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African Medicine: Yoruba Spiritualty & Philosophy

“During times of slavery many Africans Transported to the New World (i.e., the American continent) maintained the spiritual view of health that had characterized their African ancestors. They believed that good health arose from harmony with nature and the Creator, poor health, from discord.” – Dr. Tariq M. Sawandi, PhD, author of African Medicine: A Guide to Yoruba Divination and Herbal Medicine: A Complete Guide to Yoruba Healing Science and African Herbal Remedies

Yorubaland. The country of the Yoruba people before European conquest and colonization, which comprised of present-day Southwest Nigeria, parts of Benin Republic and Togo Republic.  

For thousands of years, many people of the African continent had a faithful and confident dependence on the use of various plants of the earth for the alleviation and avoidance of certain chronic and acute illnesses.

Herbal Medicine is an African Tradition

Traditionally, in ancient African civilizations, African healers would orally transmit their herbal wisdom from one generation to the next. Not only was African medicine passed from one generation to the next generation, starting in ancient Kemet (Egypt), but also from continent to continent. One of the oldest and most fascinating systems of medicine on the planet was developed by the Yoruba people in West Africa. The Yoruba trace their origins to the ancient kingdom of Ife (i.e., Ile-Ife) around some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The holy kingdom of Ife, the spiritual epicenter of the Yoruba people is home of one of the most magnificent traditions of herbal healing science.


Even when many Yoruba people were captured and forced to be enslaved in the Americas during the 19th century, the European enslavers struggled to break the strong culture of the Yorubas, because the Yoruba language was still spoken, and Yoruba religious medicine was practiced. African people who were brought to the American continent as enslaved people were already socialized in their own African traditions and healing systems before the Transatlantic slave trade reached the shores of West Africa. Once they arrived in the American continent, the enslaved Africans brought with them sophisticated beliefs about illness and its healing and adapted these to their new and often brutal circumstances. In this new land, Black people experienced unknown diseases that killed thousands, and malnutrition also claimed the lives of many Black women and children.  


For example, Black people who arrived in the Caribbean Islands and Brazil encountered infectious diseases such as leprosy, yellow fever, smallpox, and measles. Some of these diseases were familiar to the Africans because West Africans had developed partial immunity to some, such as malaria. Others were new and deadly, including diseases native to the so-called “New World” as well as those introduced by the Europeans.

According to Dr. Anthony Browder, author of Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization: Exploding the Myths Vol. 1, about a minimum of 50 million Black people were displaced, and deaths reached to more than 80 million Black people.  

Africa Before Slavery: The Prophet Orunmila of the Yoruba (Ife) People 

Orunla (Orunmila). The God of Wisdom, Destiny and Prophecy


“The career of Orunmila was one of the most luminous of these great lives. Orunmila grew up in Ile-Ile (i.e., Ife Kingdom) as a great Babalawo, a priest of Ifa. Then, according to many traditions, he embarked upon a career of life-long travel all over Yorubaland, practicing and teaching the very best in Ifa divination and mysteries, as well as spiritual development.” - Dr. Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, author of A History of the Yoruba People

According to oral tradition, Yoruba medicine was founded over 2,000 years ago by a Mystic Prophet named Orunmila, who appeared among the Yoruba in the ancient holy kingdom of Ife. He brought with him a divine system of ethics, morals, religious beliefs, divination, and herbal medicine. The holy kingdom of Ife became a preeminent Yoruba spiritual and cultural center. It was here in the Ife Kingdom, that Orunmila built his temple on a sacred hill called Oke Tape, which means “Only Heaven knows the way to salvation.”

