The way traditional medicine is practiced throughout the world has changed. There have had to be adjustments made in order to cope with the changing nature of the world. This is the same for African Traditional Medicine (ATM) and yet there is a seeming reluctance for us traditional healers to change with the times instead of letting the times change us. Let me explain myself.
Traditionally you would consult an iSangoma who would diagnose your problem. If it required medicine as well, iSangoma would consult their regular iNyanga who would then prepare the appropriate remedy for you immediately from freshly harvested medicinal plant material and either administer it to you themselves at their treatment facilities or dispense it to you for use at your home. In all likelihood, you and your traditional health practitioners (iSangoma and iNyanga) would be from the same area, and would thus be easily reachable if there was a problem and they are people who are known in the community (have immediate character references). Not anymore.
Today, you would travel some distance to someone, usually not in your immediate community, to be diagnosed and given your particular remedy. If this remedy involves medicine, you will likely be given this remedy by the very same person you have consulted. Now where did they get the plant material to make this remedy? Most raw medicinal plants are traded in markets these days.
There is a vibrant trade around medicinal plants which has wild harvesters (abakhendlayo) and traders stationed at various markets throughout the country. These markets are growing, not getting smaller. Instead of iZinyanga using only locally available plants, we are able to get plants that grow throughout the SADC region. In some cases this has become a necessity born out of the fact that because there is no sustainability built into the industry currently, there is no plan to secure supplies of medicinal plants into the future.
Remember that in the past, plants were freshly available, now we buy plants that have firstly traveled great distances to get to the markets. It's no longer as fresh as it could be. It's no longer in its natural state, so you and your particular trader need to know their medicinal plants very well to make sure that you are buying what you need and not something that looks like it or may be it!
To be an iNyanga, you would be apprenticed to an experienced iNyanga for a very long time. Practically applying the knowledge that you were taught. Ask any teacher today, and they will all tell you that people are impatient and do not have the time to devote to this lifelong learning anymore. We want to train for shorter periods of time and have not devised replacement to the lifelong apprenticeship that was there.
Where does this leave us all? It forces us a practitioners to make allowances for the changed nature of training, of trade and access to medicinal plants, and the changing nature of the environment in which we service our patients. Whether government or western medicine like it or not, we have patients who prefer to be serviced by us. Our culture is one with it's own healthcare system.
We, practitioners, traders, suppliers , patients in this industry need to start a conversation about what type of traditional medicine we want to have in the face of this modernisation and change which has happened. My concern is if we don't decide what the traditional medicine industry in 2012 and beyond looks like, someone else will and I'm not sure if we will like what someone else decides!!! Support ATM industry development driven by the ATM industry and supported by government. Up to 80% of us use African Traditional Medicine. Is it not time, our choice was taken seriously? MAD-G