A Visit to the Local Witch Doctor

The Healer holding a diarrhea medication and wearing a medicinal herb which alleviates joint pain.

The Healer holding a diarrhea medication and wearing a medicinal herb which alleviates joint pain.

I’ve seen survey after survey which show that a large percentage of Africans rely on traditional healers (witch doctors, medicine men) as a first choice when symptoms of disease appear. It’s pretty easy to dismiss them outright, but they have to be taken somewhat seriously when so many people rely on them for help.

My friend, Gabriel, though, knowing I’m into weirdness, took me to one tonight. By sheer coincidence, we happened to run into him on the way walking with a young gentleman. After a brief exchange, he was kind enough to agree to see us and led us back to his house.

Through Gabriel (my Luo is beyond poor), I asked him what the young man was doing there. The healer told me that someone had stolen some items from the guy. He had come to the healer to ask him to use his magic to reveal the identity of the thief and purchase some medicine with with to curse the man who had stolen his property. I asked him if people came to him often with such troubles. He replied that yes, indeed, many people do.

I tried to be snide and ask him what he would do if the thief came to him to try and get the curse removed and put on the guy that cursed him (fueling a never ending cyclic hell of cursing), but he didn’t really get what I was after.

The Healer's house, complete with waiting patients.

The Healer’s house, complete with waiting patients.

The healer then turned to me and asked me what my troubles were. I tried to tell him my knee hurts (which it does), but he kept insisting that my stomach hurt (it does not). Finally, I had to cave and just tell him that I was suffering from stomach pain. When he was describing the pain, he kindly tried to include the knees.

The healer learned his trade from his parents. He claims that his particular magic is strong because he learned it from his mother (rather than his father). I was told that that was a secret but I guess I’ve let it out. I’m sure it’s still a secret here. (My readership numbers show that it’s a secret anyway.)

He took us back to his house, a shack in a fishing compound on the edge of town, which usually smells of weed. He took us inside and had us sit down on his couch while he started pulling out various bottles and bags of powders. I was sitting next to him. Suddenly he jumped up and insisted that the medicines wanted me to move to the far side of the couch. I asked him if the medicines talked to him to which he replied yes, indeed, they do. I figured out pretty quickly that he’s half deaf and wanted Gabriel closer to him so he could hear.



He went about mixing up some medications. The first was a small amount of powder that I thought was going to cure my alleged stomach problems, but instead was intended to get me a job. In fact, this medicine is so powerful, that I will never get fired from the job once I get it. I guess this means I’ll get a tenured faculty position any day now.

Next, he produced a number of bags of what looked like Indian spices and proceed to mix a heaping amount of what could be easily mistaken for garam masala. This medicine is what’s supposed to cure my diarrheal ills (which he also insisted I had). He poured some in my hand and told me to taste some. I hesitated but did it anyway. Definitely chili peppers in there. My mouth immediately went numb and my head started to spin a bit. Could be something like kava, definitely not weed. I have no clue what’s in this stuff, but there’s most certainly some active ingredient in it. I suspect that he produces it to emphasize his powers.

Magical items

Magical items

He gave me very specific instructions on how to mix it, and when to use it. I am only supposed to use it between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. All of my diarrhea and abdominal pains will immediately disappear. I am to go back to see him after two days (presumably to buy more).

Finally, he recognized that my knee hurts. He asked me if I had time to wait. I said yes, and he left the house to go and get some herbs. We could hear him pounding it into a powder outside. He returned, and said that I should mix the power with Vaseline and cover my entire body with it. I would need a partner to do it. After covering my entire body with the vaseline/powdered grass mixture, I should shake my limbs a bit. After two days, all of my pain would cease. I was to see him again (and again buy more, presumably).

We asked him how much it would be. “This is very expensive. 2,000 Schillings ($24.00).” to which we both balked. Eventually, we talked him down to 500 (about $6.00). Gabriel wanted to talk him down to 100, I just let it go figuring it was a small price to pay for such a weird experience.

Eventually, we had to go. Patients were lined up outside waiting.

The Healer with patients

The Healer with patients

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

17 responses to “A Visit to the Local Witch Doctor”

  1. Ralph says :

    You sir, have made my day! That was awesome!
    I leave for Saudi tomorrow. What does one do on a 14 hour flight?

