This recent history emerges from a historical trajectory of changing visibility for kusamira practitioners. European explorers commented on popular healers during the late nineteenth century. After Uganda became a British colony in 1900, administrative policies and Christian missionization pushed kusamira into less public settings. Ritualists appear in colonial-era literature as “secret societies.” Independence in 1962 might have eased constraints, but when President Milton Obote abolished traditional kingdoms in Uganda in 1966, many other cultural institutions also suffered. During the 1970s, Idi Amin’s regime oppressed religious and ethnic minorities. Not until 1995 did the new Constitution of Uganda cultivate an atmosphere more conducive to cultural and religious plurality. Ugandans responded with apparent respect for the value of kusamira as a culturally relevant medicinal and spiritual science. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that promote traditional medicine have since expanded their activities, and Uganda has seen immense growth in the number of publicly recognized local healers. This work examines healers’ plural motivations for aligning with these groups, how the groups affect healers’ public visibility and socio-political influence, and how they link local practices with a broader discourse on the value of indigenous knowledge.
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