Illness Causes & Interventions

Causes of Illness and Approaches to Intervention

In some traditional African systems of thought, it is believed that when one has good health, one is in harmony with nature. If one is ill, a state of disharmony is said to exist (Watson, 1984).
This holistic notion of health, however, is not peculiar to African systems of thought. Among the various systems of traditional medicine, most illnesses can be classified as having a natural, occultist, or spiritual origin (Murdock, l980).

Types of Illness

A natural illness is a result of a physical cause, such as infection, disease, weather, and other environmental factors. Treatments of natural illnesses emphasize the uses of herbs, barks, teas, and similar natural substances. An occult illness is a result of supernatural forces, such as evil spirits, and their agents, such as conjurers (Simpson, l970; Tallant, l946).

Evidence of occult illnesses and concerns about the treatment thereof is equally as prominent in the literature on traditional medicine as are reports of natural illnesses. There are three important distinctions between natural, occult and spiritual illnesses:

  1. Natural causes primarily induce physical illness; conjuration may affect the physical and psychological as well as the spiritual life of the person (Mitchell, l978)
  1. Occult illness is a result of supernatural, not physical, causes. The conjurer uses his or her powers, as well as fetishes to induce and/or ward off illness in specific individuals
  1. Spiritual illness is a result of a willful violation of sacred beliefs or of sin, such as adultery, theft or murder (Mitchell). Like the occult, spiritual forces can affect all aspects of life, ranging from the physical to the spiritual characteristics of the person (Simpson, 1970; Willer, l97l)

Our examination of types of illnesses suggests a close relationship between the presumed cause of an illness and the type of intervention needed to correct the malady.