Muti is a term for traditional medicine in Southern Africa as far north as Lake Tanganyika. The word muti is derived from the Zulu word for tree, of which the root is -thi. In Southern Africa, the word muti is in widespread use in most indigenous African languages, as well as in South African English and Afrikaans where it is sometimes used as a slang word for medicine in general.
African Traditional medicine makes use of various natural products, many derived from trees and other plants. Botanical medicine prescribed by an inyanga or herbal healer is generally known as muti, but the term muti also applies to other traditional medical formulations, including those that are zoological or mineral in composition.
This noun is of the umu / imi class, consequently the singular (tree) is rendered Umuthi and plural (trees) is Imithi. Since the pronunciation of the initial vowel of this umu / imi class of Zulu noun, is unstressed, the singular Umuthi is sometimes heard as 'Muthi'. The word is rendered as muti due to the historical effects of British Colonial spelling.
In colloquial English and Afrikaans the word muti is often used to refer to medicines in general or medicines that have a 'miraculous' effect, e.g.
- "Die dokter het 'muti' op die seerplek gesmeer en die volgende dag was dit heeltemal gesond." (The doctor rubbed 'muti' on the wound and the next day it was completely healed.)
- "My dokter het vir my 'muti' verskaf vir my seer keel." ("My doctor gave me some 'muti' for my sore throat.")
Occasions of murder and mutilation associated with some traditional cultural practices in South Africa are also termed muti killings. More correctly known as medicine murder, these are not human sacrifice in a religious sense, but rather involve the murder of someone in order to excise body parts for incorporation as ingredients into medicine and concoctions used in witchcraft.
In February 2010, Deputy Provincial Commissioner William Mpembe of the South African Police Service (SAPS) in North West Province said that “muti murders, particularly those involving young children, seem to be on the rise in the Tshwane areas including Soshanguve, Garankuwa and Rietgat" That same month, African traditional healers and the Gauteng government convened at a seminar in Pretoria, South Africa to root out the "evil practice of mutilating human bodies for purposes of muti making."
- Traditional African Healing
- "Sangoma / Muti / South African Traditional Healers / South African Witchdoctors" 9 June 2009
- "Traditional African Healing". African Code. Retrieved 18 September 2012.
- "Cash for organs is no joke". http://www.sowetanlive.co.za. Sowetan Live and SAPA. 25 February 2011. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- SAPA (19 February 2010). "Muti killings to be tackled". http://www.news24.com. News24. Retrieved 3 July 2012.