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African Herbsmen: Healing and Religion along the Bight of Benin

Year: 2012, 36 mins - NTSC/PAL
Code: CRF-African

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This film explores the integration of religion and plant-based medicine in an Ewe Vodu community in southern Togo. Here, concerns are growing that knowledge regarding local plants and medicines is declining in the area.

First, the head priest of the village and his assistant lead us through several herbal medicinal formulas. We weave these explanations together with those of a botanist in Ghana who is working with a professional venture that seeks to protect and nurture indigenous botanical materials. Through these explanations, we see how plants are used to treat a variety of blood-borne diseases, infectious diseases, and mental illness.

The film then explores the use of herbal plants in magic, sorcery, and spirituality. We tour a religious fetish market with its proprietor and hear how plants are used in making an array of talismans to protect against witchcraft and maleficence. In the village, the head priest and assistant explain how plant-based medicines are infused with ritual and ceremony. Healing and illness are as physical as they are emotional, psychological and spiritual, with many originating in sorcery and witchcraft.

The film concludes with a curse that has been placed on the village. The head priest creates a talisman using local plants to protect against this witchcraft. The witch is caught by the spirit-protector of the rural village, as evidenced by the onset of mental illness, and given judgment. Even in this accusation, plant-based medicines permeate spirituality and illness, and help protect the social order of the community.

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