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Bodies, Politics, and African Healing

The Matter of Maladies in Tanzania

Stacey A. Langwick

Publication Year: 2011

This subtle and powerful ethnography examines African healing and its relationship to medical science. Stacey A. Langwick investigates the practices of healers in Tanzania who confront the most intractable illnesses in the region, including AIDS and malaria. She reveals how healers generate new therapies and shape the bodies of their patients as they address devils and parasites, anti-witchcraft medicine, and child immunization. Transcending the dualisms between tradition and science, culture and nature, belief and knowledge, Langwick tells a new story about the materiality of healing and postcolonial politics. This important work bridges postcolonial theory, science, public health, and anthropology.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-xiii

The gifts I have received and the debts I have accrued during the course of researching and writing this book are too great to capture in a few pages. Over the past decade, this book has been a medium for deep and intimate relations as well as brief but electric intellectual encounters. These have shaped who I am today not only as a scholar, but as a teacher, a spouse, a mother, and a person. ...

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A Note on Translation

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pp. xv

The names of plants and trees used by healers are all in Kimakonde. All other foreign words are Kiswahili unless otherwise noted. A glossary has been included in the back of the book for the reader’s reference. ...

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Prologue: AIDS, Rats, and Soldiers’ Belts

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pp. 1-6

Frozen by her doubts, Binti Mayaula did nothing as she watched a man die of AIDS. She had had a dream in which she had been told to collect the root dying’weo and make it into a tea to cure just such a patient. When she awoke, however, Binti Mayaula was uncertain. She knew this root, having used it in the past to make a medicinal paste to apply externally to sores. The sores had dried up and that ...

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1 Orientations

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pp. 7-35

This book is a study of healing practices in southeastern Tanzania and the worlds they render meaningful and concrete. The World Health Organization (2002) estimates that 80 percent of Africans have sought out traditional medicine and states that many depend on herbal remedies as a critical aspect of their primary health care.1 Some African health professionals, including the district nursing ...

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Part 1. A Short Genealogy of Traditional Medicine

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pp. 37

It is apparent that primitive medicaments to certain common diseases have been deteriorating in the past five decades just because more sophisticated ones have been introduced by more developed countries. This does not by any means prevent the Scientists from investigating the ...

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2 Witchcraft, Oracles, and Native Medicine

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pp. 39-57

In 1999, the district commissioner of Newala—feeling a little guilty, I believe, that the “district archives” to which I had requested access were a heap of termite-eaten, mouse-inhabited papers in a warehouse that was partially open to the elements—invited me to read the current files in his office on traditional medicine. Healers’ appeals to work in the district dominated these files. The ...

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3 Making Tanzanian Traditional Medicine

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pp. 58-84

In 1968, a research officer in the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative Development attended the first Symposium on African Medicinal Plants, which was held in Senegal. Upon his return, he claimed for scientists the role of transforming “the old or indigenous ways of curing diseases” into “new” forms of modern treatment (see first epigraph to Part 1). His argument for transforming ...

Part 2. Hailing Traditional Experts

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pp. 85

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4 Healers and Their Intimate Becomings

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pp. 87-120

In 2003, forty-six African countries marked the promise of traditional medicine by declaring the 31st of August to be African Traditional Medicine Day, an annual day of celebration. In Tanzania, this governmental recognition prompted the editorial page of the Tanzanian Business Times to issue the daring call to “bring on the traditional medicine men and women—and their midwives.” Who are these ...

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5 Traditional Birth Attendants as Institutional Evocations

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pp. 121-147

In the 1980s and 1990s, many developing countries, including Tanzania, trained traditional birth attendants (TBAs) as part of their efforts to meet health development goals.1 The integration of lay midwives into the national health care service was one response to the challenges of providing “health for all” in countries that did not have enough professionally trained biomedical staff. TBAs extend the ...

Part 3. Healing Matters

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pp. 149

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6 Alternative Materialities

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pp. 151-174

Beginnings are especially dangerous. Both traditional and biomedical practitioners consider the first years of life to be particularly vulnerable. Mashetani love to play with young children. Wachawi, those who wish misfortune, favor attacks on infants who promise to extend the lineage and bring wealth. High infant mortality statistics justify this special attention and biomedical care in the first ...

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7 Interferences and Inclusions

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pp. 175-206

In southern Tanzania, degedege and malaria are considered two of the most common threats to the well-being of pregnant women and young children. Responding to international and national concerns that malaria contributes significantly to poverty and to high rates of maternal and child mortality in Africa, the Tanzanian Ministry of Health has implemented programs to motivate stricter adherence to ...

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8 Shifting Existences, or Being and Not-Being

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pp. 207-231

The struggle of therapeutic practitioners—both biomedical and traditional—to articulate objects of knowledge that will travel between the hospital and the healer’s home has, to this point, drawn our attention to moments of interference and encounter. Translation, however, requires some combination of political will, social desire, technological need, and ethical demand. What of times when ...

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Conclusion: Postcolonial Ontological Politics

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pp. 232-239

Traditional medicine is a highly politicized and deeply intimate battle over who and what has the right to exist. As a modern category of knowledge and practice—forged through encounters between traditional healers, scientists (from Tanzania, Britain, China and elsewhere), biomedical practitioners, government bureaucrats, and international development organizations among others—it ...

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pp. 240-244

Binti Dadi has hundreds of children. She is well known for helping women “get pregnant quickly” (kupata mimba haraka haraka). Each child that her roots and leaves and kombe have helped to bring into the world she calls “my child” (mwanagu). ...


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pp. 245


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pp. 247-271


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pp. 273-290


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pp. 291-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780253001962
E-ISBN-10: 025300196X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253355270

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 24 b&w illus., 2 maps
Publication Year: 2011