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What is Muti?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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In the west, the terms “holistic” and “natural remedy” are often used when referring to traditional treatments. Muti, however, is a term used in southern Africa to refer to such treatments. These are commonly used to remedy various problems, including those involving health, spirituality, and finances. While these treatments are often used for healing and other positive purposes, muti also attracts a great deal of scrutiny for darker practices.

When translated, muti means tree. The term is derived from the Zulu language. The people who possess the knowledge and offer services of this type are commonly referred to as traditional healers, or sangomas. These individuals are widely respected in parts of southern Africa by the people and by the law. They are often granted many of the same privileges as conventional health professionals, such as to conduct circumcisions or to write notes excusing individuals from work.

Traditional healers use a variety of methods to help their patients. These can include advising people on solving their problems through contact with ancestors or other spiritual means. These individuals commonly mix and prescribe natural elements such as herbs or animal parts as a means of remedy.

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For several reasons, the use of muti in modern society commonly raises a great deal of controversy. To begin with, the deep belief in such traditional healing is commonly regarded as a hindrance when attempting to get people to rely on conventional medicines. Generally, the methods prescribed by sangomas are never scientifically tested and many are based on knowledge that is kept secret.

This means that people are often given consumable remedies which have ingredients that only one person is aware of. There have been innumerable cases of individuals being poisoned or dying from the lack of proper treatment after following such regimens. For example, in South Africa, where the rates of HIV and AIDS are high, many infected individuals refuse antiretrovirals in favor of the unverified claims made about concoctions produced by sangomas.

Another reason that muti is controversial is because it can involve violence or be used to further ill intentions. Some individuals, who claim to be sangomas but whom other sangomas refer to as witch doctors, prescribe muti remedies that include methods such as the wearing or consumption of human organs. Murders and mutilation have been linked to the supply of such remedies. Some remedies are also prescribed to do bad things to other individuals. For example, a mother-in-law may obtain a remedy that when mixed into food or placed in a bedroom will prevent her daughter-in-law from having children.

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