A Few Notes On Illness

“The African theory of illness is very broad: it includes African theology. In other words, the African theory of illness not only attempts to explain illness and disease but also the relations between ancestors, God and the Universe. The theory makes a distinction between two major categories of illness: natural and social illnesses. Natural illnesses are easy to understand. There are illnesses caused by natural agents such as germs, bacteria, and viruses. On the other hand most illnesses are caused by social agents such as witches and spirits of various kinds.”
— Professor Gordon Chavunduka, "The African Religion in Zimbabwe To-Day" (2001)

The above quote foregrounds the central theme of today's post, which seeks to relate a more expansive notion of illness, which, as the quote states, is both natural and social. The last sentence is a part of an in depth conversation to be had at a later date about the origins of natural and social illness. For now, I will state that human beings should be added to the list of social agents. One must consider what humans do to other humans but also, if not primarily, what a human does to him/herself.

Suffering and Illness
Illness is anything that causes mpasi (suffering). If we understand human beings to be complex systems, suffering can be interpreted as an imbalance present in the human system, which while caused by natural or social agents, manifests itself mentally, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually. In Palo Mayombe, a premium is placed on the human condition. As this is a tradition that developed in an environment of systematic and brutal enslavement of African people, the Bantu Kongo, who arrived, enslaved, to Cuba in the 16th century, designed Palo Mayombe to achieve and maximize a liberated state of being and, thus, obliterate the suffering caused by slavery.

Liberation, too, must be understood broadly. Any illness, natural or social, that causes an imbalance and thus forces the creation of coping mechanisms that accomodate the illness, rather than obliterating it, is a form of enslavement. This enslavement, in our 20th and 21st century worlds, most often appears as poverty, sexism, racism, capitalism, all types of abuse, slave trafficking, and/or state sanctioned violence against the citizenry. That said, liberation goes beyond mere freedom from physical entrapment. Moreover, it is about the ongoing identification and removal of any thing that hinders one's ability to live in a state of mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual equity.

In the application of Palo Mayombe therapeutics, it is necessary, as Professor Chavunduka states, to distinguish between categories of illness. It is also necessary to understand the ways in which a human being is interacting with the ngolo (force) of the universe and the various ngolos of the entities within it. These distinctions constitute a diagnosis of illness conducted via divination. Upon learning the cause, the diviner would then craft and prescribe a solution. Depending on the illness, or combination of illnesses, the solution could be an ingestible herbal product or a talisman. The solution(s) may even require a specific ceremony necessitating the presence of several priests.  Where there is illness, Palo Mayombe therapeutics can diagnose the cause, develop, and prescribe the bilongo (medicines), and work with the patient to execute it's proper usage. Palo Mayombe is a technology capable of eradicating illness, and that makes possible liberation, and by extension healing.

Final thoughts
The notion of illness is significantly more complex in the lived experience of it. Western ways of being value and inculcate an ethic of obligatory suffering. Anything contrary is punished. Whatever you believe, may it bring you succor and forward movement in the quality and quantity that you require it. If it does not, I urge you to give much consideration to your particular illness and your desire to liberate yourself from it's mpasi. Please do look forward to a more in depth look at particular kinds of illness starting next week with grief. Until then.