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A Preliminary Glossary of

Ethnoveterinary Knowledge and Practices in Mbeere


Martin Walsh

Circulated at a meeting on The Use of “Existing Local Knowledge”, Rural Agriculture and
Pastoralism Programme, Intermediate Technology Development Group, Methodist Guest
House, Nairobi, 16 March 1993

Glossary of Livestock Diseases and their Treatment

gĩcoma, 7/-, "watery nasal discharge" [cattle, goats and sheep (and chickens)].
This term describes a very watery nasal discharge. As well as describing a similar, and
more serious, condition in chickens, it can also be used to refer to a running nose in

(ĩvũngũ), mavũngũ, (5)/6, "hoof disease" (foot rot), [cattle, goats and sheep]
The primary meaning of ĩvũngũ is "hoof". In the plural it is also used as an alternative to
kuuvũ, referring to a disease of the hooves (mũrimũ wa mavũngũ), most probably foot
rot. Affected animals have sores between their hooves and are unable to walk.

ĩvũri, (mavũri), 5/(6), "lung disease" (pneumonia, CCPP), [goats].

The primary meaning of ĩvũri is "lung", both human and animal. In the singular (but not
the plural) it is also used to refer to lung disease in goats (but not humans and other
livestock, especially when post mortem examination reveals sores on the lungs of affected
animals. In EMI ASAL Programme (ed, 1990: 10) this condition is identified as
pneumonia, presumably mostly CCPP, Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia.

ĩvũva, mavũva, 5/6, "boil, water or pus-filled swelling", [cattle, goats and sheep].
Such boils or abscesses can develop anywhere on the body of the animal, including the
legs. They are said to be mature when the surrounding hair falls off and they can be seen
easily. Then they can be split with a knife, after which the problem disappears.
Traditional belief holds that these boils form when animals are struck by ntongu fruits, as
they might be by herdboys (or girls) when throwing them to keep the animals from
straying. ntongu (9/10) is the sodom apple, the fruit of Solanum incanum: these are very
much liked by goats, though they are also very bitter. This belief is not universally held,
however, and is asserted to be false by some informants. The name ĩvũva can also
describe boils on humans, although nyimba (9/10) is the more usual term for the latter.

kamocu, 12/-, "severe worm infestation" (helminthiasis), [goats and sheep].

This is a condition in which an animal becomes very weak and bony even though it is fed
well. It is caused by infestations of worms which are found in the intestines and rumen of

dead animals. As well as leading to death, such infestations may also cause pregnant
shoats to miscarry. There is no local treatment for this disease (or at least for this stage of
the disease) and it used to be taken as a fatal condition. Now sick animals can be treated
with modern deworming drugs, although it is very expensive for people with large herds
of (say 50) goats to do so at the price of Kshs. 10 per mature goat every 4 months.

kanyũkũ, 12/-, "severe diarrhoea" (helminthiasis), [goats and sheep].

This condition is distinguished from rũvaro (11/-), which describes mild diarrhoea,
though both can be treated in the same way. According to an informant from Ishiara the
best treatment for severe diarrhoea in goats and sheep uses the green leaves of the (small)
tree called kagumĩ (12/13), Ormocarpum kirkii. The leaves are ground to a mush to which
cold water is added and then stirred. After the mixture has been allowed to settle down the
larger pieces of leaf are removed. The resulting greenish liquid is then fed to the sick
animal. Older people are reported to claim that this has never failed to cure diarrhoea in
sheep and goats.
An informant from Kigwambiti (Thambu Sub-location) reported that he mixed sugar and
water and gave it to a sick goat in a cup. This was his own idea and probably derived from
some knowledge of rehydration treatment for human diarrhoea. The treatment was
reputedly successful.

kĩrovoto, irovoto, 7/8, fleas, [goats and sheep (and other domestic animals)].
The following treatment for goats and sheep with fleas is reported from Ishiara. The green
leaves of the tree mũkaũ (3/4), Melia volkensii, are picked and ground into a thick solid
which is then mixed with water and smeared on the body of the affected animal. This
treatment is said to be very effective.

kĩthũri, 7/-, "coughing" (pneumonia, CBPP, CCPP), [cattle, goats and sheep (and
This is a complaint of goats, sheep and, less commonly, cattle; while the same term is also
used to describe coughing in humans. According to information from Ishiara coughing in
livestock can be treated using the hard and rough bark of ĩthũri (5/6), Euphorbia spp.
(especially E.candelabrum?), also used in the preparation of an arrow poison, ĩvai (5/6).
The bark is collected from a dry tree and then burnt to charcoal. This charcoal is ground
to a fine powder and mixed with an egg (both the yolk and albumen) to produce the fluid
medicine. This is put in a bottle and fed to the ailing livestock. The maximum dose for a
large animal is a soda bottle full (300 ml), less for smaller animals according to their size.
The same dose is given every morning and evening. A week of this treatment is usually
enough to cure the coughing. Sometimes the leaf of ĩkovi (5/6), a cactus with white spines
(unidentified sp.) is added to make the medicine stronger. Alternatively, ĩkovi leaf can be
used as the sole plant ingredient. It is prepared as follows. First the leaf is picked from the
plant, then roasted and allowed to cool a little before the water is squeezed out of it by
hand or other means. This liquid is then put into a bowl or other container which already
contains a little water. The yolk and albumen of an egg is then added to this mixture and
stirred in until it dissolves completely. The resulting medicine is fed to the sick animal(s)
as already described above. The treatment is the same for cattle as for goats and sheep,
though it is more often needed for the latter. 1-2 makovi leaves are usually sufficient to
prepare a dose for up to 5 goats.

