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Yes, in many areas traditional healers or witch doctors still play a role in society and traditional religion. The role of these individuals, also known as 'sangomas' or 'shaman' varies depending on the geographical region and ethnic group whom they serve, but there are a number of commonalities that extend across the continent.
Generally there are two distinct types of witch doctors throughout Africa. Most traditional African religions have a heavy emphasis on the importance of communication with deceased ancestors, especially in times of great need such as a natural disaster or unexplained death. The witch doctor serves as the intermediary and medium for communication between the living world and the ancestral spirit world.
This responsibility or gift is often passed down along family lines and children are selected at birth to become the next 'sangoma' of the family. The sangoma consults with the spirit world through possession or the study of bones and can be consulted regarding fate and curses.
The other type of witch doctor in African religion falls more into the category of a traditional healer. They use local plants and animal byproducts to treat illness and psychological issues. While many of their treatments are medically unfounded by Western standards, many traditional healers do offer effective homeopathic medicines.
A careful combination of traditional medicine and Western medicine can be effective in treating a number if ailments, however many Africans opt to use only traditional medicine. In Southern Africa, it is estimated that 80% of the population consults sangomas and traditional healers first (or exclusively) in favor of Western doctors. The role traditional healing and sangomas in Africa is extremely complex.
Often sangomas function as the social workers and psychologists in their community, helping to resolve family disputes among other problems. They know the local dynamics and can counsel appropriately with this background knowledge.Do you have a story that you would like us to publish? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org