WOMEN & TRADITIONAL MEDICINE
Traditional healing in Northern Ghana is recognized mainly within men. For women, it is only the “Jin war pagba” who are known as healers. It is believed that no one, be you a man or woman, no matter how powerful you maybe, can challenge the “Jin war pagba”. The “Jin war pagba” are seen to be very powerful, and fight away every evil.
Men are scared of such women.
Apart from this group of women no other woman dare calls herself a healer even if she does heal. A woman healer traditionally is feared and such women are often abandoned by their relatives, thrown into the camps, or even beaten to death. A few of these women continue to live with their relatives but are blamed of every misfortune that befalls anyone in the community. However, a handful of strong women survive most of the problems. Being one of the survivals, Salamatu shares her experience.
A tall, fair colored, beautiful, gigantic looking woman with beautiful, curled, black hair…such was Amiba. Amiba, a Mamprusi woman, from Binduri married Abagne, a man from Yorgo, laboured painfully for four days, three nights, yet she could not deliver. Several healers tried but failed to help poor Amiba and her unborn child. Sacrifices of every kind were made but were not successful.
Finally, the elders of the town consulted the gods and pleaded with the unborn child to allow Amiba to give birth to him in the presence of no one. His demand was granted and peacefully Amiba gave birth to this child.
The newly born child came to announce the powers of his mother, so from that day on Amiba became a powerful traditional birth attendant, and always gave birth alone.
Years later, Abagne died when Amiba gave birth to her sixth born.
After the death of Amiba’s husband, Abagne’s brother married Amiba as his fourth wife as custom demanded.
Life became so bitter and unbearable for Amiba and her six children. Amiba’s new husband demanded she cultivate her former husband’s land but the crops were harvested by her rivals except for the bad ones. Amiba lived on the bad produce from her farm.
To make a living, she became a potter and sold her pots and livestock. But, Ayiila, Abagne’s brother’s first wife, slaughtered every animal she had and always complained of Amiba thinking she was powerful and could do every thing.
Amiba then decided to travel out to Tamale where she worked and made some wealth. With the wealth, she went back to Yorgo to take care of her children. On her arrival, Ayiila seized all she possessed. Life was hell to her.
To escape all these problems, she ran back to Tamale to live with her uncle, the chief of Frafras, of Tamale, and her aunt Magazia. In Tamale, she helped her aunt in the brewing and selling of pito.
With beautiful Amiba in town, she caught the eyes of every man; she was the talk of town. Every man wanted to have her.
Suitors came from several parts of Tamale asking Amiba’s hand in marriage but Amiba and her uncle turned them all down.
Unfortunately, one of the several suitors from the Sesala Tiabe wanted to bring Amiba with him to Accra got offended. He assigned a man known as Ayepakre to kill Amiba with a charmed cola-nut.
Amiba, who had never eaten cola-nut, angrily grabbed the piece of cola-nut that was being handed to her sister- in- law by Ayelpakre and quickly took a bite. She took a bite of the cola that was meant to send her to her grave. In result of this, an opening was created through the neck of Amiba to her throat, and whatever went into the mouth of Amiba came out through this opening in her neck. She became a dead log. She could neither drink, sit up, nor talk. The movement of her ribs was the only thing that told people that she was alive.
Healers came from several parts of the country to cure her but failed. Every hope was lost and every one awaited death, for that they thought was the only salvation.
At this crucial moment came Salifu Agobga, a butcher, son of the powerful hunter and healer. Salifu was only a butcher who worshiped Magazia like his mother. He was not in anyway expected to be a healer. Salifu cured Amiba with just three drops of a concoction.
Chief and Magazia, to express their appreciation, gave Amiba to Salifu as a wife. Amiba stopped selling pito and started selling rice. She became a Moslem and married Salifu. They lived happily and had six children.
Their first-born Salamatu was the only baby girl.
When Salamatu was twelve years old, her younger brother Abukari got seriously sick and could not be cured. In her mother’s dream one night, she saw that Salamatu had cured her brother.
The next day, which was a Wednesday, at midnight, Amiba quietly woke Salamatu and brought her the preparation of the herb that could cure Abukari. With this herb, Salamatu cured Abukari. From that day on, Salamatu became a traditional healer and continued her study of healing.
She had more lessons from her mother, father and paternal grandfather until she had fully grown into a woman and got married to Malam Ibrahim, son of Gbang dann nab moo, a powerful and fearful spiritualist of Kongo in the Upper East Region of Ghana who became a Moslem and moved to settle in Nkwanta.
