About the presenter: Dr. Moussa Dao is a pharmacist in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. He lives in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. He is 31 years old and has stuttered since childhood. Four of the eight children born to his mother stutter. Conscious of the problems encountered by the people who stutter in Africa and conscious of the absence of centers for treatment, he decided, to use the Internet, to research stuttering around the world. In November 2002, he connected with the International Stuttering Association (ISA), and is designated as a "special friend" of the ISA since January 2002. He is very actively involved in the cause of the people who stutter in his country and plans to extend the self help association movement, first in West Africa and then in all Africa. In February 2002 he created Action Against Stuttering (abbreviated in French A.C.B.) the first association of people who stutter in his country and West Africa, and third association throughout all of Africa. He is the president of this association. In addition to stuttering, Dr. Dao walks with the assistance of one crutch due to a deformity of his right foot.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Moussa Dao before October 22, 2002.

Stuttering in Burkina Faso

by Moussa Dao
from Burkina Faso, WEST AFRICA

Burkina Faso is a small African nation about the size of the state of Colorado in the United States. There are about 11,000,000 people in my country. Called Upper Volta until 1984, Burkina Faso is located in West Africa, bordered by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. The national or official languages are MoorÈ, FulfuldÈ, Jula, and French although 65 different tribal languages are also spoken. (When we changed the name of our country, we combined two words from two different languages. Burkina come from MoorÈ (the language used by the Mossi who represent about 50% of our population). Burkina means "integrity" Faso come from Jula (the language used by the Mandings who represent about 30% of the population). Faso means "country." So "Burkina Faso" means a country where they people are "upright." According to the website by the American embassy to my country (http://usembassy.state.gov/ouagadougou/) "Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world with per capita GNP of $230. More than 80% of the population relies on subsistence agriculture."

Stuttering is reportedly even more prevalent in many African nations, than in several other nations throughout the world. In my country the cause of this speech problem and its treatment are deeply rooted in "folk ideas."

This paper will share several of the traditional beliefs about the treatment of stuttering in Burkina Faso. Further, it will also report a small pilot study of ideas about stuttering from African Traditional Healers (ATHs). Finally, short, personal stories of two people from Burkina Faso, and what it is like for them in my country are included.

We have much to learn from others, and perhaps others will learn from us as well.


These African folk ideas about the treatment for stuttering come from personal experience, from the experience of other people who stutter or from people having attended the treatment of relatives. Even if some of these ideas tend to disappear in the larger cities, in many villages because of illiteracy, ignorance and absence of treatment possibilities, these ideas, some of them potentially harmful, will continue to persist for a long time..


This idea is widespread in medium SENOUFO (an ethnic group of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Mali). According to this idea, song is a method to treat stuttering. Children who stutter are asked to sing songs that account tales, mainly in public, around a wood fire or during rites of initiation.

Water from Canaries.

A canary is a type of jar used for carrying water. This idea is from the center of Burkina According to this idea, stutterers must avoid drinking the water from the bottom of a canary if that water has been in the canary for several days. It is believed this will enable them to avoid an aggravation of their stuttering

Snail's shell

This idea spread from the Ivory Coast (West Africa) . According to this idea, a stutterer must use a snail's shell exclusively as the container for drinking water during several months. It is believed this will reduce or cure stuttering


According to a very widespread idea in Africa, children's stuttering is caused by imitation of adults' stuttering. To correct this evil, it is necessary to threaten children when they try to imitate an adult or when they stutter. In my own case, some persons think that my stuttering was caused by imitating my brother's stuttering. They now think that if I had been threatened I would be cured. At present I have nephews who stutter and some in my family believe that the best method to treat their stuttering is with threats.

Cutting the membrane (lingua frenum) beneath the tongue

This idea is widespread throughout all Burkina Faso and also in some other countries of West Africa. With the birth, in the mouth of children, there is a membrane connecting the base of the tongue to the mouth. As children grow, this membrane tends to become smaller which it is felt facilitates the movements of the tongue and allows a fluidity of the language. In certain children, this membrane disturbs the mobility of the tongue which, it is believed, is involved in the appearance of stuttering. Treatment is to cut this membrane when children begin to stutter.

Owl's nest

This treatment idea is used in the western part of Burkina. It consists of grinding a nest of an owl and collecting the powder in a container. This powder is then included, a little bit at a time, in a breakfast porridge.


This treatment is also used in the western part of Burkina. It consists of heating a metal tool or a knife, letting it cool slightly and then briefly applying it several times to the lips of a child who stutters. A lady told me her little brother's misadventure with this treatment strategy. Their mother, very concerned with the gravity of the stuttering of her child, determined to apply this method. The child suffered greatly and still carries the scars of this treatment on his lips.


From March 28th to April 6th , the International African Traditional Healers (ATHs) meeting (SIRENA) was held in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. This meeting gathered more than one hundred ATHs coming from several African countries. As a pharmacist, I am interested in this because I am aware of the contribution of African traditional medicine in developing several drugs used in modern Medicine. I know that there have been some helpful treatments that have emerged from these African traditional healers, for example, in the treatment of cancer.

