Yoruba traditional beliefs and the treatment of mental illness in Ile-Ife, Osun State

Adekunle, Stephen Adedeji (2011-09)



This study investigated the Yorùbá traditional religious beliefs on the causes and treatment of mental illness among the people of Ilé-Ifè. It identified the traditional indigenous processes including the prognosis, explanation and control which were involved in the treatment of mental illness. It also examined the material and non-material elements employed by traditional healers in trado-medical institutions. This was with a view of assessing how the trado-medical practitioners carried out a holistic healing of mental illness. The study employed qualitative research method. The primary data were collected through participant observation and structured interviews among the people of Ilé-Ifè. Five trado-medical healing homes in Ilé-Ifè were visited to observe the processes involved in the treatment of mental illness vis-à-vis diagnosis, prescription and control of mental illnesses. Fifteen purposively selected trado-medical healers including five babaláwo (Ifá priests), five onísègùn or adáhunse (native doctors) and five olórìsà (priests and priestesses) of different (òrìsà) deities were interviewed. Interviews were also conducted with seven patients; three men and five women who claimed to have been healed of mental illness by traditional healers. The questions for the structural interviews were asked in Yorùbá because the medium of expression of those interviewed was Yorùbá language. Participant observation of Ìpàtẹ-oògùn sessions (display of locally produced herbal medicines) was also conducted. Secondary sources such as books, journals, articles and Internet resources were consulted to supplement the primary data. The data collected were interpreted using the method of content analysis. The study discovered that the causes and nature of mental illness in Yorùbá worldview were physical and spiritual. It was revealed that the beliefs in the spirits, and in the mysterious powers such as the witches, magic and medicines, and the belief in Orí the owner of destiny, played some significant roles in the efficacy of effecting treatment on mental illness. It was further discovered that there was a strong belief in divination as a means of diagnosing the causes of mental illness and the position of ritual and sacrifice in eliminating the mystical cause of mental illness. Also that the methods of treating mental illness included medication with preparation of herbs, leaves, barks, roots and animal relics which become magical medicine when the prepared contents were empowered with some esoteric power such as incantation, (Ọfò, ògèdè, ohùn) and or Ifá verses, ritual and sacrifice. The study concluded that the understanding of indigenous worldview combined with western/orthodox method for a holistic application of mental health was necessary for underpinning psychotherapy in indigenous belief system.