Ancient methods of natural healing
Anago Houessou is a traditional healer and herbalist based in Avrankou, south Benin, sought out by community members who have heard of her powers and skills. Anago become a healer through spiritual election. Evaluators Howard Associates explain that it is not a role that automatically passes on through generations in the same family. She is considered a Sappiata, a form of divinity, who has been bequeathed healing powers through an ancient tradition, and who can heal people using ancient methods and plants.
Her connection with GRABE-Benin is through the herbs and plants that she uses in her work. She works with the NGO to safeguard and grow sometimes very rare plants that have medicinal qualities. GRABE documents her work and has helped her to be in contact with others, nearly all women, who follow the same path.
Anago lives in a small compound in a semi-rural area, where plants and herbs grow in abundance, carefully cultivated for their healing qualities. Her knowledge of what will work for what ailment or illness has built up over many years, augmenting what she originally learned from others who were healers before her.
She makes her own medicines, whether they be for internal digestion or for external application. She has a workshop where plants are crushed or ground, and are often mixed with water to form medicines. She also has a consulting room, where patients are diagnosed and treated. She treats people for physical injuries and for many diseases, for example, she has a particular yellow lotion, made from a variety of seeds, which is used to treat malaria victims.
She does not see her role as one of replacing modern healthcare. She feels what she does very much complements doctors and nurses in the local hospital, and she sometimes refers patients to the hospital if she feels they may receive more relevant treatment there. At the same time, the hospital sometimes refers people to her, especially where they are unable to diagnose what is wrong.
In one example, a man was involved in a traumatic accident which resulted in his leg being crushed. The hospital recommended amputation as the only course of action for him. Appalled by this prospect, he sought traditional help. After two weeks of receiving regular applications of an herbal balm from Anago, his pain ceased, and after two months he walked again.
There are Sappiata throughout Benin, and Anago has been helped by GRABE-Benin to connect to other traditional healers to exchange ideas and methods with them. “I am still learning,” she says. There are 22 other women healers in her contact group, all knowledgeable and committed to keeping alive the tradition of using natural methods and plants to treat sick people.
Her role as a traditional healer has given Anago status within her community, but she does not accept any payment for what she does. “My passion is to help people, to cure them. This is my gift, and I must share it with others – that is enough for me.”