Mallamai Tsibbu, Traditional Medicine and Witch Persecution in Kano, Northern Nigeria

Feature Article Mallamai Tsibbu, Traditional Medicine and Witch Persecution in Kano, Northern Nigeria
FEB 17, 2023 LISTEN

There is a strong link between witchcraft accusations and the activities of experts in traditional spirituality and Islam popularly known as Mallamai Tsibbu in Kano, Northern Nigeria. A recent case has highlighted this intriguing connection. A human rights officer in the region has drawn the attention of the Advocacy for Alleged Witches to the case of Maimuna, 38 from Tarauni Local Government Area in Kano. Maimuna is a mother of four. She is divorced, and was denied custody of her children. The ex-husband married her when she was fourteen. In addition to the allegation of witchcraft, she has suffered physical assault and family members have rejected and shunned her for being a witch. Traumatized, Maimuna needs rehabilitation to continue her normal life. She needs a job and a source of income. Since she 'married' as a child, she could not go to school or learn any skills. Before getting married the family sent her to hawk on the streets. Now divorced, she is unable to find a job or fend for herself.

On further inquiry, the AfAW noticed that the allegation of witchcraft is linked to local medical practices. A neighbor's child took ill and the family took this child to a mallam who attributed the illness to witchcraft. Maimuna and the mother were accused. They were urged to heal the child. Fortunately, after performing some rituals, the sick child recovered but witchcraft stigmatization of Maimuna and the mother continued. Out of fear, Maimuna and the mother had to flee the community, and are currently displaced. The AfAW is exploring ways of working with the human rights office in Kano to assist Maimuna and other victims of witchcraft accusations in the area.

Local medicine men known as Mallamai Tsibbu are key actors in witchcraft accusations and witch persecutions because they are scholars of traditional spirituality and Islam who identify witches and certify witchcraft. They provide witch hunting services to locals.

Local sources told the AfAW that Mallamai Tsibbu were very popular among the Hausas before the advent of Wahabi reformist Islam. These medicine men combine the traditional Bori spirituality and Islam to heal people, communicate with djinns, and drive away spirits. Mallamai Tsibbu engage in soothsaying, palm reading, and prediction of the future using plates and sand.

Sources in Kano say that, although Wahabi Muslims shun and discourage the practices of Mallamai Tsibbu, many people still patronize them including politicians. Like other local medicine practitioners, Mallamai Tsibbu impute witchcraft and get people to accuse and persecute their family and community members. As the case of Maimuna has illustrated there is a strong connection between local medical practices and witchcraft accusations. And witch persecutions would not stop until this link is broken. To break this link, the health misinformation and disinformation that local medicine practitioners peddle need to be dispelled. Mallamai Tsibbu and other local medicine men and women impute witchcraft due to ignorance, and lack of knowledge and understanding of modern medicine and human biology. Measures must be taken to ensure that these so called traditional healers do not continue with these practices that endanger human lives and family relationships.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian government is doing very little to checkmate the activities of these charlatans. Many people defend the quackery and charade going on in the name of local medicine as a form of African traditional medicine that Africans should proudly blindly uphold. They fail to take a critical look at the shady and shoddy traditional healing practices that local medicine men and women peddle. Africans should stop romanticizing the medical scam, extortion, and exploitation by Mallamai Tsibbu and other traditional healers. Witchcraft accusation is against the law in Nigeria and all who impute witchcraft or indulge in witch persecutions including the Mallamai Tsibbu should be brought to justice.

Leo Igwe directs the Advocacy for Alleged Witches