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Tobacco Smoking as a Superstition/ Medicine

By Vita Mithi

Tobacco smoking is understood to have superstitious elements in some parts of rural Rumphi and Balaka districts. Superstition can be defined as any belief or practice that is considered absurd to scientists; it can also be referred to as a religion not practiced by the majority of a given society regardless of whether the prevailing religion contains irrational beliefs. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and practices surrounding luck, prophecy and certain spiritual beings.

Some communities in the country believe and consider tobacco smoking as medicine which “god” gave to man, “tobacco smoking help to maintain the health of our people and cures diseases such as tuberculosis and Nyamakazi (diseases for the aged) in ageing people” explained one of the local natives in Balaka. Whilst in Rumphi district, tobacco is linked to superstition “it is believed that if one stop smoking in spite of the fact that the habit runs in the family and is supposed to pass to the next generations as it was done by their forefathers, then that individual’s life will be short-lived” an inhabitant in Rumphi- Bolero put in plain words.

Chingambwe (a local name for raw tobacco) is said to be used as an ailment for headache, stress, spiritual attacks, fainting, better breathing and nurture development of strong bones. In addition, Chingambwe is used to enhance sight. Both young men and aged people consider tobacco as a source of clear eyesight.

Science says tobacco smoking causes health problems such as lung cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases etc. even though science has proven this to be true, some people living in rural areas where tobacco is commonly grown consider the plant as part of their religion and deem science and its findings as a myth; thus, they claim to have never experienced the health implications of smoking as science puts it.

Most of the interventions that non- governmental organization, government and other networks work in Malawi target the youth and women, but they forget the aged people who initiate the youths on their social roles and practices that govern their society. The aged people initiate most of the young men to local medicinal ways of living, as they intended to sustain their culture from one generation to the next.

To crown it all, tobacco smoking is considered as a medicine in some communities of Malawi, while to others it is considered as a superstition, whereby its power surpass that of science. However, is tobacco smoking really a medicine? Is the perception that people have towards science a myth? Should the aged be left out in behavior change initiatives? This entails that there is need for more evidence based research that would give more details on the effects of tobacco smoking.

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  1. Frank Chidampamba

    Disturbing revelations there.

    Well, I think this trend might be the case not in just the districts mentioned above but other areas as well.

    Our literacy levels are low, it is not strange for people to still hold such beliefs.

    I think what is key is to substantiate these findings even further and establish detailed information. In turn, launch an awareness campaign.

    These are health issues and are critical to nation building.

  2. Trisha Manyengo

    An interesting story which has left alot to be Desired we need such kinda brains to reveal alot of things people feel are superstitious-Our literacy level is really too far behind-as leaders of today-we really need to do something for a better tomorrow!

  3. Debora Duwa

    Nice story, its an eye opener to some of us that we still have these behaviors passing on from one generation to another. However, I would like to know the difference in degree how could one know that the status of the medicine and superstition believes about tobacco now, when compared to the past and see whether it is significantly changing.

    WHY am I saying this? Although alliterate levels and culture might influence the believes to pass on, behind the scenery in the future or now with evidence based information we may see that these behaviors that are against science have minimized or have increased to act accordingly because I understand they can not completely go to extinction.

    In a nut shell, this a good observation. With the help of the sensitization its good to act upon it.

  4. Agnes

    It is high we stop such bad behaviors that are passed to other generation. This generation is already confused, with such kind of cultural behaviors will worsen the condition.We need to work up as nation and fight against such cultural behaviors

  5. Lumuli Mwakasungula

    These stories are true and at the same time they give a picture of how far behind our people living in rural areas are.
    If those who are elderly, at in this case gatekeepers are the ones who do not know that tobacco smoking is a cause of losts of health disorders then it means the coming generation will be at risk of swimming in the same lies.
    Public education in regard to how harmful tobbacco #smoking is should be prioritised so that all the rural masses are educated, understand and are able to make the right choices in regard to smoking. This might take a little while, but those who are educated should keep on disseminating all this, and a tobbacco free world will be possible.

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