“At last, in great-old age, Orunmila returned to live his last days in Ile-Ife. Some traditions claim that he was then crowned king of the Ife kingdom, but the preponderance of traditions negates that claim. But it is well known that he did wear a crown in his last days, a sort of sacred crown in honor of the god of divination. After his death, he was deified and his name became a second name for Ifa in all parts of Yorubaland. Stories about Orunmila constitutes a significant body of stories in Yoruba folklore.” - Dr. Stephen Adebanji Akintoye

The Yoruba believe in one Supreme Being, or God, also known as Oludumare, “The Principle of Principles.” It was said that Oludumare has numerous intermediary spiritual beings, known as Orishas (i.e., Orunmila: represents the wisdom of the creator that is within human beings, and gives people the gift of intuition; Oshun: represents the imagination as the source of joy, images and fashion; Oduduwa: represents military, government, and organized leadership; Yemoja: represents trance, dreams, self-programing, and mediation; Ogun: represents technical inventiveness, architecture and discipline; Oya: represents transformation and economic power, etc.).


In the Yoruba healing system, divination is used in the early stages of diagnoses and to determine an individual’s personal Orisha and thereafter to determine the will of the Orisha for that person. According to Yoruba healers, divination is the process through which the Orishas diagnose people’s health problems and recommend solutions. The Orishas are pure energy of light governed by God. Each Orisha has its own drum rhythm, song, foods, herbs, attributes, bodily features, and dance step. Yoruba divination presented a comprehensive theory and practice for balancing mind, body, and spirit.


Too often, the Nile Valley (i.e., East Africa) and especially Egypt is sometimes looked at as being separated from the rest of the African continent. On the authority of Dr. Tariq M. Sawandi, PhD, many tribes and African nations contributed their share of herbal and medical wisdom to ancient Egypt, and some of these African nations include the lands of present-day Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, and many more. The Nile Valley became something of a cultural highway, which extends 4,000 miles into inner Africa. It was the contributions from many different Black people that made ancient Egypt a beautiful and historic stopping ground for wisdom and knowledge during the ancient world.

“But the Assyrians, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans could make no such claim to support the myth of Caucasian superiority. For nothing seems clearer from ancient records than that the whole ancient world knew of nothing more ancient than the Black man’s civilization.” - Dr. Chancellor Williams, author of The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D.

The early development of the Nile Valley Civilization created a basic way of life that attracted teachers, and priests from other parts of Africa. By the time the Yoruba made their journey to the Nile Valley, led by the Mystic Prophet Orunmila, Egyptian priests had accumulated centuries of herbal and medical knowledge. The Yorubas drew from this treasure chest of wisdom and incorporated it into their religious and cultural customs. Egyptian knowledge, coupled with the earlier Nok people (from present-day Nigeria), produced the outcome of Yoruba herbal practices.    

“Traditional African medicine was, and is, effective in healing disease. Right diet, healthy lifestyle, and spiritualty are essential ingredients for recovery, whether in modern medicine of traditional healing. Root doctors provided the authority in our community in which such principles were grounded and preserved. This deep legacy continues to affect us.” – Dr. Tariq M. Sawandi, PhD


Akintoye, S. A History of the Yoruba People. Amalion Publishing. (Jan 1, 2010). Feb. 8, 2024. p. 123-124, 527.

Browder, A. Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization: Exploding the Myths Vol. 1. The Institute of Karmic Guidance; First Edition. (Dec. 1, 1992). Feb. 9, 2024. p. 258.

Obietonbara, T. Rebirthing the African Consciousness. Aquqo Press Limited. (Nov. 22, 2021). Feb. 9, 2024. p. 191-192.

Sawandi, T. African Medicine: A Guide to Yoruba Divination and Herbal Medicine: A Complete Guide to Yoruba Healing Science and African Herbal Remedies. Nile Valley Medicine, 2nd edition, 1st Printing. (Oct. 17, 2018). Feb. 8, 2024. p. Cover, 8-12, 21.  

The Studio Collection. Orula Figurine-God Of Wisdom, Destiny And Prophecy. All Sculptures. Feb. 9, 2024. 

Wikipedia. Yoruba people. Feb. 8, 2024.


Williams, C. The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. Third World Press; 3rd Revised ed. edition. (Feb. 1, 1992). Feb. 9, 2024. p. 80.



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