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Muti (Zulu: Umuthi or Muthi) is the term applied to the herbal aspect of the traditional medicine used by sangomas (traditional healers or witchdoctors) throughout most of Southern Africa. The word is derived from the Zulu word for tree, (umuthi) and anglicized into "muti".
Although commonly associated with herbal remedies, it can also take the forms of charms and amulets which are prepared by the sangoma and worn by the patient. The herbal concoctions can be ingested, as well as inhaled (via smoke or steam), or rubbed on the body.
Besides its alleged simple herbal properties, muti has a dark side — the use of human body parts to make medicine, magic, or protective spells. Muti murders are not ritual sacrifices in any religious sense; they are simply murders to harvest body parts. The single most common victims are children, but any age is acceptable, as well as either gender. The body parts have become an actual commodity, and many victims are sold (or their parts are sold) by members of their family or friends. If the victim is conscious while the body parts are removed, the value of the body part increases, for the belief is that the fear, the strong pulsing of the heart while in pain, and other strong emotions are literally "infused" in the severed part.
There is strong argument that the use of human body parts — and the murders to acquire those parts — was either invented after the colonial and missionary periods, or at least became far more drastic and common. Without doubt, the practice of using human body parts in muti has been influenced and exaggerated because of the encroachment of Western society, the dis-empowerment of the native peoples, and (both surprisingly and oddly not surprisingly) justified by biblical scripture.
Endangered animals and animal trafficking
Like traditional Chinese medicine, muti rituals often use the body parts of rare and endangered species. Investigative journalists have found rhino horns, parts of monkeys and apes including protected great apes, and large cats like leopards and cheetahs. The Mai Mai market in Johannesburg sells many of these products practically out in the open, with little challenge from the authorities, due to the respect given by locals to muti medicine.
- FactNet links on muti, muti murders and sangomas
- Interview with albino Caution - shocking images and frank discussion
- Medicine Murder in Colonial Lesotho: The anatomy of a moral crisis, by Colin Murray and Peter Sanders. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute, London, 2005. xvi+494 pp. £50 (cloth). ISBN 0-7486-2284-5 (cloth)
- Massacres, Muthi & Misery: Women and Political Violence. Jenni Irish, Agenda, No. 16, Violence in Focus (1993), pp. 5-9
- Tradition rules at Mai Mai (archived article)