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  • Traditional Herbal Medicine in Sukutan Village

    A Zeitz Foundation initiative to preserve cultural traditions and promote environmental protection in rural areas.

  • Sukutan Herbal Medicine2

  • Sukutan Herbal Medicine 3


    The Sukutan area, located on the northern boundary of Segera, is renowned for the medicinal purposes of its indigenous plants and the knowledge of the local community in the use of these. This pamphlet introduces you to Mama Mboikai - local midwife and herbal medicine practitioner - by way of introducing you to the traditional knowledge of the pastoralist communities around Segera.

    The pamphlet, which draws exclusively upon the knowledge that Mama Mboikai has generously shared with us, includes insights into just a few of the most commonly used medicinal plants in Sukutan and into the life of Mama Mboikai and others in her community. Many other plants too numerous to include here are also used by the Maasai and Samburu.

    The preservation of traditional herbal medicine incorporates the four main pillars the 4Cs behind the Zeitz Foundation philosophy. The local knowledge and use of herbal medicine is a fundamental part of the traditional culture and has immense significance for the Sukutan community. To secure the survival of plants with medicinal purposes, conservation of the natural habitat is critical. The importance of herbal medicine illustrates the necessity of promoting sustainable commerce to achieve habitat protection, and thereby save lives.

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    The map on the left indicates the isolated location of Sukutan village, where approximately 500 people live far from other villages or towns or formal employment opportunities. Sukutan receives barely 550 mm of rainfall annually, which limits the livelihood options available to the people to pastoralism and gathering of products from the natural environment, such as honey, fruits and traditional medicines. People here are entirely dependent on their natural environment for their livelihoods and sustainable use of their environment is central to their survival. The people of Sukutan are mainly Samburu and Maasai pastoralists, including some Ndorobo Maasai families who are traditionally hunter-gathers.

    A map of Segera indicating the location of Sukutan to the North



    The women in Sukutan spend much of their day fetching water from the surrounding springs and gathering firewood. For some, the closest spring can be located many kilometres away, making the task of carrying water a time consuming and backbreaking ordeal. Herding livestock - cattle, sheep and goats - is mainly the responsibility of men, with children taking part from a very young age. Life in Sukutan continues to largely revolve around grazing livestock and fetching necessities such as firewood and water.

    A Manyatta at Sukutan Village

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    Mama Mboikai midwife and herbal medicine practitioner

    From a very young age Mama Mboikais mother - the former midwife of Sukutan - taught her about pregnancy and childbirth. After her mother passed away, Mama Mboikai assumed the role as midwife. In addition to assisting women with giving birth, Mama Mboikai possesses vast knowledge about the medicinal purposes of local plants, a knowledge she uses to benefit her community.

    Mama Mboikai has nine children, but most of them have left home to be married. The sons that still live with her help her in her work and assist her in gathering plants.

    Despite the recent introduction of a mobile clinic from the neighbouring Mpala Conservancy, Mama Mboikais expertise is still highly in demand. Many women suffer complications in childbirth and she has meant the difference between life and death on many occasions. Mama Mboikai enjoys great respect for her healing hands and is a central figure in the Sukutan community.

    Knowledge about the medicinal value of indigenous plants plays a central role in the health and well-being of the people of Sukutan.

    The understanding of natures medicinal treasure trove has been acquired through generations and is preserved in the minds of certain individuals. One of these is Mama Mboikai, the local midwife. Zeitz Foundation works closely with

    Mama Mboikai to protect the tradition of herbal medicine.

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    While it was her mother that taught her to be a midwife, Mama Mboikai learnt much of what she knows about herbal medicine from her father, who spent his life studying and applying the medicinal use of plants. The knowledge her father acquired was passed on to Mama Mboikai, who in turn considers it her duty to pass it on to her children.

    Mama Mbokai collecting medicinal plants at the Sukutan area

    When someone in Sukutan becomes sick, their first action is to come to Mama Mboikai. Sometimes the Chairman of Sukutan will also contact the mobile clinic from Mpala but as Mama Mboikai explains,.

