Traditional Healers in Mozambique Vaccinating Civilians to Fight Militia: Catholic Charity

Credit: DHPI

Traditional healers are vaccinating groups of young men in Cabo Delgado Province in northern Mozambique and allowing them to go ahead and fight militias that continue to wreak havoc in the embattled province.

In a report shared with ACI Africa, Johan Viljoen, the Director of Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI), a Catholic institution that is researching the evolution of the five-year violence in Northern Mozambique says that the vaccination using traditional herbs is aimed at making the young men impenetrable by bullets.

Mr. Viljoen says that the traditional healers, also referred to as the Napharamas, were first prominent during the country’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1992, and are now gaining popularity as the country fights suspected members of Al Shabaab.

The official of the peace entity of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) says that during the civil war, Mozambique saw “groups of young men who received vaccinations of a secret herbal formula from traditional healers, deemed to make them impervious to bullets.”

The young men, he says, used the said powers “to free their land of occupying forces.”


“Over the past three weeks, the Napharama’s have been re-appearing in Cabo Delgado – at first in Balama and Namuno, but now spreading rapidly across the Province,” Viljoen says.

He adds, “In villages across the province traditional healers are vaccinating groups of young men, sometimes as many as 80 at a time, who then clear their areas of insurgents.”

He says that IDPs interviewed by DHPI in Rapale, during the entity’s recent visit to Nampula Province in northern Mozambique, “show visible excitement when discussing the phenomenon.”

Most locals, having suffered a lot at the hands of militias, see the emergence of the Napharamas, the DHPI official says.

They add, “According to one report, Napharamas in Balama District raided a camp of insurgents that had been terrorizing the district for months, captured 22 of them and handed them over to the military. According to another report, two sub-districts in Balama and Namuno had already been cleared of insurgents by the Napharamas.”

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In her Ph.D. thesis titled, “Sociedade civil? Somos todos nós!”: Civil Society, Development and Social Transformation in Mozambique”, Prof. Tanja Kleibl gives fascinating insights into the Napharamas.

According to the thesis, the Naparama movement started around 1986 as a response to the increase in brutal violence during the civil war.  

For his thesis, Prof. Kleibl interviewed a Mozambican Catholic Priest in Quelimane, a town in East-Central Mozambique, who explained that in particular, young people and children got recruited into the group. 

The Priest also stated that members of the group were using “magic white arms” during the civil war struggle and that Naparama members were vaccinated with drugs from a very influential traditional healer and sorcerer. 

The Naparama movement is said to have evoked a synthesis between Catholic practices with African religious and medicinal beliefs in herbal vaccinations and spirit possession. 


According to the Priest who was interviewed for the thesis, the “messianic and religiously syncretic vision of leading people against violence in a war” enabled rural Mozambicans of different religious faiths to contest the culture of violence over which they had little everyday control.

In the November 28 report to ACI Africa, Mr. Viljoen said that five young men who had volunteered to receive a portion of magic from the Naparamas were, however, beheaded by militants on November 23 in the dense forests of Nairoto, district, Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique.

Meanwhile, the DHPI Director has faulted organizations working with refugees for allegedly manipulating the statistics of internally displaced people in northern Mozambique, noting that the manipulation is endangering the lives of those who continue to be forced out of their homes in the region’s raging violence.

Local sources at an IDP settlement in Rapale District in Nampula Province that Mr. Viljoen visited 15-24 November told the DHPI official that there were over 6,000 IDPs at the camp as opposed to IOM’s figure of 2,895.

Mr. Viljoean faulted the UNHCR and IOM for continually downplaying, and sometimes, denial of what he refers to as the rapidly escalating humanitarian catastrophe in Nampula Province.

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Such manipulation, the DHPI official says, denies the IDPS the much-needed humanitarian support.

“The manipulation of statistics and the denial of the presence of huge numbers of IDPs threatens the livelihoods of these IDPs. If they are not registered and their presence is not acknowledged, they are not included in budgets for humanitarian assistance, and will not receive anything,” Mr. Viljoen said. 

He adds, “Once again the lives of the poor are being sacrificed for the sake of political and economic expediency.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.