In my country, the ATHs are the holders of African traditional medicine .Their knowledge is kept secret and is only handed down from father to son, mainly during initiation rites. The future ATHs, accompany their fathers in the bush in order to know what plants must be cut, what part of the plant is to be used, what season the plant should be cut, and also what spell must be said during the ceremony. In all villages, there is, at least one ATH. There are also some ATHs who are very famous and they are known and respected in several villages, sometimes in many countries. Africans are very linked to their traditions. Though many became Muslim or Christian, they continue to practice their old traditions. In spite of the presence of hospitals in some areas, people continue to go to consult ATHs. Furthermore, the majority of villages do not have a hospital or clinic, and the nearest one may be located very far from some of the villages. Therefore, people go to ATHs until they are no longer satisfied with the treatment and then they may go to the hospital, sometimes in a very bad state of health.

According to one study, 90% of Burkinabe go to ATHs. In villages, people go, first to see ATH and then to a hospital if it exists. In towns the majority of people go first to the hospital and then to ATHs.

Sometimes people avoid hospitals altogether and prefer to go to see the ATH. I'll share one local example. There is an ATH who lives in a village near Ouagnadougou, my home. If a person fractures a bone, he prefers to see this ATH instead of going to hospital. In a few weeks this ATH can cure fractures yet in the hospital this can sometimes take many months with a high likelihood of infection. People come from Mali and the Ivory Coast to see this ATH.

As a person who stutters, I was very interested to learn about the general knowledge among African Traditional Healers of the speech disorder called stuttering and to explore their treatments to see whether it could also contribute in the field of the treatment of the stuttering. This meeting which is held every other year is a unique opportunity to access these traditional healers. This year we did a pilot study by addressing open questionnaires to ten African traditional healers.

Of the 10 African traditional healers (ATH), 6 were from the Burkina Faso and 4 were from other African nations. The ages of the ATHs ranged from 26 and 63 years. Among these 10 African traditional healers, 8 became ATHs by heritage and 2 chose it as a vocation. Among the 10, only one did not have a close relationship or a relative who stuttered. 6 of the 10 questioned believe that stutterers are nervous and 4 estimate that they are intelligent.

When asked about the causes of stuttering, we got these answers :

For 2 , stuttering is caused by not cutting the membrane which joins the base of tongue to the mouth during childhood

For 2, stuttering is caused by imitation of adult's stuttering by children

For 4, the cause of stuttering is heredity

For 1, stuttering is caused by disease (mainly meningitis)

For 1, stuttering is caused by a "curse."

When asked about the reatment for stuttering, we got these answers:

8 of the 10 believed that stuttering can be cured and 4 said they know former stutterers who have been cured. 2 claimed to have a remedy for stuttering, which they said is the root of one specific plant that must be used as a drink or the mixture of juice from leaf of specific plant and honey, used as a drink.

3 said they have no remedy personally but know traditional healers alive in their area that do have a remedy.

Our sample is very small and it is difficult to us to draw many conclusions. Nevertheless, this study does show some ideas of African traditional healers about stuttering and opens the way to further, more thorough investigation. It would be interesting to do a more extensive study at the next SIRENA which will take place in 2004.

The contact with African traditional healers is also a means of providing information and potentially good treatment for people who stutter in the most remote places of Africa .


Since we have created our association, we have met many people who relate their stories about stuttering. Those two stories were collected by myself, and demonstrate a stuttering problem for one child and one adult in my country. The following stories are also available to read in the French language.


Henry is a child who is 10 years old. He lives in Ouagadougou (Capital of Burkina Faso). He is the youngest son of a family of 8 children. In Africa, that means he was always treated special by all members of his family.

He has stuttered since he began speaking. His stuttering is very serious. He worked very hard in elementary school, but had to repeat CE2 (the 4th class after beginning elementary school).

There is no compulsory education in Burkina Faso. Last year during Christmas break, he decided never to return in school which was a surprise to his family. His parents tried to understand what had happened, but he refused to tell them his reasons.

His parents tried everything they could think of to persuade him to return to school. His father, despite great poverty, brought Henry a bicycle which is a precious gift that all children would like to have, but only wealthy parents are able to buy one for their children.

Henry's teacher and several of his friends tried also to persuade him to return at school as well.

As their efforts failed, his parents was obliged to accept his decision.

During the school holiday in July 2001, Henry decided to tell the truth to his mother. He told her that because of his stuttering he was teased and bullied at school. So, in order to not be teased and bullied he decided not to return at school. He said that if he was to return to school he wanted to change schools.

This year he went to a new school. He tells that the situation in this new school is better than the last school.


Poda is a old man who has lived in a village in the southern part of Burkina Faso. He has stuttered since childhood. His stuttering is so serious than he can take 5 minutes to get out a single word.

In Africa old men are very important in towns and villages. They protect traditions and custom against bad aspects of modernity. Their presence is obligatory during all special events such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals.

Unfortunately, Mr. Poda, because of his stuttering, is forgotten by everybody. People say that they are afraid to meet him since he takes so much time for a conversation. Some people tell that just to answer "Hello," Poda at times can take 30 minutes.

Poda is very frustrated. He told me that only the fact that suicide is prohibited in his society keeps him from ending his life. According to him his life is worthless and he has lived in isolation.

He also told that it caused him great joy to learn about our new self-help association for stutterers.. He stated that he is aware that he is old and perhaps will die soon, but he encourages our association in all our activities in order to keep other people from suffering like him.

These stories show that the problem of stuttering is as acute in Africa as on other continents. Our new self help association's task will be difficult but is also very important . In spite of the difficulties involved I feel it is a duty for those like me who had a chance to go to school in our poor country to work in order to help people.

Note: the map above is included with permission of World Atlas (www.worldatlas.com).

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Moussa Dao before October 22, 2002.

June 1, 2002