Traditional Healers in Demand

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Staff Reporter WINDHOEK Traditional healers or doctors hold an esteemed and powerful position in southern African societies. People visit traditional healers for problems ranging from social dilemmas to major medical illnesses. Unlike modern doctors who are stationed at only one point, traditional doctors have become so mobile especially in southern Africa. A walk around the streets of the capital city reveals posters placed at almost every traffic light pole advertising the new healer in town who can cure all sorts of illnesses, including those that modern hospitals might not be able to cure – diseases such as HIV/AIDS. The latest on the block is the arrival of the 28-year-old Joe Zumruu and his 12-year-old sister, Purii, probably the youngest traditional doctor one has ever come across. They came all the way from Djibouti under the instructions of their spirits and have been in the country for two weeks. The two respectively started practising their ‘career’ at the age of nine. “It’s inherited from my grandfather. I got sick when I was young and was taken to traditional leaders who told my parents (since deceased) what it was,” explained Joe. Purii, who cannot communicate in English, similarly started healing after going through an ‘initiation’ ceremony. “One day Purii and her friends went to the river, Nyamuti ,back home to wash. Some mysterious strong wind came and swept her into the water. Purii was gone for six months,” he narrated to New Era. He added: “Traditionally, we knew what was going on.” The Nyamuti River never runs dry, and has one point where the water boils throughout. It is a river where one cannot succeed when attempting to throw any object across. During the period when Purii was gone, it was taboo for any family member to cry because, according to Joe, the mermaid (half fish, half human), believed to have taken the little girl, would kill her. “We prepared a traditional party, we brewed our own traditional beer and we sang the whole night by the riverside so that the mermaid could bless her,” he said. After performing some rituals at the Nyamuti riverside for the entire night, Purii one early misty morning arrived home with a basket full of herbs. The young ‘graduate’ was ready to practise her healing. The two have since been touring many African countries. The last country they visited was Botswana in 2004. “She can heal diseases such as epilepsy, blindness, diabetes, stroke, asthma, fits, elephantiasis and many other human problems,” he says. The 12-year-old Purii goes underwater (the sea) for herbs that cannot be found on dry land. Although Purii does not go under the sea that often, she is led – or rather told – by the ancestors which is the best time to go into the aquatic depths. “We work together. If I have a patient and she or he does not find me, then Purii can continue with the prescription of medication. I also do the same. If she is not there and her patient comes, I treat that person”, he added. New Era could not interview Purii as she flew back to Djibouti to collect a mirror they use in some instances to view the past or future. The mirror they brought to Namibia broke into pieces during the healing process of a patient who took fits. Healing fits is something Joe describes as ‘simple’. “I just ask the patient to bring a live chicken, and I transfer the fits from a person into the chicken and then let it go. It should be far in the bush.” If the ‘possessed’ chicken is eaten by anyone, that person will then suffer from fits too. He added that no illness takes more than a month for him to heal. Unfortunately, these practitioners cannot heal HIV/AIDS but, according to Joe, they can prescribe some herbs which can help boost the immune system. Unlike most traditional doctors who usually ask for a substantial amount of money or any other material thing as form of payment, the Zumruus only ask for 20 cents. They believe their work is not a business; their work is a calling, which is to heal people. He says, “We get the herbs for free so why should we ask for so much? We charge 20 cents just for the medicines to work on a patient,” he said. The two survive from the ‘gifts’ they receive from healed people who feel the work done is worth more than the amount asked. “We have been to so many countries – Egypt, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Mozambique and many others – and people were surprised by the wonders”, he stated. In these countries they have visited, Zumruu expressed shock to learn that some traditional doctors have to undergo training to practise their ‘career.’ Since their arrival in Namibia, they have healed more than 10 people. He urged people not to judge a book by its cover. By that he meant that, despite their being young, people should not doubt their special healing powers. He could not reveal for how long they would still be in Namibia, saying that it is the spirit that says ‘leave’ or ‘go.’ The two can also not refuse to perform any task instructed by the spirit, otherwise they risk being sick. “If I refuse to do as I am told, I get unnecessary illnesses such as dizziness such that I cannot stand or do anything”, he reveals. When they came to Namibia, the two healers knew no one in the country but, through the spirits, they were guided to a house in the Damara location where they were welcomed with both hands and asked to stay while fulfilling their mission in the country. Joe could not state which country they would visit next, as the spirits have not indicated this to them yet. Not so different from the work of a Catholic priest, Purii or Joe can never marry or engage in any sexual relations with anyone as their powers will disappear. Joe describes himself as a believer. “I believe in God, I pray and heal at the same time”, he says.