Upcountry Insight: Masai immigrants and the traditional medicine they bring

The Masai herbalists have again thronged Kigali streets and other urban areas countrywide.

With distinct traditional dress and Rugabire shoes, Masai herbalists can be seen around Kigali suburbs selling a variety of traditional healing medicine. Often children run behind then shouting “Masai! Masai!”

The Masai are one of the largest nomadic tribes occupying vast areas of Kenya and Tanzania savana. In Kenya, they are found in Narok, Masai Mara and parts of the Great Rift Valley.

On the other hand the Masai occupy the entire province of Arusha and parts of Moshi in the United Republic of Tanzania.

One unique character with the Masai is that they are deeply rooted to their cultural norms and however much a Masai may be educated, he or she cannot abandon their traditional ways of dress and believes. Their favorite food is milk mixed with blood and meat from their cattle.

The Masai do not feed on wild meat, which explains why the Kenyan and Tanzania government have left the Masai to freely live side by side with wild animals in gazetted National parks.

 Their nature of being courageous and one of the fearless tribes in Africa, makes them to protect themselves and their cattle against attacks from Lions, Hyenas, Leopards and other beasts in the jungle.

This type of nomadic and jungle life for ages, has made the Masai to be well versed with traditional herbs that can cure a variety of diseases. Diseases such Asthma, Tuberculosis, Amoeba infections, Impotence and malaria among others, are cured by use of natural herbs. Initially, the Masai used to cure only their fellow kinsmen by use of these herbs.

With the changes of lifestyles within the Masai community, though, some have found themselves in cities where they do not have means of livelihood.

This is partly due to shortage of grazing land brought about by increase in population, where part of Masai grazing land has been diverted to Agriculture and construction of urban areas.

The fluctuation in weather patterns across most of East African countries resulting in prolonged droughts is another factor that has adversely affected the Masai traditional occupation as herdsmen. Most of their cattle have perished due to lack of enough grazing land and water.
Whereas there are strong believes that African traditional herbs can cure most diseases, there is need for the Ministry of Health to put regulations that govern the sale of these herbs. Those Masai involved in this business should be registered and their location to be well known, with permanent addresses.

This is to protect the public from the danger of being conned by fellows who may pose as true traditional medicine healers, yet they administer useless herbs and other substance that may be dangerous to the health of their patients.

Memusi Lekundo, one Masai herbalist admitted to me that some of his fellow Masai have had problems with their customers; because they administer non-effective medicine to diseases they happen to have no medicine for. In the long run, the people lose confidence in them.

“Not all Masai seen around town are true experts in traditional healing herbs,” Lekundo says.

Some people mistake these Masai herbalists for traditional ‘witch doctors’. Lekundo narrated to me astonishing stories of some Rwandan women who approach them in search of traditional medicine to acquire excess love from their husbands.

Other men also approach them in need of powerful medicine to win love from girls whom they love very much but who have proved difficult to submit to them. 

These types of ‘patients’ have had their requests turned down by the genuine Masai herbalists.

 Those Masai, who are not genuine traditional healers, often prescribe and administer falls dozes to patients in need of medicine to acquire love or even wealth.

The Rwandan society should reverse the mentality of believing that traditional herbalists hold supernatural power of solving their un-achieved dreams. It is primitive societies that believe in the use of supernatural power to settle social or economic problems, which at times are of their own making.

For example, a person who is naturally lazy cannot acquire wealth from the blue by simply visiting the ‘witch doctors’.

Some of these witch doctors are themselves very poor fellows. One wonders why they don’t use the supernatural power at their disposal to acquire wealth for themselves before passing it to others.
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