International Journal of Humanities and Social Science

ISSN 2220-8488 (Print), 2221-0989 (Online) 10.30845/ijhss

Theorizing Health and Illness: The Role of Language and Secrecy in Traditional Healing among the Dagomba
Abukari Kwame

Culture, traditional practices, and social norms of different societies have been found to have great impact on healthcare systems and people understanding of health and illness. This paper discusses how the Dagomba of Ghana theorizes health and illness and the impact of language and secrecy in traditional healing. Using the Dagomba lay theories of health and illness and that of medical pluralism, the paper found that among Dagomba, the concepts of health and illness are complex, holistic and interrelated. The Dagomba theorized that health is a discourse and a relational concept. It is also seen as being in a state of balance with the self, others, the society and the spiritual world but not the absence of illness. The paper argues that illness among Dagomba has both internal and external dimensions. It is seen as something which is part of life and growing up. Accordingly, some illnesses are innate while others come and go. Within their traditional healthcare system, language and secrecy are found to have both pragmatic and psychological functions. Language is not only used in naming illnesses and expressing other medical conditions but it is also used as a means of communication such that patients and healers engagement in the medical discourse promote good health. Secrecy is found to perform the role of patent law (intellectual property rights) to healers’ traditional knowledge. It is also used to protect both patients and the potency of traditional medicine and healing. Finally the paper draws the attention of medical practitioners, especially those in the formal health systems, to the fact that cultural sensitivity and the respect for people lay theories of health and illness need to be taken seriously since that could help to promote effective healthcare delivery and reduce conflicts between patients and healthcare professionals.

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