Prophets, traditional healers decimate vultures
SHE blends effortlessly with the crowd at upmarket Joina City in Harare. Putting on dark sunglasses, painted nails and elaborate makeup, traditional healer Mugamhu is strikingly a modern woman just like the majority of clients who frequent her consulting-room in Harare’s central business district and at her home in the affluent suburb of Hillside.
She is not like the stereotype, bare-footed traditional healers who wrap themselves in black and white robes.
She claims, however, that she takes her job seriously and contends that I call her a traditional doctor.
Mugamhu specialises in foretelling events, and prescribing different kinds of medicine that include animal and birds portions. Business has been booming as football and lotto gamblers come to consult her in-order to win jackpots and football matches.
“Business is good these days,” she said. “What I foretell always comes true,” the traditional healer added, admitting that she uses animal and bird parts in her trade.
While the practice of fortune-telling by n’angas goes way back, what has been most worrying in the recent past is the level of damage it has brought to plants and wildlife.
Josephine Mandavu, a lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology believes muti (traditional medicine) traders have had a big hand in the poaching and poisoning of wildlife and birds.
She said birds parts that include those of protected vulture species are extensively traded in and used in traditional medicine in Zimbabwe.
“ A vulture is a vulture, regardless of the species; prime parts include heads, brains, beaks, feathers, claws and bones. Other raptors (eagles, owls) are also used for various purposes. Smaller birds like the fork-tailed drongo and the grey go-away bird are also used for various purposes,” says Mandavu.
Mandavu, who has conducted an extensive study on vultures and traditional medicines, says most traders and healers are not aware of conservation laws that protect species of wild fauna and flora.
She is therefore of the view that vulture protection campaigns involving traditional healers, chiefs and village heads should be conducted to curb the use of vultures in traditional medicine.
Vultures are seen as birds of the gods — divine creatures providing foresight into the unknown. In the Ndebele vernacular they are called omabonakude, (that which sees afar) and have been harvested for this perceived ability.
Vultures seem to “know” where the carcasses are. They are able to see from afar. The same ability is sought by many users.
Vulture feathers are also mixed with herbs in treating ailments such as nosebleeds and hiccups. Vulture heads or hearts are used in traditional healer initiation rituals to enhance contact with the ancestors.
Their brains are used to enhance dream accuracy (brains prescribed or sold to both traditional healers and regular clients to aid in gambling and even thieving).
Bones are used as ornaments by healers as part of their trade, while bone types are used as per what would have been prescribed by their ancestral spirits.
In the recent past, poaching and illegal sampling has been associated with poverty of those who live in and around wildlife areas.
Although in the past communities lived without endangering nature, industrial and commercial activities and other encroachments on natural habitats have seriously contributed to their impoverishment.
Increasing numbers of conservationist and environmentalists are today calling on governments in the southern African region to pay attention to the social dimension of conservation, by drawing up policies in close consultation with communities bordering nature reserves.
Peter Mundy of the department of forest resources and wildlife management, agreed: “There is need for stakeholders to publicly declare that vulture parts have no medicinal value. Organisations such as the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association (ZINATHA) should address falsehoods straight on and explicitly denounce the illegal acquisition of animal and birds parts for medicinal purposes.”
ZINATHA estimates that at least 70 percent of Zimbabweans currently use traditional medicines. The medicines are used for a variety of ailments and situations by people from all walks of life. People consulting n’angas come from varying social backgrounds, ranging from poor to the wealthy.
ZINATHA president, George Kandiero, attributed the surge in bird poaching and poisoning, especially of the vulture species, to the “prophetic phenomenon” saying the rise of prophets who want to foretell events to their congregants is largely to blame.
“There is a rise in prophets who are taking vultures parts to South Africa (where they consult their mediums) to enhance their fore-telling prowess,” Kandiero said.
He said the killing of game in Zimbabwe’s national parks may also be linked to the demand of the vulture parts in South Africa, spurred by prophetic portent, horse race and football gamblers.
“As for our members, we have been dissuading them from using animal and birds in concocting their medicines,” added Kandiero while calling for widespread awareness workshops on the plight of vultures.
He highlighted that healers and traders probably do not fully understand the plight of vultures today.
A Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe and Harare Province overseer, Reverend Ndabazhihle Manyoba, concurs that the rise of false prophets has brought with it challenges, among them the use of muti to enhance deliverance and miracle works.
He said the practice is contradictory to God’s pronouncements on conservation of nature. Manyoba believes that concerted awareness programmes, stiffer penalties, collaborative investigations and stricter law enforcement can curb the practice.