TRADITIONAL HEALERS IN CONSERVATION

It had drizzled since morning, the weather was cold and the road so bad with several water filled potholes, but none of these could deter us from seeing the healing specialist blessed with natural knowledge and skills on the use of traditional herbs. So much had been said about him and his group members by our community guide Mr. Hakizimana Jean de Dieu from SACOLA community group (standing for Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association), and all we wanted was to meet and talk to this great healer, and learn more about his work.

Traditional healing involves the use of natural/native plants. In the past these herbs/plants were from deep in the forests, the remaining forests now being protected as National Parks. Traditional healers were largely elderly persons believed to be knowledgeable and blessed by their ancestors to heal people. But over time, the trend has changed, the younger generation has learnt most of these herbs from the elders and through other formal learnings, and, they have started to take over the practice. “In the olden days, traditional healing was done by our grandparents, it was rare and also perceived odd for a young man like me to administer herbs, but this has changed. The elders passed on this knowledge to us and we have learnt to do the job very well. I have seen many people get healed using herbs after their chronic complications had failed to be fully treated in hospitals” explains Mr. Bizimana David, a traditional healer in Kinigi, Musanze district, Rwanda.

However, unlike in the past when herbs were got from the Parks, potentially causing degradation of the natural resources, modern herbalists are conservation friendly. They have been educated on the importance of protecting and conserving natural resources, and advised on how they can still treat people using herbs but from more sustainable sources.

According to Mr. Bizimana, whereas the forest is rich with resources/herbs it is important to conserve it for its many benefits. He explains that plants, if well cared for can grow anywhere even outside the park. It’s at this point that our healing specialist Mr. Bizimana invited us out to see his gardens of medicinal plants. Through the drizzles we went from one garden to another, while he explained the different plants by name and function. It was amazing to see the variety of plant species, and to know that one single plant can heal over four ailments. Some of the plants included beet root and aloe vera.

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Mr. Bizimana explaining the names and functions of plants to the team. Photo by: Malin Wiberg

Mr. Bizimana explains that he and his group members (fellow traditional healers) started these gardens as an effort to stay away from destroying the forest/park, and to get the medicinal plants nearer to them. “In doing this, we are demonstrating that even traditional healers can conserve natural resources and that herbs too can grow in our gardens just like food crops. Traditional healing is a source of income to us, it therefore gives us reason to do it more responsibly – within reach, allowing for close monitoring and proper care for the plants than going to deplete the park resources everyday” Bizimana says.
With traditional medicine proving to be effective every day and the need to conserve natural resources, supporting and or working with traditional healers to emulate this example can only be the way forward to guarantee their contribution towards conservation of natural forests/parks and their wildlife.

Irrespective of the rain, cold and the mud, the smiles on my colleague Malin Wiberg’s face (from WWF Sweden) were proof that she had enjoyed her time with the healing specialist and the tour of the gardens, learning about the different medicinal plants. Malin appreciated the group’s role as traditional healers in conservation, saying they had set a good example to other traditional healers out there.
Asked on where he sees the group in the next five years, Mr. Bizimana says he envisions a stronger and dynamic traditional healers’ group, with increased knowledge on conservation promotion as traditional healers and larger farms of herbs. He appeals to conservation players to supply them with medicinal plant seeds/seedlings to expand their gardens, and to tourists to visit them and learn about their work.

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The community guide Hakizimana (in black jacket), Mr. Bizimana the healing specialist (middle) and Alice, IGCP. Photo by: Malin Wiberg

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