Map of Africa
Natural History
Classroom Ideas

Geography and Culture

- Family Traditions
- Role of Masks
- Making a Living & Leisure Activities
- Healing Art
- Making Peace
- Origins and Identity
- The Meaning of Rock Art
- Spiritual Power of Symbols
- Community & Architechture
(Academy Library)
- African People
- African Animals
African Photos

Healing Art: Health and Illness

SUMMARY: Students study African artifacts relating to health and illness.

This lesson is part of a series. Select this text to learn more about the series and how to extend its usefulness.

GOAL: To understand healing and curing as symbolized in African artifacts.
  • Students compare and contrast methods of healing.
  • Students learn about items used for healing in Africa.
  • Activity: Emupeti or Medicine Band
    All grades

    In many cultures and civilizations, art is used to help heal sickness and disease. Medicine men of the Navajo Indians in Arizona in the United States make sand paintings for curing rituals. The sick person lies on the painting which is thought to absorb the sickness from their body. The sand from such paintings is collected after the healing ceremony and buried in a place where it will not harm anyone. The Cuna Indians of Panama make small dolls that are said to absorb the sickness from the patient. Later the dolls are thrown into the ocean to be cleansed of disease.

    Africans also make art that is associated with medicine and healing ceremonies. Singing, chanting, and the visual arts are often used to create states of mind in the patient that help the body to heal more quickly. Medicines made from minerals, herbs and other substances, together with fasting and various means of purifying the body, are used to heal the sick and maintain health. An example is the emupeti, which is a medicine band tied onto the arm or waist of a patient. Africans also place great emphasis on maintaining a healthy mind. They realize that strong negative emotions and stress are responsible for many illnesses.

    Healers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) use Emupeti and other healing objects to assure patients that the healer knows what he or she is doing and that proper procedures are performed. This gives confidence to the patients, helping to keep them in a positive emotional state so necessary for healing.

    This is not very different from what happens in a doctor's office. Doctors have medical diplomas hung on the wall of their offices that help patients maintain confidence in the doctor's ability to cure. Doctors wear white coats and have stethoscopes around their necks. These practical tools also serve as icons that help convince us that a doctor is properly trained.

    An Emupeti is like an award and represents successes with previous healings.

    Various pieces of thick yarn or twine.


      1. Collect 20 pieces of yarn or twine, each 1 yard long. Tie the pieces into a bundle.

      2. With an extra piece of yarn or twine, tie the bundle in the middle.

      3. Begin to braid from the middle to the end. With another piece of yarn or twine tie off each braid leaving 5 inches at the bottom.

      4. Repeat above on the other half of the bundle.

      5. Tie the Emupeti to your arm or leg with extra yarn or twine.


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    Material on this page was contibuted by the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art with the generous support of Disneyland.

    Activity developed by Jim Angus.