  2. stumpwater says :

    Looks like that witch doctor stole your hat.

  3. Lenny says :

    A great read! Over here in Uganda we have witchcraft too – much practiced and believed in, even (especially?) by the well-off and educated. Night dancers that come and ‘diarrhoeate’ (yes, thats a word here) in your compound, fish men who take to the water to escape punishment. But the Mombasa and Tanzanian strains of witchcraft is far more feared than anything else – prostitutes that leave you asleep on palm tree tops in the morning, vaginas that trap and retain men’s penises should someone stray in when hubby is away, stolen tvs that remain adhered to thieves shoulders until they go to their graves. On the serious side, in Malawi many innocent people are jailed or even killed because they are accused of witchcraft. To accuse someone of practicing is meant to be illegal but in most cases, the accuser gets away with it.

    • Pete Larson says :

      “Over here in Uganda we have witchcraft too – much practiced and believed in, even (especially?) by the well-off and educated.”

      I’ve also found this to be true in both and Kenya and Malawi. I had a dinner conversation in Malawi where a number of foreign educated PhD’s insisted that witches were a serious problem in Malawi, not because of grave social implications, but because of their magical and destructive influences. One of them related a story of his experience with a magical crocodile adorned with jewelry that resides in Lake Malawi. He sincerely believes that this crocodile was supernaturally influencing people in his home village. I really didn’t know how to respond.

      In my most recent research project, I found that the most well educated were the most likely to list “witchcraft” as a cause of malaria and the least likely to use bed nets to prevent it.

      It’s easy to dismiss folk beliefs, but difficult when people in positions of any type of power and policy makers hold them to be true.

  4. Teri Sequeira says :

    The good news in Malawi is that – thanks to one man – George Thindwa (he’s on FB) – almost all imprisoned “witches” have been released from prisons. The law states that anyone who accuses anyone of witchcraft is guilty – not the accused. However it has been used for years to get people in jail and access their land, make witchdoctors rich etc. On another note – yes witchcraft and superstition run high here. Regular reports of women giving birth to “stones” – (seriously – they even had a patholigist examine one such stone!), and witches flying to SA for conventions etc in wicker baskets. Pictures in the papers show a 3-4 foot basket labelled as an “unidentified flying object”! We have even had incidents of cabinet ministers being arrested in graveyards at night – accompanied by witchdoctors doing their magic.
    Civic education is the answer.

  5. Teri Sequeira says :

    We also have spells that “lock” womens parts, so that they cannot have sex when their husband is away. What surprises me is that a large number of educated mzungus who do get burgled – always seem to believe that mankhwala (medicine) or spells are used to keep them and their dogs and night staff asleep! Personally I believe it to be an inside job – current or previous staff who are familiar with the dogs etc. So superstition is not just an African thing!

  6. betty says :

    Pls send me the contacts of the witchdoctor

  7. adam says :

    Do these witch docters help. Reply

  8. mary mumbi says :

    how can i get this witchdoctor

  9. mary mumbi says :

    i want to meet this tradition doctor

    • Evans says :

      Mary & Betty do you guys really wanna meet a traditional doctor???Seeing one is not something I will recommend, however, for the simple reason that employing witchcraft always seems to have some kind of ‘rebound’, a pay-back. I visited one once and honestly I was sceptical at first but boy what he did to my problem was way beyond a miracle and as a surprise he only demands payment after your wish had been granted save for a small consultation fee supposedly for his Ancient ones. And woe unto you if you don’t pay up eventually!! if you need his contact inbox me at oneitosnave@yahoo.com

  10. sbusiso Mbatha says :

    i need his contact details and the name of the village.

  11. J. Lay says :

    I have a question about the practice of using items for curses. My aging friend gave me some beads. He said they were curse beads from kenya. I can’t remember all the details. I just thought he was crazy. My family is officially upset. They are as crazy as my friend. They are (beads) some what. Mostly they are little heads hooked together on fishing line. I think they are clay but not really sure.
    I think they are neat. Definitely Unique, however my friend died and I can’t seem to find information. He did state that he traveled to Africa 20 years ago. However I’m not sure he knew what year it was.
    This may all be nonsense. Could I send a pic. and you tell me what you think?

  12. Sheen says :

    Hi I need this doctors contact details ASAP

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