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Babson College

Publication Date

Spring 2011

Program Name

Ghana: Social Transformation and Cultural Expression


  1. Objective: The objective of this project was three-fold:
    1. i. To understand the fundamental practices, philosophies, and perceptions in and around Islamic and traditional healing in Northern Ghana.
    2. ii. To identify the herbs, substances, and methods used to treat illnesses in Islamic and traditional healing.
    3. iii. To evaluate the measures of efficacy in Islamic and traditional healing.
  2. Methodology: I lived in Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana for 23 days. I formally interviewed eight healers in six communities in and around Tamale. The demographics of the healers I interviewed were two Muslim healers and six traditional healers, six men and two women. I observed one preparation of medicine by a traditional healer, and the treatment of a demon-possessed patient by the Muslim healers. I also learned how to prepare herbs used in a calabash. I used formal and informal interviews I transcribed all interviews, one sentence at a time, by hand.
  3. Findings: Data showed several similarities between Islamic and traditional healers regarding causes of illnesses. Many illnesses are considered to be the result of demon possessions and spiritual curses. Nevertheless, the methods of treatment vary. While Imams use specific medicines and scriptures from the Holy Qur’an, traditionalists derive medicines through communication with deities, jinns, dwarfs, ancestors, and other spirits. Traditionalists also have a larger selection of herbal remedies. In both Islamic and traditional healing, there is an aspect of secrecy. For instance, although the Qur’an is available for anyone to read, there are certain messages and medicines that require special knowledge of the Holy Qur’an. In traditional healing, the idea of secrecy is even more blatant. The sharing of traditional medicines, when permitted, is done over time and through genuine relationship building.
  4. Conclusion: The study of the herbs, practices and philosophies in Islamic and traditional healing can be difficult to conduct physically because much of this information is spiritual in nature or affiliation. Besides this, there are many secrets that healers are not readily prepared to share, often out of a desire to protect themselves, their medicines, and/or their traditions, especially from people who may misuse it or use it to become more powerful than the healer. There are many similarities in the considered causes of disease, and differences in the applied treatment in Islamic and traditional healing. Further studies are needed to study the efficacy of these treatments, scientifically, when possible, and by first-hand account from patients. It may also be useful to research the gender dynamics of healing in Ghana. It is not practical to approach healers over a short period of time and expect to develop a full understanding of healers’ practices, philosophies, and medicines for healing. It takes a long time to develop their knowledge, and it will take much time and relationship building to share these secrets. Once these secrets are shared, there is an expectation or requirement of confidentiality that must also be upheld.


Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Other Religion


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