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The Different Types of Traditional African Healers

There are different types of traditional African healers. The traditional healers can have different names due to culture and/or language.

One traditional healer is called the diviner (sangoma). The diviner is usually a highly

respected female who diagnoses unexplained illnesses through and by contact with ancestral spirits. The diviner may or may not have knowledge of medicinal herbs. The diviner can refer the client to an herbalist (inyanga), if necessary. The client does not have to provide a health history and does not have to be present for the diviner to complete her healing work.

The ancestors grant the calling the diviner upon the chosen individual. The individual must complete an apprenticeship which can last from 6 months to 10  years.

During the apprenticeship the individual learns to control the trance state and how to throw bones.  Once the apprenticeship is complete a ceremony called ukuthwasa is held where the chosen individual is officially accepted by the ancestors into the role of diviner (sangoma).

The herbalist (inyanga) is usually a male who does not receive an ancestral calling but must complete an apprenticeship. The herbalist gains knowledge about medicinal plants, natural treatments, and medicinal mixtures of animal origin. An herbalist can provide preventative and prophylactic treatment as well as rituals.

The herbalist has the option of specializing in diseases of one organ (ex. kidney or lung).  Herbalists can ask clients for health history information in order to provide the best care. Lastly, the herbalists may have a shop where medicinal herbs are sold and most business is obtained through referrals.

The midwife/birth attendant is usually a highly respected elderly woman who assists during the delivery/birth of child(ren).

The midwife/birth attendant teaches the pregnant woman how to bathe, how to dispose of the placenta,  about post-partum cord care, healing medicine, breastfeeding, fertility, and contraception. The midwife/birth attendant must have two children and complete a 15 to 20-year apprenticeship. Gifts are accepted with no monetary fee to the client.

An oracle is a person who gives insightful counsel through does divination and incantation. Divination is a diagnostic way to discover hidden sin (ex. making an ancestor angry). Incantation is a ritual done with herbs.

The rituals are done after the client verbalizes/recognizes his or her sin. The oracle chooses his or her words carefully in order to bring healing. The oracle’s words can target the patient or the patient’s family members.


Okpako, D. (n.d.). African medicine: tradition and beliefs. The Pharmaceutical Journal, 276(2), 239-240. Retrieved from

Truter, I. (2007). African traditional Healers: Cultural and religious beliefs intertwined in a holistic way. SA Pharmaceutical Journal, 74(8), 57-58. Retrieved from

Kimberly Johnson is the owner of Elements of Healing, LLC which is an herbal remedy company where products are made by hand with undivided attention and love. Check out the Facebook business page for company products and prices by clicking the link at the top of this page.

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