Interview: I practice traditional medicine, recite incantations as a Christian cleric

Dr. Obafemi Jegede, a Methodist clergyman who teaches traditional medicine at the University of Ibadan’s Department of African Studies, talks to Emmanuel Ojo about his love of African traditional medicine and the reasons why Africans should turn internally for answers.

You have a PhD in Traditional Medicine. Can you give further insight into your academic background?

My name is Obafemi Jegede. I am a researcher in traditional African medicine and I teach Traditional Medicine at the postgraduate level, that is master’s and PhD levels, at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan. I’m also a trained clergyman and I have taught some clergymen who are already bishops in both Methodist and Anglican churches. I studied at the Methodist Theological Institute in Sagamu and I was there as the registrar of the college for eight years. I went to the College of Theology and the seminary where I taught before I became a university lecturer. I was a seminary teacher for close to 12 years after which I moved to the University of Ibadan as a lecturer. I was trained as a seminarian after which I was brought back to the seminary to teach. I had been in the seminary since I was 19 years old, so I studied Theology extensively.

I attended Ifeoluwa Primary School, Oke-Eso, Ilesa, and Ilesa Grammar School, which is the foremost grammar school in the state and one of the foremost in Nigeria. After that, I started my seminary training. So, I attended Methodist Theology Institute as a seminarian, to be trained as what we call ‘sub-pastor’. It means one would be an assistant to pastors or priests in local churches.

What did you do after your training as a seminarian?

After that, I worked as a pastor in a church in Abeokuta, from where I moved to Emmanuel College for proper ministerial training. It’s usually after the seminary training or what we call ordination training that one becomes a reverend and that was what I achieved at Emmanuel College in Ibadan, where I had a three-year-training in preparation for my commissioning as a deacon and ordination as a priest of the church, after which I was offered admission into the University of Ibadan, in the Department of Religious Studies, where I studied for a bachelor of arts degree in Religious Studies. I returned to UI for a master’s degree in Traditional Medicine and that was the turning point for me. After that, I got a PhD in Traditional Medicine.

Are you still a practising priest at the moment?

Yes. Once a priest is always a priest. Ordination is irrevocable and irremovable. Trying to remove ordination can be likened to trying to remove a person’s skull. So, there is no way it can be removed. No matter what I do, my ordination is intact. Ordination is permanent. I can even say that it is eternal. It means that the head is anointed and nothing can remove it.

Are you also actively practising Traditional Medicine which you studied?

Absolutely! I practise Traditional Medicine locally and internationally and I am an advocate of traditional medicine. I teach it, I preach it, I fight for it and I think I will live for it for the rest of my life. Nothing can take me away from Traditional Medicine.

Do you find any contradiction or connection between practising traditional medicine and your Christian faith?

It doesn’t contradict my faith. My faith is my faith. It’s just like asking a medical doctor or an engineer if what they do contradicts their faith. The problem is just that where it comes from is always the basis for contradicting it or not and that’s quite unthinkable and illogical. That doesn’t sound acceptable to me – that because it is traditional, it must contradict my faith. I can’t see the logic in that. It’s just like asking a blacksmith who makes hoe, cutlass and the like or an engineer who studied engineering in the university whether it contradicts their faith. If engineering does not contradict their faith why would that which is traditional to us contradict our faith? Why do things which come from the Western world not contradict our faith? Where is there a conflict between faith and our tradition? Are they fighting? Why should faith and culture be antithetical? That sounds displeasing and illogical to me, abandoned, dishonouring, discrediting and ethnocentric.

In African religious studies, there is a phenomenon called incantation, where one speaks words that are believed to be potent. Do you also believe and practise this?

Absolutely! I believe in incantations and incantations work. Incantations like, “Let there light” were used to create the world anyway. So, incantation is primordial. It is very ancient, even before creation, it has been used. It’s just people’s method and methodology of how they see and practise, so, it should not take them away from faith as far as I am concerned. In fact, my PhD was on incantation, so, there is no way I can escape it. Incantation is what controls everything. It’s a way of verbalising decrees in nature, those decrees that cannot be changed, those natural truths, activities and actions and one is now expressing it as a basis by which you are now validating an intention and looking for results. That is what incantation is about. It means to seek from within, to look into your system, your inner self and have an opinion or an intention and you say it out by looking for truth. You use other realities to put it together and you now establish an energy or the validity of your intention. It is a way of telling the reality that you have a good mind and what you are saying is in line with it. There is nothing too special about it, it should not be mystified.

This issue of mystification is another trouble for Africology. Whatever is African is said to be mystery, supernatural, spiritual and whatever is Western is scientific, philosophical, logical, and legitimate. But Africa is perceived to be mysterious and exoteric and it’s not true. In fact, I have argued in several fora that the issue of religion does not even exist in the African lexicon at all. Even what people call gods are not gods. They are simply ‘orisa’ which means legends, icons, and avatars; that is an ‘orisa,’ not a god at all. What is important is the sustenance of the universe so that it will not crash. It’s a delicate phenomenon. Our universe is a volatile phenomenon. How do we handle it so that it will not crash? Just as we are having earthquakes everywhere, how do we do it so that people will not die? How do you travel? How do you get rain? These are the problems that science solves in Western epistemology while in Yoruba or African epistemology, it is claimed that religion solves those problems and that’s quite unacceptable to somebody like me. It’s what I call mystification theory. You have to demystify the problem-solving mechanism of the African people.

