Traditional Tumbuka Healing

Traditional Healing Among the Tumbuka People –

*Research and Field work was conducted in June 17, 2000. Names changed to protect privacy.

Mr. James Chagima, popularly known Dr. J. B. Chibvwati, is an African Traditional Healer who was 38 years old and was born at Chiphesi village in Chief Magodi’s area in the Lundazi District of the Eastern Province of Zambia in the Southern African country of Zambia. He attended his primary school from first to fourth grade at Chizingi Primary School. In 1978 at the age of fifteen years, he went to Nkhanga Upper Primary School where he did his fifth up to the seventh grade in which he was always at the top of the class in his school work. He passed his Grade Seven examinations and qualified in 1980 to go to Petauke Secondary School for his eighth grade or form one or freshman in secondary school.

He spent only one week at the secondary school when he became very ill and went to Rumphi over the Zambian border in Northern Malawi. He was admitted for two years at a traditional hospital. In 1986, he returned to his home village at Chiphesi and begun to practice as a traditional healer. He said of his severe illness: “matenda bakaba bakuroweka…” meaning the source of the illness was someone had bewitched him.

JB Chibvwati is married and has three wives. He attends the Roman Catholic Church. He estimated that he might sometimes earn as much as K3,000.00 ($1.00 equivalent) per patient per week. If he has forty patients, which often the maximum he will have, that would amount to a total of about K120,000.00 ($40.00 equivalent) per week.


JB Chibvwati follows a very specific protocol in diagnosing his patients who come from nearby  and simply walk to his village and those who come from as far as Kazembe, Mwase, Chipata, and the furthest is Katete which is two hundred and ten Kms. away south of Lundazi. Once the patient is before him for consultation, he puts them under what he called the “African X- ray” as JB Chibvwati uses his “head” or trained mind to determine what is wrong with the patient.

The healing power comes from dreams. J.B Chibvwati always dreams about trees whose roots are prescribed and the herbs will cure the particular disease; however difficult the disease might be. According to JB Chibvwati: “Vikuni vikwiza nkhulemba mubuku, kuti kunthazi bana banga za visanga.” Meaning that the prescriptions of trees for diseases come his head in his dreams and he writes the names of the trees and the diseases down so that children in the future may be able to find the trees based on what is written down.

Types of Diseases

Munthumbo  vikuni vake”  a wide array of stomach ailments have their specific trees. “Vilaso vikuni vake” a wide variety of form of pneumonia have specific trees. J.B Chibvwati said his methods of diagnosis are very similar to those used in modern medical practices. Contrasting the procedures in the two healing methods, JB Chibvwati  said practitioners in modern hospitals have to be explicitly trained to treat patients, in our traditional healing methods, we dream of the prescriptions of tree from which herbal medicines cab be obtained for treating illness.

He explained that there are certain diseases that modern clinics and hospitals do not know how to cure. “Chipatala kulije mankhwala bakufukizgha, chifusi, mucheze”. Meaning modern hospitals do not have a cure for some of our indigenous diseases like bakufukizgh, chifusi, and mchezo. “Ise para banthu balowana tikuwirapo.” Meaning we as traditional healers, when people bewitch each other we intervene to cure the victim. We as traditional healers never give injections to our patients. If a patient comes to me with a complex illness, I will treat the illness that is best treated by me as a traditional healer. I will then send the patient away to the clinic nearby where modern diseases may be best treated. JB Chibvwati  said he was a member of the Traditional Healers Practitioners Association of Zambia. (THPAZ). “We are all together,” he said.

Admission “Ward”

JB Chibvwati  said he has an admission ward for patients who usually travel long distances to consult and seek treatment for illnesses. He sometime admits as  many as forty patients who have inadequate accommodation. The digging of a water well to provide clean water for patients has been completed but there is a lack of cement to properly complete the well.