Spiritual healers seek official recognition

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Abahereza during the celebration of their anniversary recently. / Steven Muvunyi

Traditional healers locally known as Abarangi or Abacwezi who use spiritual powers have urged government to allow them practice in the country. 

Although alternative medicine such as herbalism is allowed in the country, the government has not yet authorized traditional medicine which is the total sum of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illness, according to the World Health Organisation. 

Jean-Bosco Kajongi, leader of Abahereza in Rwanda, said Abahereza are like doctors who have been selected by Umurangi or the angel. 

“Umuhereza is someone who gets power from God to treat different diseases but particularly demonic possession such as ‘Amahembe’ and ‘Imandwa’. Sometimes, Doctors detect something in the body, do surgery but find nothing. But Abarangi can identify the disease beforehand and heal it. 

Thus, we want to have legal personality and work with modern doctors because what we cure, they cannot even see it. Therefore, mortality rate would decrease,” he said.

Kajongi said their practices are not against modern healthcare.  

“We do not reject normal healthcare systems. For instance, I have 9 children and I pay insurance for them all. We only receive those who have health insurance because we send you to hospital in case we cure you but then you remain with difficulties that require modern medicines,” he said

According to him, the government should recognize them as it does for Abavubyi or rain makers because their practices are not scientifically proven too. 

“There are also people who do remote treatment of injuries without meeting the patient. This is also another kind of traditional medicine that many believe in,” he ended

Abahereza (priests/priestesses) or those who have been selected by Abarangi or ‘angels’ consult and detect problems before the patients say anything.  They claim to have God-given powers to heal any disease, provided that the ‘patient’ has belief in their powers. 

Although they are not accredited, there are testimonies of people who claim to have been cured by Abarangi. Claudine Uwamahoro, a resident of Rulindo district is one of them. 

“Last year, I was transferred to Kanombe Military Hospital to have my leg cut off after they diagnosed me with cancer. Abarangi told me it was not cancer but rather ‘Imandwa.’ They treated me but I didn’t get healed immediately because I had not yet heeded God’s commandment because they do not use any medicines but only requires you to obey God and respect his commandments.  Now my leg has been healed,” she said. 

“Those who try to associate Abarangi with demonic powers are wrong. You should not subscribe to their lies because Abarangi cure when you believe. Like Jesus came to save us so that we don’t perish, Umurangi also came so that we do not die of diseases that normal medicines cannot treat,” she added. 

Another man from Gicumbi who did not want to reveal his names also claims he was cured of possession by Umurangi.

“In 1983, I played football but later, Imandwa disabled me and my legs were paralyzed. I went to various hospitals and was given an assortment of medicines but they could not help. I always had fever; Doctors treated me but could not identify what kind of disease it really was. 

I even went to traditional healers but they didn’t have a solution. Pastors and priests prayed for me but in vain. Sorcerers also tried but failed. I was possessed by Imandwa and I was cured by Umurangi from Kirehe District,” he said.

I believe that they have the power from God and when you respect their conditions, they treat and cure you completely,” he noted. 

A woman from Huye District said she was always ill and went to hospital frequently.

“I had a never ending headache and my eyes were painful and had Diabetes. I had a bundle of medicines that I took but now I have abandoned them. I was desperate but when I met Abarangi nine months ago, I was healed and I am now strong and no longer have Diabetes,” she said  

According to Alexia Mukahirwa, another witness, Umurangi is very powerful and hates sin and its kin. 

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Alexia Mukahirwa giving her testimony. / Steven Muvunyi

“I was sick for 16 years. I went to different places and met many Doctors. Some told me I had blood infection, others said it was stomach and intestinal infections. I consumed numberless medicines that never helped until I saw the power of Abarangi and believed them. 

Some people said that I had HIV/AIDS but it was not true. I only weighed 42 kilograms but now I have 68. Abarangi are powerful and may God bless them,” she said 

James Mugabo, who is an “Umuhereza” or priest, said: “Before colonialism, people had their way of treating illness. But we have abandoned everything yet we should not,” he said

According to Dr. Theophile Dushime, the Director General of clinical services in the Ministry of Health, a law as well as policy governing traditional and alternative medicine is being drafted. 

“The law and policy are being drafted and will help us to know who does what kind of medicine and their identity. From that, we will know where to localize Abarangi in traditional or alternative,” he said. 

Dr. Dushime did not precise the time the law will have been set up because, he said, the process involves many actors. 

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