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July 2021

Soc Sci Med. 1987 ; 24(8): 645-9.

Concepts and management of deafness in the Yoruba medical system: a case study of traditional healers in Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

Odebiyi AI, Togonu-Bickersteth F.

This paper examines the concept and management of deafness among 98 randomly selected healers in Ile-Ife. We are concerned with deafness because in an earlier study mothers of deaf children reported that they had consulted these practitioners. All of the healers distinguished congenital and non-congenital deafness, and in their efforts to cure patients they were guided by experience and specialist knowledge. A higher proportion of the herbalists associated congenital deafness with natural causes than did the other type of healers. The babalawos and indigenous faith healers who mentioned a natural cause of congenital deafness believed that the primary causative agents were supernatural. Half of the indigenous faith healers and more than half of the babalawos we interviewed attributed non-congenital deafness to malevolent forces, while only 12.5% of the herbalists made this attribution. Treatment procedures and preventive techniques were based on conceptions of causality. While the majority of the herbalists prescribed a herbal ear drop, a majority of the babalawos and the indigenous faith healers prescribed sacrifices to appease the aggrieved parties. Some interesting points that emanated from the study include the healers' explanation that a person's essence is transmitted to his personal effects, which are used with incantation to inflict the deaf person. Closely associated with this is the healers' warning that patients need to maintain good-neighbourliness to avoid further harm. The paper further highlights the adherence to pregnancy taboos to avoid congenital deafness.

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