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The laity in the Sudan designates their healing corpus as tibb and the sophisticated among them qualify it as tibb baladi, local medicine. They understand tibb as a fine skill that requires knowledge, intelligence and probably supernatural endowments such as magical powers and divine assistance. Incidentally, the word tibb also denotes magic. People would describe a sick person as matbub, bewitched, and at the same time say tabbab al-jarh, treated the wound and tabbab al-kasr, set the broken bone. Due to beliefs in the supernatural causation of ill-health, local medicine in the Sudan, like almost all other similar systems throughout the world, is integral to the systems describing cosmic relations—mystical, empirical or rational. Therefore, there are in the country as many systems of traditional medicine as there are ethnic or cultural groups.


A group of experts convened by the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville in 1976 defined traditional medicine as follows:


“...The sum total of all the knowledge and practices, whether explicable or not, used in diagnosis, prevention and elimination of physical, mental or social imbalance and relying exclusively on practical experience and observation handed down from generation to generation, whether verbally or in writing.”[1]


WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2002-2005, defined TM as 'a comprehensive term used to refer both to TM systms such as traditional Chinese medicine, Indian ayurveda and Arabic unani medicine, and to various forms of indigenous medicine. TM therapies include medication therapies if they involve use of herbal medicines, animal parts and/or minerals - and non-medication therapies - if they are carried out primarily without the use of medication, as in the case of acupuncture, manual therapies and spiritual therapies. In countries where the dominant health care system is based on allopathic medicine, or where TM has not been incoroprated into the natioal health care system, TM is often termed "complementary", "alternative", or "non-conventioal medicine".



Researchers have drawn a list of merits of this system over the well-established biomedical alternative, and suggested ways and means of utilizing it. Traditional medicine was also noted to have its disadvantages, one of which is dictated by its inherently culture-bound nature, practices often differing even in the same geographical zone. Hence, generalizations about traditional medicine are fraught with danger.


Differences in concepts and methods of managing newborn twins in different communities are illustrative. The birth of twins is surrounded by ambivalent reactions among different societies. They are considered by some as sons of God, by others evil spirits, ominous signs or a blessing.[2] The Adok tribe in southeastern Sudan firmly believes that twins are charged with an evil eye and have to be sacrificed.[3] However, neither the Ingassana nor the Nuer, and certainly none of the northern Sudanese tribes share this fear of twins. On the contrary, they consider them a great blessing. The Ingassana have special ceremonies connected with their birth,[4]the Nuer consider the birds that fly high and especially the migratory birds, and twins as gaat kwoth (sons of God). E. Hall wrote in 1918 on women customs in Omdurman, saying:


“Twin children are supposed to have one spirit between them, and should one get ill, the people think that the other will fall ill also. Should one twin die, the parents have marks cut in the face of the living child so that the dead twin shall not take away the living one. The Sudanese imagine that the spirit of twins goes out of the body at night into the body of a cat or a dog or a bird, therefore people are often afraid of striking these animals at night for fear of killing the children.”[



[1] WHO, The Promotion and development of traditional medicine.

World Health Organization, Geneva: Technical Report Series, 622: 8. 1978.

[2] This notion is shared by many other cultures throughout the world as reported by A.H. Krappe in Folklore. (Arabic translation by Rushdi Salih) Dar Al-Katib Al-Arabi, Cairo 1967: 346-347.

[3] Taha Baasher. Al-Hakeem Medical Students Journal, Faculty of Medicine, Khartoum, 1964.

[4] Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. A preliminary account of the Ingassana tribe in Fung province. Sudan Notes and Records; 1927; 10: 69-83.

[5] Hall, F. Women's Customs in Omdurman. Sudan Notes and Records; 1918; 1(3): 199-201.

[6] Naom Shuqair. Gughrafiyat wa Tariekh Al-Sudan (1903) [Arabic]. Beirut: Dar Al-Thaqafa; Many editions, 1972.

[7] Evans-Pritchard, Edward E. Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Azande. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1937. 558 pages, with plates. With a foreword by C.G. Seligman.

[8] Evans-Pritchard, Edward E (1927): Op. Cit.

[9] Lienhardt, Godfrey. The Dinka of the Nilotic Sudan [D. Phil.] London: Oxford; 1951.

[10] Buxton, Jean C. Religion and Healing in Mandari. Oxford: The Clarendon Press; 1973. 444 pages.

[11] MacMichael, Harold A. A History of Arabs in the Sudan: and some account of the people who preceded them and of the tribes inhabiting Darfur. 1967 2nd ed. London: Frank Cass; 1922; 2 vols. vol. 1: 347 pages, vol. 2: 488 pages.

[12] Trimingham, J. Spence. Islam in the Sudan. London: Oxford University Press; 1949. 280 pages.

[13] Cunnisson, Ian.

[14] Barclay, H. B. Burri Al-Lamaab: a suburban village in the Sudan. Ithaca New York: Cornell University Press; 1964.

