WHO in 1976 defined traditional medicine as the sum total of all knowledge and practices used in diagnosis, prevention and elimination of diseases. According to the world health body, such knowledge and practices are handed down from generation to generation orally or in written form.
WHO goes on to define a traditional healer as a person who is recognized by the community in which he lives as competent to provide health care, using vegetables, animals and material substances as well as other methods deriving from the knowledge, attitudes and beliefs prevalent in a community.
On the other hand, traditional medicine is defined by Okunists as the use of leaves, barks, roots and other plant parts for healing purposes. The history of such form of medicine can be traced to ancient Edo people.
The art of Olokun herbal medicine was discovered accidentally by observing what happened to animals whenever they eat certain leaves or fruits given to them.
More than this, it was discovered that, spiritually, Olokun increases awareness of the use of plants for curative and preventive purposes. Also known was that certain plants require an animal’s and a bird’s blood as sacrifice before removing their parts. Traditional religious men and women, who later graduated to become priests, priestesses and heads of temples later developed these knowledge into a system for healing people. Before its practitioners died, this systematized knowledge was passed on to their children, wards or assistants from one generation to another.
At this juncture, I need to say that hunters helped, also, to enrich traditional medicine practice through documenting the in experiences with mystical plants they observe in the forest while on their expedition.
In traditional medicine, most priest and priestesses are usually called to service. If this is the case, a person called then retires from public service to receive medical training in the hands of old experienced priests. The training lasts for years. During it, the person submits himself to learning about the act of collecting, preparing and applying different herbal medicine. He is taught taboos strictly associated with herbs and their actions.
Also, the priest-to-be is educated about the appropriate ritual dances in traditional medicine and how to consult spiritually. Of course, self-discipline is taught to enable him hear the voices and languages of plants, animals and deities as the case may be at different levels. Not all priests/priestesses understand the languages; nevertheless, they are still efficient on the job.
Olokun religious priests/priestesses have psychic abilities which enable them to be in charge of temples or traditional sanctuaries. To be equipped for the job they undergo training under old, female experts knowledgeable in traditional medicine. All priests/priestesses sometimes wear charms and amulets as prevention against evil forces that may try to hinder them from carrying out their sacred, healing practices.
There is a misconception in certain quarters that all priests and priestesses are witches. It arises from that abilities to prevent and treat dreaded illnesses after presumably consulting with night elders. Also, such a misconception is made because priests and priestesses can go into a trance at any given time through carefully regulated processes. However, as an Okunist, I can authoritatively tell you that the view that all traditional priests and priestesses are witches is wrong. Some are not. In certain quarters herbal medicine is neglected and described by some orthodox doctors as unhygienic, quakery and superstitious. This notwithstanding, it is receiving attention and recognition all over Nigeria and Africa. Groups of people are now patronizing herbal medicine.
However, one unacceptable attitude of such people is that they hate the ritual aspect of herbal medicine. Yet, ritualism is very common in the art and cannot be discarded under any guise. Well, let it be known that herbal medicine has been applying ritualistic methods in healing before the introduction of orthodox medicine in community health service. This is because it is through ritualism, healers access the feelings of plants and esoteric forces as well as communicate with them.
Usually, it is common to find some churches preaching against herbal medicine or products to win converts. However, these preachers forget that the bible itself supports traditional, herbal medicine. Take Genesis Chapter 1:29-30. it states: “Behold, I have given you every herb having seeds which is upon the face of all the earth. …and every green herb for meat.” Again, Revelation 22:2 states: “And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” In Exodus 28:30 we are told about urim and- thummim which were used by the Israelites. In the Book of Numbers 27:19-21 urim and thummium were put into use by Eleazar the priest. These objects are similar to cowries used in divination by Olokun priests in Nigeria and Africa.
Joshua himself used a stone to bear witness.
For instance in Joshua 24:26-27, the bible said: “Behold those stones shall be a witness against us. For it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he spoke with us. It shall therefore be a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.” Stone is the symbol of Sango in traditional African religion.
Like the bible, like traditional medicine. During the practice of this form of medicine, priests/priestesses use a fowl or any animal to bear witness between them and the divinities or deities. Therefore ,as one can see , the bible endorses traditional medicine which even shares similarities in the use of sacred symbols ritually for healing purposes with Judaism.
Today, patronage of herbal medicine in Nigeria and Africa has increased despite the existence of orthodox medicine. As usual, Okunists intergrate ritual practices into the practice of herbal medicine. Afterall they believe plants have feelings, perception and the power of communication, although not all Okunists can talk to plants or esoteria powers. Without the ability to communicate with them. It is difficult practicing traditional medicine with effective results. Because, you won’t be able to know which disease is caused by offended spirits or plants. Therefore, you won’t know whom to appease with rituals or sacrifices before healing can take place.
Traditional herbal substances can be preserved. Preservation helps in the art of medicine because it reduces the need for regular visits to the bush to collect herbs. Also, it prevents plant parts from worm infestation.
Most easily selected plant parts for preservation are got from Uloko, Osakperenne la, Akuobis. aghalokpe, Ogenmwen, akonesi ukhokho, ameme, Ikhinmwin, Okhikhan, evbe, Ugbazen, akeneyen, ewamverimoin, orimwinwuwu, urighon, ezenugbogan, akata, oruru, hue, iyokhoto, umion, ewere root, akpoko and ukuekue. Birds used and preserved for healing purposes are iyeokhekho, okporu, elikhukhu, ugu, eshasho, Ukpomobie akala, awe, esughusughu, oghohon, asese n’ ogiobe, abiamwenosa, akha and ukhue. Reptiles are not excluded from preservation and use in traditional medicine. Reptiles of healing values are arumweto, ivbiekpo, ovbiobie, eka, ikpin, ebi, ehun and erokhin.
Similarly, the following fish are put to use in traditional medicine. They are ehen ebevbarie, izenofua, asa, atan and oriri. In the case of seeds you find onion, oziza, oguomire, ehienedo, omo oriema, omo ewere, evbe and edun. When these materials are deployed in preparing traditional medicine, they sustain the user’s life.
To maintain the socio-economic life of the people, Okunists rear some of these animals and birds for easy accessibility at the time of need. Thus, a sustainable health care system for a community becomes possible to sustain. Thank goodness, Benin Kingdom – which is nestled in the rain forest – has varieties of plants, birds, reptiles and animals for practicing traditional medicine and for consumption to provide good nutrition for the human body.
By CHIEF OMO OMOREGIE