MAASAI TRADITIONAL HERBAL MEDICINE

By Godwin Agustino Piniel -Art in Tanzania internship

Abstract

The content of this article works to further describe the Maasai ethnic group, their culture, customs, and traditions, specifically describing the traditional medicinal practices which the tribe usually use and apply to cure a number of diseases.

INTRODUCTION

Who are the Maasai’s? A common question coming from anyone who come across this paper. Well, Maasai is one of the famous known tribe which originated from South Sudan and spread into different parts of East Africa, tracing back from about 300 years ago in the region. It should be noted that Maasai falls under the group of the early tribes in Africa and worldwide in general since Africa is the cradle of human civilisation

The major activities the Maasai perform in their daily lifestyle is Pastoralism. Although it was highly disrupted by the German and British colonialism when they came to the region, they soon discovered the advantages of its nature and started to create Reserves, however that could never stop the Maasai to continue with pastoralism.

Since Cattle herding is still the main activity of the Maasai people and is central to their lifestyle, traditionally, the Maasai diet consists mainly of raw meat, raw blood, and milk. The leather is used to fashion Maasai shields. Wealth in the Maasai community is measured by the number of children and cattle you have. A man with many children and cattle is considered very rich compared to the others with money and other assets.

Till to date, a large percentage of the Maasai people have resisted government pressure to settle in permanent homes, distancing themselves from urban areas and continuing to practice a lifestyle that has remained unchanged for centuries.

Maasai Culture

The Maasai culture is predominantly patriarchal, with a council of elders overseeing the daily running of the village and administering matters on the basis of an oral body of law, Men owes general responsibility towards the village and family protection

Besides their colourful costumes, proud warrior society, and fascinating customs, the Maasai are also known for their jumping form of dance, which is traditionally carried out by warriors.

This dance is known as adumu or aigus. The Maasai warriors form a semicircle and take turns jumping at the centre, as high as possible, without letting their heels touch the ground. As each man jumps, the others sing a high-pitched song whose tone depends on the height of the jump.

Image showing Maasai young men attire, after circumcision.

Maasai Dressing Style

The colour of Maasai attire varies according to age and gender. After their circumcision, young men will wear black for several months while waiting for the permanent recovery, older men usually wear red wraparounds, whereas women usually opt for checked, striped, or patterned pieces of cloth.

The Maasai also stretch their earlobes using stone, wood, and bones. They usually wear beaded earrings on the stretched earlobe and smaller piercings on the top of the ear. Traditionally, both men and women stretched their earlobes, because long, stretched lobes were seen as a symbol of wisdom and respect. But now this custom is disappearing,

Maasai Women stretched their earlobe

Image showing Maasai bead works

The Maasai beadwork is especially famous for its intricacy, and it is through beadwork that Maasai women express their position in the society. Natural materials such as clay, shells, and ivory were used before trading with the Europeans began in the 19th century. They were then replaced by colourful glass beads, which allow for more detailed beadwork and colour patterns. Each of the colours used have a meaning: White symbolizes peace, blue is the colour of water, and red is the symbol of warriors and bravery.

Image showing Maasai bead works

A group of people partaking in Maasai traditional medicine in Loliondo

BACKGROUND OF THE MEDICINAL PRACTICES

After a long period of time Masai societies all over East Africa have been famous for their use of traditional medicine to cure various infections and diseases of different kinds including malaria, eye infections, Sore throat, Urinary Tract infections, kidney problems, backaches, and headaches. They cured these kinds of diseases by the aid of specified plants, using their roots, leaves or barks.

A few years back one of the Maasai elder (Ambilikile Mwasapile) in Tanzania around the Arusha Region in Loliondo division had captured the attention of many people after using traditional medicine which cured concrete diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Blood pressure. The discovery of this drew in many people in different parts of the world who came to partake in this practice and received their healing.

Through this practice many people started to have trust in traditional medicine from the Maasai Ethnic group, thus helping to gain popularity all over the world below is an image Illustration showing the plant that this Maasai elder used as a medicine which cures several diseases. The purpose of this paper is to describe major traditional plants used by Maasai ethnic group in curing various diseases, also their scientific validity.

From the left is the Tanzanian Minister who visited Loliondo to partake Maasai medicine, and to the right is Maasai elder who gives out the description about the medical plant observed.

One of the major kinds of plants which have been used for curing various diseases is Africana Mill (Oleaceae). A O-europaea sub species, Africana plant leaves are used in folk medicine as a remedy for eye infections, relieving pain such as headaches and backaches, treat sore throat, urinary tract infections, and heal kidney problems. It is also used as a hypotensive, emollient, febrifuge, and styptic The leaves of the tree were reported to be potent for the treatment of malaria in 1854. Different kinds of scientific research have been done concerning the plant whereby the ground leaves were extracted using solvents of varying polarity (hexane, chloroform, dichloromethane (DCM), ethyl acetate, acetone, ethanol, methanol, butanol, and water).

Thin layer of chromatography (TLC) was used to analyse the chemical constituents of the extracts. The TLC plates were developed in three different solvent systems, namely, benzene/ethanol/ammonium solution (BEA), chloroform/ethyl acetate/formic acid (CEF) and ethyl acetate/methanol/water (EMW). The micro-dilution assay and bio autography method were used to evaluate the antibacterial activity of the extracts against Escherichia coliPseudomonas aeruginosaEnterococcus faecalis and Staphylococcus aureus and the antifungal activity against Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans.

The outcome of the Research was, Methanol was the best extractant, yielding a larger amount of plant material whereas hexane yielded the least amount. In phytochemical analyses, more compounds were observed in BEA, followed by EMW and CEF. Qualitative 2, 2- diphenylpacryl-1-hydrazyl (DPPH) assay displayed that all the extracts had antioxidant activity. Antioxidant compounds could not be separated using BEA solvent system while with CEF and EMW enabled antioxidant compounds separation. The minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) values against test bacteria ranged between 0.16 and 2.50 mg/mL whereas against fungi, MIC ranged from 0.16 to 0.63 mg/ml. Bioautography results demonstrated that more than one compound was responsible for antimicrobial activity.

Conclusions

The results indicate that leaf extracts of Oleaafricana contain compounds with antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal activities. Therefore, further studies are required to isolate the active compounds and perform other tests such as cytotoxicity. Oleaafricana may be a potential source of antimicrobial compounds.