[15] Holy, L. Neighbours and Kinsmen: A Study of the Berti People of Northern Sudan. London: C. Hurst; 1974.

[16] Abdullahi Osman El-Tom. Conceptualization, etiology and treatment of illness among the Berti people of Northern Darfur, Sudan [M.A. Thesis]. Unpublished: Queen's University of Belfast; 1979. 103.

[17] Abdullahi Osman El-Tom. Religious Men and Literacy in Berti Society [Ph.D. Thesis]. Unpublished: University of St. Andrews; 1983 Oct. 320.

[18] Nadel, S.F. The Nuba: An anthropological study of the Hill Tribes of Kordofan. London: Oxford University Press; 1947.

[19] Sharaf Al-din A. Abd Al-salaam. A Study of Contemporary Sudanese Muslim Saints' Legends [Ph.D. Thesis]: Indiana University; 1983.

[20] Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim. Assaulting with Words. The Socio- poetics of the Rubatab Evil Eye Metaphors [Ph.D. Thesis]: Folklore Institute, Indiana University; 1987 May 20. 315.

[21] Sayyid Hamid Hurreiz. Birth, Marriage, Death and Initiation Customs and Beliefs in the Central Sudan [Ph. D. Thesis]: Leeds University; 1966.

[22] Sayyid Hamid Hurreiz. Rites of passage in Central Sudan. Leeds; 1965.

[23] Idris Salim Al-Hasan. On Ideology: The Case of Religion in Northern Sudan [Ph.D. Thesis]: University of Connecticut; 1980. 254 pages.

[24] Awad Al-Basha. Couching for Cataract in Western Sudan [M.S. Thesis]. Khartoum: University of Khartoum; 1980.

[25] Amira Hasan. Social Attributions for Female Circumcision. United Kingdom: University of Surrey; April 1986.

[26] Amir Ali Hasan. A descriptive study of the Maseed comprehensive approach in health and other services. Institute of African & Asian Studies: University of Khartoum; 1983.

[27] Amir Ali Hasan. Health care in Gezira, patterns and determinants with special reference to mental health. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; 1988.

[28] Constantinidis, Pamela M. Sickness and the Spirits: a study of the Zaar spirit possession cult in the Northern Sudan [Ph.D. Thesis]. Unpublished: London University; 1972. 349 pages.

[29] Samia Al-Hadi Al-Nagar. Spirit Possession and Social Change in Omdurman [M.Sc. Thesis]. Unpublished: University of Khartoum; 1973.

[30] Makris, Gerasimos P.; Ahmad Al-Safi. The tumbura spirit possession cult of the Sudan, past and present. I.M. Lewis; Ahmad Al-Safi; Sayyid Hamid Hurreiz, editors. Women’s Medicine: The Zar-Bori Cult in Africa and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; 1991: 118-136.

[31] Ahmad Al-Safi. Native Medicine in the Sudan, Sudan Research Unit, Faculty of Arts, University of Khartoum, 1970: 74 pp. (Photostat)

[32] Hamid Rushwan; Slot, Carry; Asma Al-Dareer; Nadia Bushra. Female Circumcision, Prevalence, Complications, Attitudes and Changes. Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum; 1983.

[33] Asma Al-Dareer. Woman, Why Do You Weep? Circumcision and its Consequences. London: Zed Press; 1982. 130 pages.

[34] Lambo, T. Adeoye. Patterns of Psychiatric Care in Developing African Countries. In: Kiev, Ari, Editor. Magic, Faith, and Healing. New York: The Free Press; 1964. 443-453.

[35] Tigani Al-Mahi. An Introduction to the History of Arabian Medicine. (in Arabic) Khartoum: Misr Printing Press, 1959: 185 pp.

[36] Ahmad Al-Safi; Taha Baasher, Editors. Tigani Al-Mahi: Selected Essays. Ist ed. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press; 1981; University of Khartoum, Silver Jubilee-1956-1981. 187 pages.

[37] Ahmad Al-Safi; Taha Baasher, Editors. Tigani Al-Mahi: Selected Essays. [Arabic] Ist ed. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press; 1984; University of Khartoum, pages.

[38] Broun, A. F.; Massey, R. E. Flora of the Sudan. London: Thomas Murley & Co.; 1929.

[39] Andrews, F.W. The Flowering Plants of the AE Sudan [Cycladaceae-Tiliaceae]: T. Bundle (Arbroath, Angus) for the Sudan Government; 1950; 1. 250 pages.

--The Flowering Plants of the AE Sudan [Sterculiaceae-Dipsaceae]: T. Bundle (Arbroath, Angus) for the Sudan Government; 1952; 2. 485 pages.

--The Flowering Plants of the AE Sudan [Compositae-Gramineae]: T. Bundle (Arbroath, Angus) for the Sudan Government; 1952; 3. 584 pages.

