Traditional Medicine Making of the 'Emu': Continuity and Change

by Kingsley I. Owete (Author)
©2015 Thesis 170 Pages


As newer medical problems surface and existing ones appear to resist modern solutions, Africans are increasingly reaching for traditional healing practices and customary protective medicines. Using historical and phenomenological approaches, Traditional Medicine Making of the «Emu»: Continuity and Change investigates religious belief and herbal practices of Emu people. This documentation of medical practices of the Emu people of Nigeria in the context of change transcends the structuralist and functional perspective employed by anthropologists.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter One
  • 1.1 Overview
  • 1.2 Approach
  • 1.3 Terminologies
  • Chapter Two
  • 2.1 Religious Belief and Ritual Practices
  • 2.2 Social Change and religion
  • 2.3 Theories of Religious Change
  • 2.4 Religious Changes and African Traditional Religion
  • 2.5 Modern Changes in African Traditional Religions
  • Chapter Three
  • 3.0 Geographical Location
  • 3.1 The Origin of the People
  • 3.2 Emu Worldview
  • 3.3 Olonemu
  • 3.4 Nze
  • 3.5 Ani
  • 3.6 Ossai
  • 3.7 Odede
  • 3.8 Ikenga
  • 3.9 Olokoto
  • 3.10 Igba
  • 3.11 Umuada
  • 3.12 Nde-Iche
  • 3.13 Political Structure of the Emu People
  • 3.14 Social life and Calendar of Festivities
  • 3.14.1 Ukwuata Festival
  • 3.14.2 Ikenge Festival
  • 3.14.3 Ite–Otite Festival
  • 3.15 Social Values
  • 3.16 Economic Background
  • Chapter Four
  • 4.1 The Supernatural Elements of Medicine
  • 4.2 The Medicinal Element of Medicine
  • 4.3 The Ritual Elements of Medicine
  • 4.4 The Spell Elements of Medicine
  • 4.5 The “Taboo” Elements of Medicine
  • 4.6 Witchcraft and Sorcery
  • 4.7 Divination
  • 4.7.1 Classification of Medicine and Ritual Practices in Emu
  • 4.8 Productive Medicine
  • 4.8.1 Ogwu Afia-Okeawuli: (Medicine for Trade)
  • 4.8.2 Ogwu Isorlu Ibe Mmalu: (Medicine for Love)
  • 4.8.3 Ogwu Akonuche: (Medicine for Memory)
  • 4.8.4 Ogwu Mmili: (Rain Medicine)
  • 4.9 Therapeutic Medicine
  • 4.9.1 Ogwu Efo-Olinwa: (Medicine for Stomach Ache)
  • 4.9.2 Ogwu Ibele Orenu-ku: (Medicine against Veneral Disease)
  • 4.9.3 Ogwu Mmo Ni Mmalu Afu Enya: (Medicine to Keep a Dying Man Awake)
  • 4.9.4 Ogwu Ikpefu Onwu Mmalu: (Medicine to Postpone Death)
  • 4.9.5 Ogwu Enya Enu: (Medicine to Cure Mental Illness)
  • 4.9.6 Ogwu emo na liali ne esu mmalu (Medicine for Undefined Sickness)
  • 4.9.7 Ogwu Iwofu Ngbashi: (Medicine to Remove Poison)
  • 4.10 Protective Medicine
  • 4.10.1 Ogwu nkpashi: (Protection from Destructive Medicine)
  • 4.10.2 Aju Ogwu: (Medicine against General Poison)
  • 4.10.3 Ogwu Nkpokwa: (Antidote for Destructive Medicine)
  • 4.10.4 Ogwu Ashima: (Medicine that grants Premonition)
  • 4.10.5 Ogwu Njo Puazo: (Medicine to Avert Evil Forces)
  • 4.10.6 Ogwu Mma: Preotective Medicine against Cutlass and Knife attacks (1)
  • 4.10.6b Ogwu Mma: Protective Medicine against Cutlass and Knife attacks (2)
  • 4.10.7 Ogwu Mma Nbubu: Medicine against Cutlass Medicine
  • 4.10.8 Ogwu Egbe Ufie: Medicine against Wounds Sustained from Gunshot
  • 4.11 Destructive Medicine
  • 4.11.1 Ogwu Igba Nkpa: (Poison)
  • 4.11.2 Ogwu Eti Ada: (Hit and make a person fall to the ground)
  • 4.11.3 Ogwu Ibo Mmalu Onti: (Medicine to Cause Madness)
  • 4.11.4 Ogwu Akpanya-ga (Medicine to create confusion)
  • 4.12 Medicine with dual functions
  • 4.12.1 Ogwu Iwa Ugboko: Medicine of Command in the Forest
  • 4.12.2 Ogwu Odor: (Medicine to Recall Someone)
  • Chapter Five
  • 5.1 The Medicine Man
  • 5.2 The Training of a Dibie
  • 5.2.1 The Functions of a Dibie
  • 5.3 Ritual Symbols and their Meanings in Emu Medicine
  • 5.3.1 Medicine for Trade: Ogwu Afia Okeawuli
  • 5.3.2 Medicine for Love: Ogwu Isorlu obe Mmalu
  • 5.3.3 Medicine to aid Memory: Ogwu Akonuche
  • 5.3.4 Medicine to Ward off Rain: Ogwu Ifemmili
  • 5.4 Ritual Symbolism in Therapeutic Medicines
  • 5.4.1 Medicine to Cure Belly Ache: Ogwu Efo Olinwa
  • 5.4.2 Medicine to Cure Venereal Diseases: Ogwu Emo Uku Igbele
  • 5.4.3 Medicine to Keep a Dying Man Awake: Mmuo ni Mmalu afu enya
  • 5.4.4 Medicine to Cure the Mentally Ill: Ogwu Enya Enu
  • 5.5 Ritual Symbols in Protective Medicines
  • 5.5.1 Protective Medicine against Poison: Aju Ogwu
  • 5.5.2 Medicine against Destructive Medicine: Ogwu Nkpokwa
  • 5.5.3 Medicine to Prevent Evil Occurrence: Njo Puazu
  • 5.5.4 Medicine for Cutlass and Knife Protection: Ogwu Mma
  • 5.5.5 Medicine for Gunshot Protection: Ogwu Egbe Ufie
  • 5.6 Ritual Symbols and their meanings in Destructive Medicines
  • 5.6.1 Medicine to ‘Shoot’ Poison: Ogwu Igba Nkpa
  • Chapter Six
  • 6.1 Change and Continuity in the Beliefs and Rituals concerning Olor
  • 6.2 Continuity and Change in the Beliefs and Rituals Concerning Nze
  • 6.3 The Oyiwa
  • 6.4 Change and Continuity in the Beliefs and Rituals Concerning Ani
  • 6.5 Change and Continuity in the Beliefs and Rituals of Ossai
  • 6.6 Change and Continuity in the Rituals of Ikenge
  • 6.7 Change and Continuity in the Beliefs and Rituals Concerning Igba
  • 6.8 Change and Continuity in the Ukwuata Festival
  • 6.9 Change and Continuity in the Iwaji Festival
  • 6.10 Continuity and Change in the Social Values of Emu People
  • 6.11 Changes and Continuity in Emu Burial Rites
  • Chapter Seven
  • 7.1 Continuity and Change in Emu Productive and Protective Medicine
  • 7.2 Medicine for Memory: Ogwu Akonuche
  • 7.3 Rain Medicine: Ogwu Mmili
  • 7.4 Medicine for Belly Ache: Ogwu Efo-Olinwa
  • 7.5 Medicine for Premonition: Ogwu Ashima
  • 7.6 Medicine for undefined Sickness and Sufferings: Ogwu Emo Na Liali Ne Esu Mmalu
  • 7.7 Medicine for Prevention of General Poisoning: Aju Ogwu
  • 7.8 Medicine against Gun Shorts: Igwu Egbe Ufie
  • 7.9 Continuity and Change in Emu Destructive Medicine
  • 7.9.1 Ogwu Igba Mkpa: Shooting of Poison
  • 7.9.2 Ogwu Eti Ada: Hit and Fall
  • 7.9.3 Ogwu Igbo Mmalu Onu: Medicine to Cause Madness
  • 7.9.4 Ogwu Iwa Ugboko: Medicine of Command
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Published Books
  • Journals
  • Encyclopaedias
  • Unpublished Materials
  • Appendices
  • Appendix I
  • Primary Source: Oral Testimony and People Intervewed
  • Appendix 2
  • Informants on Religious Beliefs and Ritual Practices
  • Appendix 3
  • Types of Medicine
  • Index

