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

Kingsley I. Owete

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.
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Chapter Four


: Medicine and Medicinal Ritual in Emu

There are five fundamental elements of medicine in Emu. These fundamental elements give a clear understanding of the people’s conception of medicine, what it is to them, how they use medicine and place of medicine in their lives. This chapter provides the description of these fundamental elements which include the supernatural, medicinal, taboo, spell and ritual, elements. The traditional practitioners were rarely concerned with providing definitions to their act, rather, they were more concerned with the functionality of their acts and how such improve lives in the community. The word ‘Ogwu’, which literally means medicine, is also used to mean “charm” in Emu.

4.1 The Supernatural Elements of Medicine

The medicine practitioner’s acts in Emu are essentially supernatural acts. The civilities of the medicine practitioner are not geared toward influencing physical laws of nature but controlling spiritual laws toward achieving certain goals. Generally, among the Igbos the power contained in medicine derives from certain patron spirit such “agwunsi to diviners” (Ejizu, 1989: 1380). The medicine practitioners among the Emu people obtain their powers from the water spirits. Thus, shrines of water deities (mammy water) are set up and their prohibitions are observed. Water spirits are believed to possess and guide the practitioners, who are mostly women, in dispensing prescriptions to their clients. Sometimes, the spirit of a dead ancestor/ancestress, who was a dibie, (medicine maker) could guide one of their children in practicing the rituals. This happens only...

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