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October 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 26(11): 1159-72.

Mutumwa Nchimi healers and wizardry beliefs in Zambia.

Dillon-Malone C.

Department of Social Development Studies, University of Zambia, Lusaka.

Mutumwa Nchimi practitioners in Zambia today are neotraditional healers who specialize in the diagnosis and curing of illnesses and misfortunes allegedly caused by wizardry (buloshi). Nchimi means 'witch-diviner' and Mutumwa means 'sent (by God)'. Their witch-divining practices are thus placed within the new biblical religious framework. Mutumwa Nchimi healers are contemporary African psychiatrists and psychotherapists who fully accept and work within the framework of the wizardry paradigm as the explanatory mechanism for a whole range of problems and illnesses experienced by a large number of Zambia's urban dwellers. Their success in attracting patients bears witness to the extent to which wizardry still persists as a paradigm for evil. The research data used is comprised of 143 complete tape-recorded cases of Mutumwa Nchimi diagnoses in addition to 1233 summaries of book-recorded cases. Buloshi is mentioned as the cause of illness and misfortune in 58% of the tape-recorded cases and in 55.9% of the book-recorded cases. Wizardry is perceived by Mutumwa Nchimi healers to relate to two dimensions which refer to the activity of witchcraft and of sorcery respectively. The former relates to witch spirits and fibanda ghosts; the latter relates to the use of bwanga magical charms. In addition to the need for prayer and reconciliation, psychotherapy requires the cleansing of one's body and of one's house from buloshi attack. The two dimensions of witchcraft and of sorcery, though distinct, are seen to be essentially related to one another. The dreams of patients, in which unconscious pressures come to the surface, are perceived to confirm the existence and reality of wizardry assault. Wizardry beliefs are placed firmly within the context of social relationships and social change in Zambia and psychosocial analysis is at the centre of the diagnostic process. Wizardry beliefs are seen by Mutumwa Nchimi healers to reflect the problems faced by urban dwellers in particular who, on the one hand, find themselves afflicted by feelings of shame or guilt with respect to failure to observe traditional morality and, on the other hand, by an awareness of suspected rival forces in the competitive urban environment.

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