How do you make incantations? Do you use scriptural verses or do you make incantations with herbs?

I don’t use scriptural verses at all. I use decrees in nature. We use it to bring events in the past in which cases were handled, so if it was handled in those days, it can be handled again. Just the way it is in law. So, if it is law, it is potent and if it is potent, it can be used to solve some particular problems. I don’t use the Bible, I make a decree in nature, of events that have happened in the good old times and I think it applies to everything. I know that the Western world also uses incantation. In fact, they are used in engineering for some of the machines. They (scientists) speak to the machines.

How did you find that out?

I had a student about three or four years ago, who said that his father used to sell Peugeot and they brought many of the Peugeot (products) to their stands. They brought the Peugeot at that time and one was not working, so they spoke to the car and it started working. The whites use incantations but not our type in Africa. There are medicines we are required to speak to, to infuse potency into them, so, there is a connection between the medicine and the spoken word but some of the medicines do not require any incantation.

It was read in a report that some students call you a native doctor on campus. Is that true?

Yes. They call me babalawo, a native doctor and all sorts, which I quite admire and love so much.

How comfortable are you with that name bearing in mind that you are still a priest?

That’s the issue and it’s a very big problem. I mean, I face a lot of challenges in this regard but I’m angry that whatever does not come from the West is (seen as) evil. They are also esoteric in their own way. They also make an oath, what they call the Hippocratic oath. Is that not esoteric? And when they do surgery, they wear green clothes and move in a particular manner. They also have languages they use when they are prescribing drugs and all that, even when they are engaging in conversations, they speak very strangely. Even when they teach Anatomy or Physiology, the language they use is strange and (with) confusing words but we call it Western.

Are you saying that the advanced vocabularies used in teaching Anatomy and Physiology are forms of chants and incantations from Westerners?

Absolutely! They are their own esoteric words, very spiritual, so to speak. That’s their ritual language. They follow procedures too which are highly ritualistic in their way, but if a Yoruba man does his own, he is regarded as a devil. We must escape this colonial mentality where our brains were colonised. We must remove the wool that the Western knowledge system put in our brains that made our brains truly African man’s brains. I tell you that if we do that, we are on our way to wonderful advancement. We will rule the world. The only way for Africa to advance is to reconstruct itself; let us re-invent Africa. Let us rethink Africa. If we do otherwise, we will continue to be slaves and continue to be backward.

As a priest and a seminary teacher, what are the reactions you get from your church members in the way they perceive you to be?

They don’t like me and I don’t know if they are trying to accommodate me but I try to engage some of them and when I do, most of the time, they get convinced. At the time, I wanted to integrate it into our church programme, I wanted our church to accept my practice, use it to make money, and improve the church’s income but they didn’t understand me. But some of the church members do patronise me anyway. I think it is the same hypocrisy, real hypocrisy that rules our church or rules Africa that makes it very unethical, and unacceptable for us to accept what is our own, to patronise or use what is our own. For the past 11 years, I have never used any drug for myself.

How do you treat yourself when you are sick?

I use my medicine and it is excellent. I use herbs and I am as healthy as ever. I can fly as a bird.

In making your traditional medicines, do you always make incantations on them?

No sir. Incantation is not as important. It depends on the medicine. Most of these medicines don’t need incantations and sometimes, I don’t even like the incantations. It doesn’t mean that they should always have, especially, those you use in the treatment of malaria and the like. For the past 11 years, I have never visited the hospital or taken drugs. I take those medicines bit by bit because they can sometimes be too toxic. Anyone who comes close to me doesn’t take drugs, except my children, who don’t listen to me and I don’t care; that’s their problem. I take them to the hospital when they are sick.

What do you think are the reasons why your children don’t appreciate your traditional medicines?

It’s because their brain is westernised. They have gone through secondary school and their brains have been configured to think that what their father does is wrong. I was also like that but it was when I started to study these things, and established them based on knowledge and understanding, that I became liberated.

Having mentioned that the Westerners use their incantation for medicine and engineering and all that, have you also thought of how you can infuse the knowledge you have so acquired in making innovative developments in the treatment of terminal diseases?

A lot is going on underneath. I have a medicine that is called a therapeutic bath. That is an analgesic that prevents you from taking your drug. I’m encouraging the topical application of the drug, instead of oral because oral (drugs) over-stress the digestive system and I tell you in African medicine, no sickness cannot be cured by taking your bath, either malaria, cancer or diabetes. I even had diabetes and I cured myself. So, a therapeutic bath is better than a cosmetic. I have discussed with people in farming if they can produce a machine that makes ose dudu (black soap).

What’s your thought then about ritualists who use incantations to perpetrate crime, killing innocent people?

That is evil. Killing innocent people is purely evil. I feel very lonely in this. It’s like I am fighting this alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *