A study on use of animals as traditional medicine by Sukuma Tribe of Busega District in North-western Tanzania
© Vats and Thomas. 2015
Received: 14 May 2014
Accepted: 17 January 2015
Published: 7 May 2015
Faunal resources have played an extensive range of roles in human life from the initial days of recorded history. In addition to their importance, animals have been acknowledged in religion, art, music and literature and several other different cultural manifestations of mankind. Human beings are acquainted with use of animals for foodstuff, cloth, medicine, etc. since ancient times. Huge work has been carried out on ethnobotany and traditional medicine. Animal and their products are also holding medicinal properties that can be exploited for the benefit of human beings like plants. In Tanzania, many tribal communities are spread all over the country and these people are still totally depended on local customary medicinal system for their health care. In the world Tanzania is gifted with wide range of floral and faunal biodiversity. The use of traditional medicine from animals by Sukuma ethnic group of Busega district is the aim of the present study.
In order to collect the information on ethnozoological use about animal and their products predominant among this tribe in Busega district, a study was carried out from August 2012, to July 2013. Data were collected through semi-structured questionnaire and open interview with 180 (118 male and 62 females) selected people. The people from whom the data were collected comprise old age community members, traditional health practicener, fishermen and cultural officers. The name of animal and other ethnozoological information were documented. Pictures and discussion were also recorded with the help of camera and voice recorder.
A total of 42 various animal species were used in nearly 30 different medicinal purposes including STD, stoppage of bleeding, reproductive disorders, asthma, weakness, tuberculosis, cough, paralysis and wound and for other religious beliefs. It has been noticed that animal used by Sukuma tribe, comprise of seventeen mammals, seven birds, four reptiles, eight arthropods and two mollusks. Some of the protected species were also used as important medicinal resources. We also found that cough, tuberculosis, asthma and other respiratory diseases are the utmost cited disease, as such, a number of traditional medicines are available for the treatment.
The present work indicates that 42 animal species were being used to treat nearly 30 different ailments and results show that ethnozoological practices are an important alternative medicinal practice by the Sukuma tribe living in Bungesa district. The present study also indicates the very rich ethnozoological knowledge of these people in relation to traditional medicine. So there is a critical need to properly document to keep a record of the ethnozoological information. We hope that the information generated in this study will be useful for further research in the field of ethnozoology, ethnopharmacology and conservation approach.
Faunal resources have played a wide range of roles in human life from the earliest days of recorded history. Human beings are familiar with use of animals and plants for food, cloth, medicine, etc. since ancient times [1,2]. The study of relationship between the human societies and the animal resources around them deals under Ethnozoology . Since prehistoric time’s animals, their parts, and products have created part of the inventory of medicinal substances used in numerous cultures . The world health organization estimates that most of the world’s population relies primarily on animal and plant based medicines . Of the 252 indispensible chemicals that have been selected by the World Health Organization, 8.7% derived from animals . In Brazil, Alves et al. reported the medicinal use of 283 animal species for the treatment of various ailments . In Bahia state, in the northeast of Brazil, over 180 medicinal animals have been recorded in traditional health care practices . In Traditional Chinese Medicine more than 1500 animal species have been recorded to be some medicinal use . Alves and Rosa recorded the use of 97 animal species as traditional medicine in urban areas of NE and N Brazil . Lev and Amar conducted a survey in the selected markets of Israel and found 20 animal species, which products were sold as traditional drugs . Tamang people of Nepal identify the 11 animal species for used in zootherapeutic purposes . Alves and Rosa in the North and north- east regions of Brazil carried out a survey in fishing communities and recorded 138 animal species, used as traditional medicine . Alves et al. also reported nearly 165 reptile’s species were used in traditional folk medicine around the world . Alves conducted a review study in Northeast Brazil and lists 250 animal species for the treatment of diverse ailments . Lev and Amar conducted a study in the selected markets in the kingdom of Jordan and identified 30 animal species, and their products were retailed as traditional medications . In India use of traditional medicine are documented in works like Ayurveda and Charaka Samhita. A number of animals are mentioned in Ayurvedic system, which includes 41 Mammals, 41 Aves, 16 Reptiles, 21 Fishes and 24 Insects . Different ethnic group and tribal people use animals and their products for healing practices of human ailments in present times in India . In Hindu religion people used the various products obtained from the cow viz. milk, urine, dung, curd and ghee since ancient times .
Tanzania is gifted with immense faunal and floral biodiversity, because of the thrilling variation in geographical and climatic condition prevailing in the country. In Tanzania, traditional medicine has existed even before colonial times. It used to play a vital role in the doctrine of chiefdoms that existed during pre-colonial era. Colonialists, with their intension to rule Africa had to find a way to discourage all sort of activities which would have provided an opportunity for developing Africans . In Tanzania, different tribal communities are dispersed all over the country, people of these communities are extremely knowledgeable about the animals and their medicinal value, and they also deliver extensive information about the use of animals and their by-products as medicine. Most of the tribal people are totally dependent on local traditional medicinal system for their health care because they are living in very remote areas where hospital and other modern medicinal facilities are not available and even negligible, so they use their traditional knowledge for medicinal purpose and this knowledge is passed through oral communication from generation to generation. It is estimated that more than 80% of the rural population in Tanzania depends on the traditional medicine .
A lot of work has been done on utilization of plants and their products as traditional and allopathic medicine in the world. Like plants, animal and their products also keep medicinal properties . Most ethnobiological studies conducted in Tanzania have focused on traditional knowledge of plants and less in animals [23,24]. A little work has been done in Ethnozoology in Tanzania and particularly no work is documented in Sukuma tribe and there is a definite scarcity of ethnobiological knowledge when it comes to animal products. The present study briefly reports an ethnomedicinal/traditional medicinal study among Sukuma tribe in Bugusa district in Tanzania.
The study area
The intended study was carried out in Busega District at Simiyu region. The Busega district is one of five districts in Simiyu Region of Tanzania, namely, Meatu, Itilima, Bariadi, Maswa and Busega. Busega district is located on the northwestern part of Simiyu Region and shares borders with Magu districts in west, Bariadi districts in south, The southeastern part is covered by the Serengeti game reserve and Bunda district. In north side it bordered with Lake Victoria. As a result, many community members utilize both aquatic and terrestrial organisms as a source of medicine.
The Sukuma tribe
The Sukuma are a patrilineal society; the role of the women being to take care of their husbands and children while men are overseer of the family [27,28]. Young people marry only when they are ready to carry the responsibilities marriage entails. They are initiated into adulthood in a ceremony known as “lhane”. The Sukuma do not practice circumcision as part of initiation, but organize a separate ceremony. The young people involved in “lhane” have to be prepared well. Respected elders of the community tutor the initiates on their roles and responsibilities in the family and the whole community. The initiates have to think, act and participate as adults in all rituals. After “lhane” the initiates are considered adults and cannot be asked to deliver messages anywhere as this is a job for non-initiates .
In order to obtain ethnozoological information about animal and their products used in traditional medicine, a study was conducted from August 2012 to July 2013 in the Busega district of Simiyu region, Tanzania. The ethnomedicinal data (local name of animals, mode of preparation and administration) were collected through semi-structured questionnaire (in their local language mainly Kiswahili, with the help of local mediator), interview and group discussion with selected people of the tribe. The selection of informants was based on their experience, recognition as expert and knowledge old aged person concerning traditional medicine. A total of 180 (118 male and 62 female) people were selected to collect ethnozoological information, these information were collected from local traditional healers, farmers, fisherman and cultural officer. We interviewed 98 (55%) informants within age group 55 and above, followed by 42 informants (23%) with 45 to 54 age group and 40 (22%) with 35–44 years age group.
They were inquired, about the illnesses cured by animal based medicines and the manner in which the medicines were prepared and administered. They were also requested thorough information about mode of preparation and blending of animal products used as ingredients and whether they use animal in the healing practice, since this type of information indicate how a given medicine can be therapeutically effective in term of the right ingredients, the proper dose and the right length of medication. The name of animals and other related information to this study were documented. Some pictures of Sukuma people at their local place and in their life style in study area were taken.
As stated by them, their traditional ethnozoological acquaintance was mainly attained through parental heritage and experience about medicinal value of animal to heal their families or themselves. The scientific name and species of animals were identified using relevant and standard literature [29,30].
Where Np is the number of respondents that claim a use of a species to treat a specific disease, and N is the number of respondents that use the animals as a medicine to treat any given disease . The range of fidelity level (FL) is from 1% to 100%. High use value (close to 100%) show that this particular animal species are used by large number of people while a low value show that the respondents disagree on that spices to be used in the treatment of ailments.
Result and discussion
Knowledge of animal resource use among Sukuma Tribe of Busega District
Common name (E)
Local name (S)
Vernacu lar name
Mode of Preparation
Resp onde nt
Conserv ation status
Eudorcas thomsonii (Gunther, 1884)
Heart Skin Tail
Treat: asthma, Pneumonia Make drums
Dry, grind pour hot water
Inhale the smoke 1/day*4 days
Status: NT Trend: D
Chase away insect
Mount flesh skin container
Tail is being dried and used
Hippopotamu s amphibious (Linnaeus, 1778)
Boost CD4 for HIV patient
Blood dried for 3 days
Equus quagga (Boddaert, 1785)
Burn, grind, mix with water
2 cup/day*7 days
Atherurus africanus (Gray, 1842)
Rub ashes in abscess
2/day *2 days
Status: LC Trend: U
Crocuta crocuta (Erxleben, 1777)
Meat Skin and Feaces
Eat dry meat Cham
3 pieces/day*3 days.
Tie on waist
Ovis aries (Linnaeus, 1778)
red Maasai sheep
Extract tail fat
Diceros bicornis (Linnaeus, 1778)
Treat: asthma, gastritis; TB
Paste the horn mix with hot
2/ day* 30 days
Phataginus tricuspis (Rafinesque, 1821)
Tie on hand
Atelerix albiventris (Wagner, 1841)
Stop blood discharge via nostril
Burn; inhale its smoke
Time of suffering
Loxodonta Africana (Blumenbach, 1797)
Burn; get ashes
3 spoon/day*7 days
Mungos mungo (Gmelin, 1788)
Grind and smell
Procavia capensis (Pallas, 1766)
Collect hyrax urinated soil; mix water; filter soil and then drink
1 cup/day*7 days
Rattus norvegicus (Berkenhout, 1769)
Protection of thieves
Dry the dead rat. and.
embed on farms center
Kerivoula Africana (Gray, 1842)
Tanzanian Woolly Bat
Treat : pneumonia
Burn and inhale the smoke
Panthera leo (Linnaeus, 1778)
Adipose tissue Skin
Treat ear pus For protection
Rub fat on the ears Make charm
1/day *4 days Tie on neck
Phacochoeru s africanus (Gmelin, 1788)
Treat stomach ulcers
Grind, mix with hot water
2 cup/day *7 days
Lepus capensis (Linnaeus, 1778)
For wound healing
Take the fur burn it and
Rub ashes in the wound.
Aglais urticae (Linnaeus, 1778)
Treat: chest pain.
Grind; Swallow powder
Lasius niger (Linnaeus, 1778)
To become intelligent and leader
Take the fore ant, grind and rub on head
LC Trend: S
Butastur rufipennis (Sundevall, 1851)
Treat: stomachache; heartbeat
Burn, grind it into powdery form.
Rub 2/day*3 days
S tatus: LC
Apis mellifera (Linnaeus, 1778)
Rub the burn
Call a person to come back home
Burn beetle and call the name of a person.
Scutigera coleoptrata (Linnaeus, 1778)
Burn and swallow the ashes.
Araneus spp (Clerck, 1757)
Apply direct on fresh wound.
Trigoniulus corallines (Gervais, 1847)
Press plasma fluid and swallow
Naja siamensis (Laurenti, 1768)
Treat: burns fractured bone
Powder the skin, mixed with water
Rub 2/day*3 days
Agama mwanzae (Loveridge, 1923)
Flat-headed Rock Agama
Drink flesh bile
1 spoon/day*3 days
Python regius (Shaw, 1802)
Treat back pain
Mix with little water
Rub on back 2/day*3
Crocodylus niloticus (Laurenti, 1768)
Treat TB: gastritis.
Burn and swallow the ashes
Baleara reguloum (Bennett, 1834)
Grey Crowned crane
Treat stomach ulcers
Drink flesh blood
Aquila rapax (Temminck, 1828)
Treat chest pain.
Burn and inhale the smoke
15 minutes/day*3 days
Gallus domesticus (Linnaeus, 1778)
Fat Egg white
Nasal congestion. Treat: dysentery
Rub the fat in the nasal Drink egg white
3/day*3 days Twice a day
Threskiornis aethiopicus (Latham, 1790)
African Sacred Ibis
Drink flesh blood
1/2 cup/day*7 days
Ceryle rudis (Linnaeus, 1778)
Treat: back pain
Massaged on the back
Dendropicos stierlingi (Reichenow, 1901)
Intestinal fecal content
mix hot water with fecal content
2 cup/day*3 days
Anas indica (Linnaeus, 1778)
Treat: Pneumonia, Chest pain
Wormed and massaged on the chest
Mormyrus kannume (Forsskal, 1758)
Elephant snout fish
Treat: hookworms; removal poisonous
Burn, grind, mix with hot water
1 cup/day*3 days.
Lates niloticus (Linnaeus, 1778)
Treat: abdominal cramp
Pound and mix with water
1 cup/day*7 days
Status: LC Trend: U
Oreochromis variabilis (Boulenger, 1906)
Burn and swallow the ashes
Octopus vulgaris (Cuvier, 1797)
Treat: Urinary retention
Burn and swallow its ashes
Snail (O.F. Muller, 1774)
Treat: leg pain; make chain
Burn, grind, mix with water
Rub 2/day .*3 days
Lumbricus terrestris (Linnaeus, 1778)
Dry; paste mix with hot water
2 spoon/day *7 days
Fidelity levels (FL) demonstrate the percentage of respondents claiming the use of a certain animals for curing of the illness. The uses of animals that are generally known by the Sukuma respondents have higher fidelity level is shown in Table 1.
Table: 1 also shows that cough, Tuberculosis, asthma, and other respiratory diseases are most frequently quoted disease among Sukuma people, as such, a number of traditional medicine are available for the treatment of such diseases, many animal byproducts were used like flesh of gazelle, horn of rhino, nail of mungos, and honey are some of them. Another important aspect of the present study that needs to be mentioned is that the Sukuma people also use some endangered, vulnerable and near threatened animal species as medicinal resources. A total of 42 identified animal species, of which 12 (28.57%) are included in the IUCN Red Data list . It is important to mention here that species such as Tanzanian woolly bat, grey crowned crane, are listed as endangered while Black rhino and Victoria tilapia are listed as critically endangered and hippopotamus, African elephant, Simba (Panthera leo), Cobra (Naja siamensis) are listed as vulnerable in IUCN Red Data list. These tribal people have scarce knowledge, many irrational belief and myths associated with customs that cause harm to animal life. Thus these traditional medicine and animals byproducts should be tested for their appropriate medicinal components, if cited animal species among these people, byproducts of these animals, were used in the treatment of various illnesses.
Conservation status of animal utilized in traditional medicine
IUCN red list category 2013
The current study shows that forty two animals were found to be used among Sukuma tribe of Busega district. Twelve animal species are officially considered as threatened species by IUCN red list (2012) were found among the set of faunistic resources prescribed as medicines at the time of this research. The latter author noted that Sukuma healers who are also diviners are more likely to use both wild and domesticated animals in their diagnoses. Moreover mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and amphibians have been used in the field of traditional medicine for different purposes. However, mammals seem to be used much (40.50%) compare to other group among Sukuma tribe, followed by aves (16.7%). Amphibians are not commonly used in Sukuma society.
The present study also shows that the Sukuma people have very rich folklore and traditional knowledge in the utilization of different animal. So there is an urgent need to properly document to keep a record of the ethnomedicinal data of animal products and their medicinal uses. More studies are prerequisite for scientific validation to endorse medicinal value of such products and to include this knowledge in policies of conservation and management of animal resources. We hope that the present information will be helpful in further research in the field of ethnozoology, ethnopharmacology and biodiversity conservation viewpoint.
Authors are thankful to the Head and Dean of Biological sciences for providing all facilities and reinforcements during the study. We are also highly grateful to all the respondents who shared their traditional ethnozoological knowledge and permitted us to take pictures. Without their involvement, this study would have been impossible.
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