ISBN 9789996076282
Pages 128
Dimensions 210 x 148mm
Published 2023
Publisher Mzuni Press, Malawi
Format Paperback

Christianity and Traditional Medicine in Northern Malawi

by Chimwemwe Harawa

The coming of Christianity to Africa is one of the significant movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Malawi, over a hundred years have gone since the implantation of Christianity and it still remains a real force. The population is mostly Christian – at least the people confess to be so.
A good number of scholars have noted the impact and significance of Christianity in Malawi and have written about the influence of the Christian religion on the social, economic and political life of the nation. The missionaries are largely credited with the coming of Christianity to Malawi. These missionaries employed different means to help them propagate the faith. The most effective means was the opening of schools, which in the early years of the missionary work taught the Christian faith and how to read the Bible. Teachers were the first evangelists.
However, I am interested in their participation in the healing ministry. Currently three forms of healing can be identified in Malawi: biomedicinal, traditional healing and spiritualist healing of the Christian or Islamic type. Of these, the missionaries brought the biomedicinal system that at that time was a new system of healing, which was attractive to the local people. Rev Donald Fraser, one of the early missionaries of the Livingstonia Synod, noted that no white man or missionary could tour the land without having applications for medical treatment from the sick. This new system was introduced in the context of the traditional healing that relied on traditional medicine and the medicine person, the traditional healer. The modern system of healing and its medicine went hand in hand with evangelization. The missionary medicinal work was seen as a means by which people could be brought into contact with the gospel because of the Christian atmosphere in mission, church and hospital.4 The traditional healing system and its medicines were discredited and were associated with heathenism. However, its use is still flourishing even among those who confess to be Christians.
The use of traditional medicine in Malawi is a widespread phenomenon despite the current wind of globalization, modernity and Christianity. Evidence exists that traditional medicine has been practiced all over the world and in some parts of the world it still remains one of the dominant ways to relieve suffering. In the religious sphere, however, there is uncertainty on the use of traditional medicine and this creates conflict within individuals.
Furthermore, pathetic attitudes towards traditional medicine, especially toward traditional healers, exist. When Brian Morris was conducting his research on Chewa Medical Botany, one of his informants remarked that the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) did not allow its members to consult traditional healers and those who did so were excommunicated.
In this atmosphere, how is Christianity relating itself to traditional medicine? This central question will be studied for Livingstonia Synod. I will explore the attitudes of Livingstonia Synod towards traditional medicine, and its implications among the people. I do not intend to give a study of traditional medicine per se  nor a comprehensive history of the Livingstonia Synod or its medical work.

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