Malam Ibrahim lived in Kumasi and worked with Social Welfare whilst Salamatu was sent to live with her father and mother in-law in Nkwanta. In Nkwanta, she succeeded in furthering her study as a traditional healer from her father in-law. After Salamatu’s first child, she moved from Nkwanta to live with her husband in Kumasi.
In Kumasi, she learned to package and to sell her herbs from one elderly Ashanti healer in return for the help she offered him in most of his activities. Being so respectful and obedient, many elders gave her more knowledge on healing.
Bringing all the bits of knowledge she had together, Salamatu became a strong well-known traditional healer. Her husband later resigned from Social Welfare and joined her in the production and sales of traditional medicine under the label Taimako, meaning help. Taimako later became the name of their family.
Mr. and Mrs. Taimako worked so hard, and in 1960 together with other healers Afa Wubga, Mr. Chambers, Naa Salifu, Abdullai, Mallam Krufu, Ayichirichi and Zaachi formed the Northern Branch of Ghana Psychic and Traditional Healers Association. This association functioned effectively for some time. In the early 1980s the association broke down, after the death of Mr. Taimako.
Mr. Tamako died in June 1977 survived by Mrs. Taimako now five months pregnant and with eight (8) children. Four months later Mrs. Taimako gave birth to a baby girl and named her Faiza. She spent her early ages with her grandmother and there she started learning to heal.
Faiza at her early ages was so proud of her mother being an herbalist. She told every one of her mother’s powers and loved helping her mother, sisters and brothers in the preparation and sales of traditional medicine.
In her teens, most of her sisters left their mother to their marital homes, and the others were in boarding school. Her mother. Mrs. Taimako needed Faiza’s assistance badly but unfortunately, at that moment Faiza’s attention was turned against traditional medicine because of western educational influence.
However, Mrs. Taimako did all she could to have Faiza involved in every activity of traditional medicine. Faiza kept records of the herbal clinics, organized healers, and registered healers. All this Faiza did against her will. Being so young and a girl she had so many problems interacting with healers. She was mostly either scared off by some healers or not accepted.
In 1996, when Faiza realized she could not in anyway get out of her mother’s way, she wholeheartedly devoted all her time and knowledge to traditional medicine and won the hearts of hundreds of traditional healers. At that moment, Faiza fully understood and accepted traditional medicine. Due to her devotion to the healers, she was voted the secretary of the association in 1997 and has since been the secretary and the acting organizer.
She learned to be a healer from her grandmother, mother and some members of the association.
Faiza completed Senior Secondary School in 1997 and has since been fully engaged in traditional healing instead of continuing her education to become a journalist – a profession she has always dreamt of.
In 1989, however, Mrs. Taimako, a widow and the only female member of the founding members of the Northern Regional Association, revived the Association with the help of her brother, Ayichirichi, and her children. The three Northern Regions- Upper East, Upper West and Northern now work together as one Association. Mrs. Taimako has remained the chairperson of the association; she is now running her fourth term in office as the chairperson.
Mrs. Taimako established a nursery and plantations of medicinal and other plants with the assistance of The Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Environment Protection Agency.
The medicinal plant production was mainly sponsored by the United Nations Development Programs.
Overwhelming proportion of drug substance used today in conventional medical practice originate from plants, with a considerable amount of refinement. Herbs, for that matter and medicinal plants do not form a separate entity from traditional healing. However, healing is becoming more and more difficult since medicinal plants are becoming more extinct.
Medicinal plants are now harvested miles far off in the wild if they are found at all, as compared to the early days when they could be reached at the backyard of ones house.
Be it attributed to bad habits of harvesting, bad farming practices, and bush burning...this deplorable situation continues.
The negative influence of deforestation on medicinal plant species cannot be over emphasized. This association has therefore taken a sustainable conservation strategy for the near extinct plant species, to train a number of healers in re-forestation, harvesting techniques and prevention of bush fires. This has also been the focus on a few talk radio programs.
Unfortunately, this has not been very successful because only a small number of healers in two districts of the Northern Region have benefited in the project.
Though a woman has been able to bring the Association back to its stand and there are so many women healers, only a few of these women healers are recognized as healers and are members of the Association. Women form only 8% of the association.
Produced by: FAIZA IBRAHIM TAIMAKO
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