Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Memories of the Maalim Healers in old Zanzibar by Amir Rashid


Zanzibar never had witch doctors, per se. They were respectfully known as "Maalim". There were some psychics and some administered herbal medicines derived mostly from plants and natural elements.
I remember one gentleman of Iranian/Agha descent who lived at Mwembetanga also provided psychic services. He had a bicycle and, I believe, worked as a debt collector for some company (Smith Mackenzie ?), but also did some part time work in giving herb medicines, at a nominal charge of Shs.2 (or US$.028).
Another lady, mother of the late Bwana Aziz, a gymnast, who resided behind the then Kuku market (now fish market), also provided psychic services for a nominal fee of also Shs.2. She normally would have a silver plate full of sand and one had to dip one's palm of right hand in the sand and think of the issue one had come to get her services for, and she was expected to respond and try to assist in solving that particular issue. For example, if one lost a wedding ring, and she would make a suggestion to look at a particular spot (under a mattress , etc.) in one's home.
The Zanzibar "Maalims" should not be confused with Tanganyikan and other African witch doctors. We read a lot on how Tanganyikan witchdoctors brutalize albino villagers - cut off their body parts for so called "healing" purposes. When I was in UK as a student during the 60s, I remember reading in London Times or Sunday Observer that a team of Cambridge University scientists had gone to Southern Africa to research types of herbal and plant medicines used by locals or natives, and incorporate such organic medicines in Western pharmaceuticals.
In Unguja, Zanzibar, we were also blessed by having two retailers at Hurumzi, right behind Khoja Ismaili Jamatini, Late Bwana Saleh and Late Bwana Bando. They were experts in recommending right herbal medicines and would sell small amounts at an affordable cost. We also had a Zanzibari Bahora businessman at Malindi, next to Abedi Samosa, who would give out freely some sticky stuff which when heated, could then be applied, (using a piece of cotton cloth), on a wound for speedy healing. We could not then afford imported Johnson & Johnson bandages, and this home made remedy worked like charm.
There was another word in Zanzibar Swahili witchcraft vocabulary. And that was "HALBADIRI". When someone had a grudge or had been wronged by another party, they would ask a witch doctor back home to send a "halbadiri" spell on the offending party. The witch doctors were often reluctant to administer such a strong spell on the offender, as the spell could backfire and return to the sender, who could then have mental breakdown or suffer from schizophrenia for the rest of his/her life!
I remember in the 50s, a middle aged lady passing everyday at Ngambo (by our residence) and screaming at the top of her voice in Swahili, apparently cursing someone. We were told that someone had sent a halbadiri spell on her. (It was obvious that poor lady was suffering from schizophrenia or some mental disorder).
There was another spell called "KIFARA".  This was a quick type of spell which a victim would have his Maalim or witch doctor  send on  a party which had done wrong to the victim.  Kafara would result in a major accident or disaster that would befall on the enemy.  Unlike "halbadiri", kafara cannot revert on the victim.
Yes, Zanzibar was gifted by locals who were not materialistic, as now, and we all lived like one family, although, like in any family, there were ups and downs every now and then. Unfortunately, foreign interference in Zanzibar's politics ended all that one family relationships among Zanzibaris. (Now even our Wapemba brothers try to smuggle cloves to Kenya in order to get more money for their produce). Yes, times have changed and drug culture has taken over everywhere in this dunia.


Wa salaam, Amir Rashid.


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