--Vernacular Names of Plants as Described in The Flowering Plants of the AE Sudan: T. Bundle (Arbroath, Angus) for the Sudan Government; 1948; 1.

--Compiler. Vernacular Names of Plants [As described in]. Andrews, F.W. Flowering Plants of the AE Sudan. Sudan: McCorquodale & Co.; 1953.

--Compiler. Vernacular names of Plants [As described in]. Flowering Plants of the Sudan; 1957; 3.

[40] Balfour, Sir Andrew. Editor. Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports; 1906, 1908, 1911, 1913.

[41] Sir Andrew Balfour, MD, BSc, FRCP, Edin., DPH Camb., (1873-1931), a British medical doctor and researcher. He was the first director of the Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratories, Khartoum, in 1902. He was also the first Medical Officer of Health of Khartoum after Kitchener's reconquest of the Sudan.

[42] Anderson, R.G. Medical Practices and Superstitions Among the People of Kordofan. Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports; 1908, 281-322.

[43] “The Bahr El Ghazal Handbook says that the name is probably of onomatopoeic origin and was originally applied to the unknown conglomeration of people whose cannibal propensities were a matter of common report. It now seems to have become the general name in the Sudan for the Azande, though it is not used by the Officials in the South of the Province, who have to differentiate between many different tribes all of whom are described further north as Nyam-Nyam. This name, being as I have said completely meaningless, might be discarded.” Major R. G. C. Brock. Some Notes on the Azande Tribe as Found in the Meridi District (Bahr El Ghazal Province). Sudan Notes and Records. 1918; 1: 249-262.

[44] Anderson, R.G. Some Tribal Customs and Their Relation to Medicine and Morals of the Nyam-Nyam and Gour People Inhabiting the eastern Bahr El Ghazal. Wellcome Research Laboratories Reports.  London: Bailliere, Tindall and Cox; 1911; 4A pp. 239-277.

[45] Bousfield, L. The Native Methods of Treatment of Diseases in Kassala and Neighbourhood. Wellcome Research Laboratories Report; 1908; 3: 273-279.

[46] Hasan Zeki. The Healing Art as Practiced by the Dervishes in the Sudan during the Rule of the Mahdi and the Khalifa. Wellcome Tropical Research Laboratory Report; 1908; 3: 269-272.

[47] Rudolph Baron von Slatin Pasha, Sir, Inspector General, Sudan Government. Additional Notes [on native medicine of the dervishes]. Wellcome Research Laboratories Report; 1908; 3: -977-79.

[48] The Museum of Health in the College of Health, Khartoum, also disappeared. It was once a popular educational institution for the public and for students of science. The premises have been occupied by the Health Education Directorate of the Ministry of Health. We spent a few years looking for the lost items with no luck!

[49] Ahmad Al-Safi. Museum of the History of Medicine and Health Culture in Sudan. Proposal memorandum presented by Traditional Medicine Research Institute, National Council for Research, Khartoum to UNESCO 1985.

[50] Abd Al-Hamid Ibrahim. Folk Medicine and Materia Medica, Catalogue of Vegetable Samples with Notes on Uses [Appendix 21. In: Annual Report of the Government Analyst. Wellcome Chemical Laboratories Reports; 1958-59: 27-39, and: Abd Al-Hamid Ibrahim. Folk Medicine and Materia Medica, Catalogue of Mineral Samples with Notes on Uses [Appendix 2]. In: Annual Report of the Government Analyst. Wellcome Chemical Laboratories Reports; 1959-60: 24-29.

[51] Gamal E.B. Al-Ghazali. Medicinal Plants of the Sudan: Part One, Medicinal Plants of Erkowit. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Institute, National Council for Research, Khartoum University Press, Khartoum; 1986: 55 pages.

[52] Khartoum Trading and Projects. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of the Sudan. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Unit, Dina Printing Press, Khartoum. July 1982

[53] Abd Al-Aziz Muhammad Khalaf Allah, Editor, Compiler. Al-Nabatat Al-Tibbiyya Wal-'Itriyya Wal-Samma Fil-Watan Al-Arabi. Arab Organization for Agricultural Development, Sponsor. lst ed. Cairo: Dar Misr Lil-Tiba'a; 1988. 477 pages.

[54] Balfour, Sir Andrew. Op. Cit.

[55] Kirk R. Some Vegetable Poisons of the Sudan. Sudan Notes and Records. 1946: 27: 127-157.

[56] Mansour Ali Haseeb. Some Poisonous Plants in the Sudan. Sudan Medical Journal, 1972: 10: 94-101.

[57] Abbas Al-Hamidi: Al-Nabatat Al-Sammah fil Sudan. Bulletin of Sudanese Studies, 1970: 2 (1): 128-131.

[58] See the appended Bibliography for his contributions.

[59] Cynthia Myntti: personal communication to the author, 2 January 1993.

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