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Chapter One

1.1 Overview

In 1986, General Olusegun Obasanjo advocated the use of traditional medicine to dismantle the oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa. In March 1977, at Benin City, the Nigerian Army held a seminar to which indigenous medicine men were invited. The aim of the meeting was to explore the possibility of tapping the potentials inherent in African traditional medicines, for military and defence purposes (Fabarebo, 1990: 3). Around 1987, universities in Sokoto and Bendel (now split into Edo and Delta states) States were employing “juju” men to solve what they considered as intractable problems. After the Vice Chancellor of one of the institutions was bitten by a mysterious snake, the school sought the assistance of medicine men to rid the school of snakes. In another development at Bendel State University (now Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma), the thieves that carted away the university property were detected and apprehended by the use of traditional medicine (Fabarebo, 1990: 8). In 1990, the news was widespread in respect of two undergraduate students of the University of Jos who became victims to ritual medicine. Unknown to one of them, a female student, her father had laced her with “magun alemaro”. This medicine is to make turgid the penis of whoever tries to have sex with her. However, the male lover decided to use his tongue instead (cunnilingus). The tongue and the head of the boy increased tremendously and then exploded. The above instances speak to the reality of the belief in ritual medicine. The question is why do we (Nigerians) still engage in traditional medicine and why does the belief still continue in our society, despite the perceived collapse of traditional beliefs and practices? These questions owe in part to the pursuit and the re-discovery of the African traditional medicine in the 21st century.

In an attempt to introduce research into traditional medicine, the University of Ibadan (African Studies Institute) established degree programs in African Traditional Medicine. This and other institutional undertakings are serious efforts to uncover values in medicinal plants that are becoming increasingly viable as more and more diseases are showing resistance to orthodox antibiotics, the side effects of which are of a great medical concern. This concern accounts for the recent move away from the use of synthetic ← 15 | 16 → medicine to galenicals and the use of herbs which form about 90% of the traditional medicine (Ubrurhe, 2003: 1). Against this backdrop, the quest of this work was to investigate the religious beliefs and rituals of Emu people, with the view of documenting their medicinal practices within the context of change.

Where new influences infringe on any society, a scholar of culture is at once confronted with the problem of how much is modified and how much is retained (Bascom & Herskovitz, 1959: 06). Consequent upon the aggressive wind of change that heralded capitalistic penetration in Africa, the boundaries of the old ethnic kingdoms were shattered. Indigenous beliefs, ideas, practices and norms that were held sacrosanct and sacred were almost obliterated. The impact of the drastic shift from traditional collectivism to individualism and from spiritualism to materialism is profound. This shift is the main focus of this book.

Existing literatures in African religions (in general) including traditional medicine tend to be dominated by data obtained from small – scale societies. The cultural anthropologists who initially researched this field studied religion within structuralism and functionalism. These approaches may be useful for the study of distinctive religio-cultural elements such as medicine, sorcery, witchcraft, and rites of passage. However, among the Emu people, such studies were carried out in a sweeping fashion lacking analysis on continuity and change. Additionally, historical and phenomenological studies have been absent. In view of the above limitation, the goals of this book are:

1. To provide a systematic and descriptive documentation of indigenous beliefs and practices of the Emu people.

2. To examine the relationship between Emu contemporary economic and socio-political situations in the context of continuity and changes to the people’s religious beliefs and ritual practices concerning medicine.

3. To use the facts from Emu as basis for examining changes and consequences of religious changes in Africa.

1.2 Approach

Given the systemic inquiry that the study of this book adopts, there is a heavy dependence on the Husserlina principles of understanding-epoch, eidetic vision, empathy and quest from meaning. This theoretical perspective makes ← 16 | 17 → it possible to avoid the cold objectivity that defines western scholarly approach. Ayward Shorter in his book, African Christian Theology (1975: 39), listed eight approaches which have been adopted by different authors in the study of African religions. Out of these eight, he suggested that the multidimensional approach-historical, limited comparative, categorical and thematic approaches will be better suited to the study of African religions.

Harold Turner argued against Short’s multidimensional approaches. For Turner, religion is a “human activity and experience that is liable to be inter-woven with all aspects of human life, and its study therefore requires, sooner or later, all human science” (Turner, 1981: 1–2). In the study of religion, the methods employed should, according to him, be able “to study, not only religion in its total milieu and that milieu itself, but also what it is that is interwoven with all other dimensions of existence”. Shorter’s approach, according to Ikenga-Metuh, is an anthropological study of African Religions, which may be useful for the study of the milieu of religion but inadequate for the study of the distinctive elements of religions. Ikenga-Metuh further noted that “in the four approaches that make up Shorter’s Multidimensional method, no mention was made of the specialist religious disciplines” (Metuh, 1987: 87). This book marks the first attempt to study the traditional religion of the Emu people with specific focus on its’ specialists use of herbs or practice of medicine. The major approach is documentation of practices as well as descriptive description of the practices underscoring the importance of the medicines that are used within the contexts in which they are used.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
African Traditional Medicine Cultural Anthropology History Religion African Traditional Religion
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 170 pp., 11 tables

Biographical notes

Kingsley I. Owete (Author)

Kingsley Ifeanyi Owete is senior lecturer and former Head of the Department of Religion and Cultural Studies at the University of Port Harcourt (Nigeria). He has a special interest in African Traditional Medicine.


Title: Traditional Medicine Making of the 'Emu': Continuity and Change
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172 pages