    Many people are sceptical towards the clinic and modern medicine and they trust traditional medicine and the treatment I can give them more than new methods they are unfamiliar with.

    So whilst the mobile clinic is much appreciated, it has not replaced Mama Mboikai and her traditional medicine chest. Mama Mboikai considers that around half of the indigenous plants in Sukutan have medicinal properties.


    Mama Mbokai with tree seedlings to be re-planted at the Segera medicinal garden.

    The dependence on traditional herbal medicine illustrates how the destruction of the environment not only threatens biodiversity, but also has severe ramifications for local people. This acts as a great incentive for conservation and careful nurturing of the environment. Mama Mboikai is well aware of the value of the environment and how to care for the plants she depends upon. When she gathers medicinal plants, she makes sure to leave most of the tree or bush behind. She never cuts the whole tree, taking only a few branches or some

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    Mama Mbokai displaying one of the herbs she uses for medicine.

    bark. If you clear every tree, she explains, you cant find medicine anymore. Mama Mboikai explains that it is not only the leaves that can be used for medicinal purposes, but also the root, bark and even the sap. Im teaching my community how to utilize our natural resources so that they will be here for their grandchildren. It makes me feel good to help my community. Factors such as over-grazing, deforestation, and extreme weather as a result of climate change, severely threaten the Sukutan ecosystem, and Mama Mboikai and others in Sukotan are well aware of this and the challenges that these problems pose. They are enthusiastically involved with the Zeitz Foundation in a range of projects to address these problems.


    As Mama Mboikai patiently explains the usage of a certain plant, another member of the community approaches her manyatta. The young woman is carrying a small child on her back and has wrapped her shuka - a traditional blanket - closely around the baby to protect it from the sun. The younger woman asks Mama Mboikai advice on how she should treat her old mother who is suffering from a persistent cough and a fever. Mama Mboikai has seen many of these cases in the village over the last month and has treated her patients using a remedy extracted from the Orange-leaved Croton plant, Croton Dichogamus, or as it is known in the local Maa language, Ol-logerdangai. Mama Mboikai instructs the woman to steep the Croton roots in water before making her mother drink the mixture. Through knowledge passed down to her and her own experience, Mama Mboikai has witnessed how a concoction from the Croton plant mends persistent coughs. Her understanding of nature and its medicinal effects is based on generations of trying and failing, of making due with what is locally accessible. The trust and relief on the young womans face bears testimony to how the expertise of individuals such as Mama Mboikai remains vital to the community.

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    The following information on the names, uses and preparation of some of plants used in Sukutan for medicinal purposes has been kindly provided by Mama Mboikai. Mama Mboikai is happy to share her knowledge and if you would like to visit her to learn more, please contact the Zeitz Foundation through Segera Retreat management or direct per the contact details provided.

    Scientific Name English Name Kiswahili Name

    Maa Name

    Acacia gerrardi Black Thorn Kikwata ErangauMedicinal uses and preparations:Used to cure bone diseases: Roots and bark are peeled and

    boiled, then drunk. Stomach aches/gastrointestinal worms: Roots are dried, boiled and drunk.

    Balanites aegyptiaca

    Desert Date Mjunju Olngoswa

    Medicinal uses and preparations:Cure for malaria: Dry bark or root powder added to

    water, strained and infusion drunk twice daily.

    Abdominal pains: Freshly pounded roots added to

    boiled water, strained and drunk before breakfast.

    Pneumonia or chest pains: Resin/sap collected and mixed

    with drinking water.

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    Scientific Name English Name Kiswahili Name

    Maa Name

    Carissa edulis Simple Spined Carissa

    Mtanda-mboo Olamuriak

    Medicinal uses and preparations:Used to ease bone diseases: Roots boiled together with goat

    soup.Cure lack of appetite and low libido: Roots added to soup once its

    cooked. General tonic for pregnancy malaise: Roots boiled in soup.

    Cyphostemma adenocaule

    Cyphostemma Mwengele Olorondo

    Medicinal uses and preparations:Applied to itc


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