Tanzania’s Southern Highlands, has received special attention in the past, fostered by the fact that the local Hehe people and their chief Mkwawa managed to resist German colonial rule for a considerable number of years. Mkwawa owed his power not only to his ability and intelligence, but also to the possession of local medicine and his special relationship with ancestral spirits.
Nowadays, the Hehe people, still spend a substantial amount of their time on divining and traditional healing. Through a deep-seated belief in the supernatural forces, they feel that these powers greatly influence their wellbeing. A violation of a taboo or an insult of an ancestor or problems in the direct social environment (jealousy, love, curses), may have a harmful effect. The treatments therefore most often consist of a combination of ritual, comfort and medication. These rituals play an important role in the work of the healers, when removing bad luck and providing protection for body, mind and business. Despite economic progress and technological developments, a small group of traditional healers in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania still stick to the ancient rituals of their “Wahehe” ancestors.
Combining herbal medicine and spiritual communication, they provide comfort and treatment to a large part of the population that still prefers their spells and counter-curses over the often complicated and expensive Western medicine. Worshipped by the communities they treat, but prohibited and sometimes even prosecuted by the national government, this fascinating group of eccentric individuals continues to practice medicine in accordance with their beliefs and traditions.
This story portrays the life and work of the healers, and how present day inhabitants of Iringa region think about and make use of divination, herbal medicines, sacrifices, witchcraft and ancestral veneration. It is a world hidden to most of us, yet it forms an intrinsic and inspiring part of the Tanzanian way of life. This project is now part the “Southern Highlands Culture Solutions (SHiCS), implemented by the University of Iringa (UoI), and funded by the European Union (EU).
These photo have been publisted on BBC Photo Gallery: Tanzania’s Traditional Healers: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-22263057
The series have been exhibited in Dresden, Germany 2014. “Mit den Ahnen im Gespräch: Heiler im Sudlichen Hochland Tansania”.
These photos are also being permanently exhibited in Iringa, Tanzania: “Fahari Yetu, Southern Highlands Culture Solutions”. From June 2016 –