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Modernizing Medicine in Zimbabwe

HIV/AIDS and Traditional Healers

David S. Simmons

Publication Year: 2012

As subSaharan Africa continues to confront the runaway epidemic of HIV/AIDS, traditional healers have been tapped as collaborators in prevention and education efforts. The terms of this collaboration, however, are far from settled and continually contested. As Modernizing Medicine in Zimbabwe demonstrates, serious questions continue to linger in the medical community since the explosion of the disease nearly thirty years ago. Are healers obstacles to health development? Do their explanations for the disease disregard biomedical science? Can the worlds of traditional healing and modern medicine coexist and cooperate?

Combining anthropological, historical, and public health perspectives, Modernizing Medicine in Zimbabwe explores the intersection of African healing traditions and Western health development, emphasizing the role of this historical relationship in current debates about HIV/AIDS. Drawing on diverse sources including colonial records, missionary correspondence, international health policy reports, and interviews with traditional healers, anthropologist David S. Simmons demonstrates the remarkable adaptive qualities of these disparate communities as they try to meet the urgent needs of the people.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page

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pp. iii-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

I have accumulated a great many debts of gratitude in the course of this project.
My initial interest in working on the African continent was inspired by my mentor, the late D. Michael Warren, an expert in indigenous knowledge and participatory approaches to development who worked primarily ...

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Misfortunes without End: An Introduction to AIDS in Zimbabwe

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pp. 1-22

My 1999 return to Zimbabwe for the last leg of ongoing ethnographic fieldwork among urban traditional healers was filled with heartbreak. I had entered my field site initially in 1995, intellectually equipped with the latest anthropological theories and what I thought was a thorough grounding ...

I. The State of Health and the Health of the State: A Social Demography of AIDS in Zimbabwe

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1. Maladies of Modernity: Economic Structural Adjustment, HIV/AIDS, and the State of Health

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pp. 25-50

Harare, also known as Sunshine City, is the capital of Zimbabwe, located on the Highveld or watershed plateau between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers. A city of profound contradictions, it is a place where glittering glass and steel high-rises stand side by side with shelters made of discarded ...

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2. Conspiracy Theories: The So-Called AIDS Virus

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pp. 51-74

The crises discussed in the last chapter are not just economic, political, and health-related in nature, but they also represent crises in meaning, particularly for n’anga attempting to make sense of a runaway disease.1 As mediators between the sacred and the secular worlds as these spheres relate ...

II. History and Modernity: The Historical Constitution of N'anga as Dangerous Subjects

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3. Godly Medicine, Pagan Superstition, and the Colonial State

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pp. 77-101

Vernacular modernity has been an ongoing process in Zimbabwe for hundreds of years now as Africans have continually been exposed to, and experimented with, different forms of cultural expression, particularly as introduced by translocal others.1 As some of the earliest culture bearers of ...

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4. N'anga and the Workings of Vernacular Modernity

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pp. 102-128

N’anga’s experiences with missionary and colonial knowledge-power regimes— mainly through educational, religious, and legalistic forms—constituted a particular encounter with new forms of control and surveillance. Enshrined in these forms were teleological narratives of progress and performance, comportment and control—in short, modernity—that sought ...

III. Managing Modernity: N'anga Responses to HIV/AIDS

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5. Translating Policy into Action: ZINATHA and HIV/AIDS Education

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pp. 131-148

N’anga recognize the possibilities and perils that inclusion in formal health development poses to their practice. The health professions bill and the Health Professions Council, which in theory sought to bridge the gap between allopathic medical practice and African-derived therapeutic practice, effectively exposed healers to the power arrangements of health development ...

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6. N'anga Theories of Infectious Diseases

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pp. 149-168

At issue in efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe are apparently different etiologies of illness/disease—particularly sexually transmitted infections— and how best to stem their spread. On the one hand, there are the medical and public health communities that focus on the biological—and ...

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7. Of Markets and Medicine: The Changing Significance of Zimbabwean Muti in the Age of Intensified Globalization

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pp. 169-184

N’anga’s sensemaking of HIV/AIDS occurs within destabilized fields of power where the effects of economic structural adjustment, governmental corruption and mismanagement, privatization of health care, landlessness, rapid urbanization, and HIV/AIDS are embedded in the normal patterns of sociality. This backdrop of constant crisis provides a lens through which ...

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Conclusion: Vernacular Modernity, Explanatory Models, and HIV/AIDS

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pp. 185-196

Healers’ sensemaking of HIV/AIDS has much to teach us about local understandings of the disease that can better inform efforts to combat the pandemic. One of these central lessons is the syncretic nature of healers’ explanatory models that are simultaneously material and symbolic, representing ...


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pp. 197-202


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pp. 203-218


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pp. 219-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518095
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518071

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2012