Dr Simon Mutebi

Project Title: Indigenous Healing and Medicinal Practices in Response to the COVID-19 Outbreak in Tanzania


In multiple African countries, large numbers of people have embraced indigenous healing and medicinal practices in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Particularly in this respect is Tanzania, where national biomedical institutions and government figures have explicitly endorsed particular medicines for their capacity to combat the virus, as well as healing practices such as kupiga nyungu/kujifukiza (steam inhalation). In this study, I focus on the experiences and perceptions of ordinary Tanzanians on indigenous forms of healing in response to COVID-19—a paradigmatic ‘global challenge’. Through extensive ethnographic study in urban Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the study seeks to answer the following questions: how do ordinary Tanzanians apprehend the efficacy of these medicines and practices relative to those advocated by global health authorities? How do they frame them discursively in relation to particular notions of ‘African-ness’? How and why certain healing and medicinal practices are coded as ‘religious’, and why others are coded as ‘indigenous’, ‘local’, ‘African’, or ‘cultural’? How do the different health modalities shape people’s perceptions, and practices in responding to the pandemic and how do their response reshapes government communications and messaging—and in particular their decision to advocate and mobilise notions of indigenous healing as well as prayer.

Working with: Dr Benjamin Kirby