What is a 'tribal healer?'

Oct 16, 2010

First posted by CM on July 22, 2007

The International Herald Tribune really liked the story about somebody who tried to claim some role in the mysterious appearance in a cave of what some said was diesel, creating a frenzy of anticipation in crisis-filled and fuel-starved Zimbabwe :

Their headline on the story :

“Police seek tribal healer, arrest followers, over gasoline deposits hoax in Zimbabwe”

I felt moved to write the IHT the following letter, knowing fully well it will never see the light of day, but feeling happy that I had done my tiny little bit to to fight the “exotic-isation” of Africans that one so frequently encounters in the Western media

I am a reasonably intelligent reader but failed to understand what the “tribal healer” of your above headline could possibly be.

Is it somebody who “heals” a tribe in some way? If so, what way? And which “tribe” would this refer to? According to the IHT, how does one earn the title of “tribal healer?”

Although I am an African, I am not at all familiar with the IHT’s term “tribal healer” and in the likely case that many others of your readers would be hard placed to define such a term, I think your prestigious selves would be doing them a great service by explaining it.

Your smirking, attention-grabbing headline aside, the body of the story suggests the person in question was not a healer, “tribal,” non-tribal/”regular” or any other kind, but just a plain old charlatan who saw an opportunity to try to gain advantage by fooling the gullible.

Whatever explanation you are likely to come up with, even if only to yourselves rather than to me or the public, I will admit that “tribal healer” does strike a stereotypically- African note of “exoticism.” Could that have been the reason for the use of the term?

Chido Makunike


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