Indigenous Medical Knowledge and the Experiences of ZIPRA Guerrillas in Zimbabwe's Liberation Struggle

  • Joshua S. Chakawa Midlands State University
Keywords: indigenous medical knowledge, metaphysics, healthcare, cosmology, supernatural, water sickness


This article aims to examine the importance of indigenous medical knowledge during the 1970s when guerrillas from the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) negotiated their way to the front to fight the Rhodesian white minority regime. From the 1960s until the ceasefire at the end of 1979, ZIPRA was one of the two liberation movements that waged war to liberate Zimbabwe. This article traces the experiences of guerrillas who moved from the Zambian side of the Zambezi Valley into Rhodesia. The terrain that the guerrillas had to navigate on foot was punctuated by many devastating and life - threatening challenges. Some of these included malaria, sleeping sickness, venereal diseases, snake bites, mental disorders, injuries and even fatigue. Given that the guerrillas had no hospitals and other medical facilities at their disposal, it is important to establish how local knowledge assisted them to survive, especially when ailments struck them. The purpose of this study was to determine the role the fighters’ knowledge of indigenous medicines played in dealing with these difficulties. The author collected information by conducting interviews with former ZIPRA guerrillas who had operated in Zimbabwe during the war. Some civilians who were in ZIPRA operational areas were also interviewed. The importance of the study lies in understanding the continued use and existence of indigenous medical remedies in Zimbabwe. Findings from the study are valuable in widening knowledge horizons on indigenous medical knowledge as a useful alternative in times of need.

Author Biography

Joshua S. Chakawa, Midlands State University

History Department

Chairperson and senior lecturer