Preparations and Administration of Muti

The traditional healers have numerous ways they prepare their muti or medicine. Pujol (1988) lists some of the Zulu terms for various preparations which include:

  • Infusions (Imuthi Ophuzwayo)
  • Inhalants(Gquma-over steam)
  • Snuff (Bema muthi)
  • Licking of powder (Khota)
  • Implantations under skin (Chaza)
  • Enemas (Ucatha)
  • Bath mixtures (Geza)
  • Poultices (Izithobo)
  • Fatty creams/balms (Amafutas)
  • Emetics(Imithi Yokuphalaza)
  • Internal cleansing (Izimbiza)

Emetics are used primarily for chest illnesses, and are used as expectorants to clear the air passages. They are also used to correct nausea, and pain believed to result from excessive accumulation of gall (green/yellowish substance) (Ngubane 1977).

Similar to the aforementioned preparations are the following Xhosa preparations used in Trankei as described by Lamla (1975). It appears that certain types of plants are used in particular types of preparations and that such preparations of medicines are often used to treat a particular type of illness. Following are a few of these preparations from the literature that have magical or medicinal qualities. A lot more exist for which physical ailments are treated.

Imbiza (literally pot) is a preparation in which herbs are boiled into a decoction. This is often done for hard medicine like barks (Mpai, pers comm). Medicines prepared in this way are used for Scrofula, chest complaints and blood purifying processes in the Transkei (Lamla 1975), e.g., ikhala-khulu, (Cape Aloes). Ngubane (1977:107) states that imbiza is a generic name for all forms of purgatives.

Isichonco. Cold or warm water vegetal infusions used to wash with, to drive away evil spirits and promote good luck, e.g., umhlonyane, (Artemisia afra). Furthermore this plant is used in colds to unblock sinuses.

Uses of Muti

Many plants are used for their curative properties. While conducting a survey of a muti shop in the Mai Mai baz r (a complex of muti shops in Johannesburg) 36 % of the plants in this shop were recorded as having medicinal uses for physical disorders or ailments such as diarrhoea, epilepsy, asthma, coughs, parasitic infections, madness, headaches etc. The most common category of psychoactive plant use in South Africa are those for epilepsy and madness of which many exist, approximately 150 are reported from the literature, (paper in press). Following are some categories of medicines, or rather charms, having particular uses, based on use rather than on preparation. Many of these categories accentuate the magical uses of muti. The magical uses of muti are indeed important in traditional Southern African healing but may be over emphasised at the expense of less sensational medically used plants. This focus is shifting with time.

Herb shelf in Lulamas shop. Photographer: JF Sobiecki

Ama-khubalo (Charms): Wood medicines such as roots or barks often worn around the neck and nibbled on. These muti are used for self-fortification and to ward off evil spirits, e.g., Alepidea amatymbica. This plant can also be used for lung conditions, such as bronchitis by drinking a decoction. This term also means compounded medicines prepared only by professional practitioners and prescribed by them (Ngubane 1977).

Intelezi: "A generic name for all medicinal charms, the object of which is to counteract evil by rendering the causes innocuous". (Lamla 1975:151). The intelezi is often a mixture of plants and is often boiled and preserved. It can be sprinkled (Uku-chela) or spurted from the mouth (uku-khafula). Ngubane (1977:110) states that intelezis are never ingested but are sprinkled. These are considered white medicines.

Umkhando Class of medicinal charms to gain influence, supremacy, gain ascendancy over another in love matters.

Isibethelelo: love charms used to fix up a girl to a man, so that she will love him only.

Categories of Medicines (Muti)

Medicines are categorised as being black, red or white. These colours are used symbolically to describe the action the medicines have on the person. These medicines are used as emetics to correct the cause of illness, as is the case for lineage sorcery, or pollution (unpopularity etc) (Ngubane 1977). Black and red medicines are believed to expel what is bad and to strengthen the body against future attacks (Ngubane 1977:113). To regain good health white medicine is used (Ngubane 1977:113). Treatment with such coloured medicines is intended to rectify a balance between a person and the environment (Ngubane 1977:113). Finally these medicines are used serially in order of black, red then white. This order of use ensures that a medical regime is maintained, by the end of which, a cure is attained.

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