier is a very popular remedy for small children in the Hardap and /Karas rRegions.
According to Ousie Namas, baboon faeces can be used to make a plaster for sore feet or for burns.
Burns can also be treated with ground charred seaweed.

Exhibition
The exhibition raises two talking points. The first highlights the way in which indigenous knowledge of the curative properties of local plants has been used to develop commercial products.
It uses the examples of devil’s claw and hoodia to highlight the importance of ensuring that communities can benefit economically from such developments.
The second talking point links to the Traditional Health Practitioners Bill that is currently being considered and which is intended to regulate the work of traditional healers.
According to Stella Imalwa-Nangolo, an executive committee member of the Museums Association, the exhibition will next go to the Rehoboth Museum and then the Onandjoke Medical Museum.
JEMIMA BEUKES

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Namibian Sun 2024-06-25

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