Names and Spirits

Several local names have been used to describe Traditional Medicine Practitioners  in Yoruba land, and these include Olosanyin, Elegbogi or Oniseegun  as well as Babalawo.


Although Oniseegun and Oloogun are used as synonyms, they are distinct from Elegbogi in the sense that the Oloogun use charms, amulets and incantations in their magical practices. They are more dreadful in the community where they live.



Different areas of specialization include general practitioners (gbogbonise) stroke and hypertension healers, bone settings (teguntegun), traditional pediatrician (elewe omo) and local traditional pharmacist (lekuleja), in addition to the charmers, diviners, necromancers and stargazers (ateyanrin) .


Yoruba people and indeed the African worldview believe in the numinous, existence of divinities, demons and ancestral spirits. They also believe that every tree and herb have spirits that live in them. These spirits empower these herbs for medicinal purposes. It is the belief of the herbalist that every plant or animal had its esoteric or original name at the time of creation by Supreme God.

The herbalist also believes that most of the plants and animals today were once humans. Their original names and the circumstances of their current situations are embedded in Ifa verses. But only members of the Ifa fraternity can know and understand them. When somebody who knows the names call them, the plants and animals become very ‘happy’ and their therapeutic effectiveness is heightened.

For example, herbalists call Corchorus olitorius “gbamoyo” during herbal preparations for child delivery and not its common local name – ewedu. Furthermore, it was reported that herbalists knew that all the medicinal herbs and roots have spirits, some of which are passive and others are active. Before an herbalist plucks a leaf that has an active spirit, he has to recite some incantations or even perform rituals otherwise the herbs would not work.


Do you talk to your plants? I do! And I swear they lean in and listen too.  I feel validated to read that it’s a Yoruba belief of my ancestors (and current practitioners), so I’m not a crazy plant lady after all.

All photos in this post are of my gorgeous and beloved listening plants and are not necessarily Yoruba/tropical plants.

Temitope Borokin and Ibrahim Lawal write a lot on Yoruba Traditional Medicine in this paper called Traditional medicine practices among the Yoruba people of Nigeria: a historical perspective. Read more about it here




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