Rituals of Healing

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Ijele mask in Achalla, 1983. Photo by Herbert M. Cole.


In Africa, almost every aspect of life is ultimately affected by the relationships between humans and spirits, their wills, needs, and personalities. African visual and performing arts are often used in the trials and dramas of life to achieve the goals of physical and spiritual health, balance, and well-being. Hence, processes of healing use a variety of media, including masquerades, prayers, music, and dance among others, to express such ideals and concepts, as exemplified by this exquisite Igbo ijele mask. In these performances social values, religious laws, and sacred narratives are recounted, recreated, and re-dramatized. Through the periodic reenactments of established laws, norms and cultural experiences, the members of a society are reminded of their relationship to each other and to the inhabitants of the spirit world. Taking part in the actual and reenacted dramas of life helps establish the mutual bond between humans and the supernatural world, while also assuming the health and well-being of its members.