Most babies born in a traditional Malawian set-up move around with amulets that contain traditional medicine or charms believed to offer protection and healing to the baby. But do these amulets really work? Our Reporter, ALBERT SHARRA researches.
Most children born in both rural and urban areas of Malawi have amulets on their necks, waist, arms and other limb joints. They are usually in form of a thread dipped in traditional herbs or a thread with something dangling like a pendulum or button. It can even look like a thread with a small sack (chithumwa).
They have been part of our society from time immemorial and have evolved with time.
Esther James, a former Traditional Birth Attendant (TBA) of Nchilamwera in Thyolo, who helped women give birth in the district between 1994 and 2010, says a baby living without an amulet is exposed to health risks and even sudden death originating from witchcraft.
“Amulets hold the health and life of a baby. A witch cannot tamper with a baby wearing an amulet. The threads or sometimes pieces of wood you see in the waist or neck of the baby holds more than what you think. There is a mixture of herbs that scares any sort of witchcraft and sorcery, “says James.
“I have seen a number of children struggling with different ailments because their parents were not interested in using amulets. We should not take these things lightly. They really work and the best question to ask is why are amulets not fading?” She adds.
Gary Varner, an anthropologist, in his book The History and Use of Amulets, Charms and Talisman defines amulets as tools for protection. He says amulets are made of wood, stone, clay, metal, plants and dead animals and are designed in ways that signifies strength and power.
Their sole purpose, according to the book, is both to protect and to harm through witchcraft and sorcery.
“…there is direct link between the herbs and it [protection]; that when a witch or sorcerer sees, [he or she] gets the communication that there is protection. That is how they are able to protect a baby. However, it depends with the society and the herbs the people in the area believe in to hold some powers,”
An article titled Talismans and Herbs Protect from Ghosts and Witches, posted on Ancient World Mysteries website, says use of amulets differ from one tradition to another. The article argues that even the materials used go with beliefs in the society.
In Malawi, according to James, Ndodo ya afiti tree is believed to have powers to fight any witchcraft. In Mozambique and Malawi, she says, ground bean (Nzama) is believed to have powers to punish a witch.
Health Psychologist, Sandra Mapemba, says amulets are part of the tradition that most people strongly believe in to do certain things such as ward off evil spirits or heal ailments.
Mapemba says amulets cannot fade in a day because they are adopted from ancestors and people affiliated to such practices grow up appreciating the customs without questioning them.
She is, however, quick to point out that amulets work for people who believe in them.
“The mind is a powerful place in the use of amulets. It is all about one’s belief. Those who believe in them get positive results,” says Mapemba.
Nevertheless, she does not share a position on whether to continue using them or not. Mapemba says it depends on how one feels and belief on their effectiveness.