According to informants in Kamũgũ, this condition can be treated with the leaves of kĩva
(7/8) (possibly Combretum paniculatum, kĩha in Kikuyu). The leaves are pounded until
mushy and then mixed with water. This mixture is given as it is to the affected animal.
Alternatively the bark of the same tree (kĩva) is boiled in water and the resulting decoction
given to the animal once it has cooled down.
A young woman in Kiambiti (Thambu Sub-location) reported using the following
treatment to treat a sick goat. She cut the bark of mũgumĩ, Ormocarpum kirkii, boiled this
with water in a pan, allowed the liquid to cool, put it in a bottle and gave it to the goat. She
said that she had been told of this treatment by another farmer and that it was successful.
Otherwise an informant from Kiritiri reports that coughing can also be treated by giving
the affected animal ĩgata (5/6), soda ash.

kuuvũ, 9/10, foot rot, [cattle, goats and sheep].

This is said to affect cattle in both the dry and wet seasons, whereas it usually only affects
sheep and goats in the wet season. Cattle with this condition cannot move (and therefore
graze) and may die unless treated. In the Ishiara area they may be treated by smearing
their hooves with ũkĩ (14/6), honey. This treatment is reported to be effective in healing
foot rot in cattle. Goats and sheep are most likely to catch foot rot when they are kept in an
unroofed boma during the rains. In this case treatment of the animals is not necessary and
they will recover by simply being moved out of the boma.
Another treatment for kuuvũ in cattle, described in Kamũgũ, is to spread ash on the
ground at the entrance to the cattle shed or boma so that the affected animals tread in it
when they come in and out. The ash gets into the hooves and heals the sores which have
formed in between them. Healing is said to be complete within two or three days of this
treatment beginning.

kũrarama, 15/-, "bellowing", [cattle].

"Bellowing" affects cattle, especially bulls. When a cow or bull bellows a lot it is said to
have an excess of blood, ntakame (9/-) or ndamu (9/-). This is reported to have been
very common in the past, but rare now (at least in the Ishiara area) because of the
comparative lack of good fodder. The standard treatment for this condition is to draw
blood from a vein in the neck of the affected animal. This is done by shooting a special
kind of arrow, ndĩya (9/10), into the vein, using a small bow (ũta wa ndĩya, 14/6).
According to Kiritiri informants the animal is first bathed in hot water mixed with ash.
The amount of blood let in this way depends on the size of the animal: it may even fill a
small pan. To draw blood in this way is called gũtava ntakame, and the resulting blood
is known as ntakame ya gũtavwa (9/-). It can be mixed with bulrush millet flour to make
a kind of porridge. In the past blood was also drawn in this way from very healthy
animals, specifically for consumption. Again, however, it is said that there is now
insufficient fodder and the cattle are too thin to make this a viable proposition (if bled they
would die), though the practice is thought to continue in other parts of central Kenya
where these constraints do not apply.

kũremerwo nĩ thigiri, 15/-, "retained afterbirth", [cattle, goats and sheep].

According to an Ishiara source the following treatment is prescribed "for releasing the
retained placenta in the womb after the birth of animals", a problem which may otherwise
result in death. A dry maize cob from which the grains have been removed, mũcakwe
(3/4), is taken and burnt to a very black charcoal. This charcoal is then ground into a very

fine powder and 3-4 teaspoons of this powder are put into a clean bottle to which water is
then added. The bottle containing this mixture is then shaken very thoroughly until the
powder is fully dissolved in the water. The affected animal then given this medicine using
the bottle. This treatment is reputed to be very effective and is said to have never failed.

mĩng'ee (alternative mĩng'e), -/4, "spots around the mouth". [goats (kids only)].
According to an informant from Ishiara this affects goats but not sheep, especially young
kids which are suckling, but not mature animals. The symptoms are that the mouth is
swollen with spots. mĩng'ee is the name of the disease, the spots are called ntũndũa
(9/10). During hot and dry weather the disease is never serious and kids will not die even
if not treated. During the rains and colder times of the year, however, the disease is very
serious and can kill kids in large numbers if it is not treated quickly. Kids with mĩng'ee
are treated by washing the affected parts with water which has been used in washing out a
gourd which has contained fermented gruel: this kind of water is called mathuko (-/6).
These days kids are also treated by smearing them with "Kimbo" or other kinds of cooking
fat. mĩng'ee is only rarely used to refer to comparable symptoms in humans: the proper
name of cold sores around the mouth (also said to be accompanied by spots on the tongue)
is kĩvuti (7/8).
According to a Kiritiri source goats affected by mĩng'ee develop sores between the hooves
as well as around the mouth, while an informant from Karie described it as sores around
the mouth affecting both kids and lambs.

mũkurumo, 3/-, "bending down", [cattle, possibly goats and sheep].

"Bending down" is recognised as one of the symptoms of the disease ntigania ("dry
dung"), and mũkurumo (derived from the verb kũguruma, "to bend down") is therefore
an alternative name for it. This term is more likely to be known and used by old people
than its synonym, mwĩnamo, which is more widely used by young people.

mũng'ũrũ, 3/-, mange, [goats and sheep].

Also heard as ũng'ũrũ (14/-). Goats and sheep with this condition, described as a "skin
disease" and also called mũvare(3/-), have sores on their leg joints and eventually lose all
of their coats. It affects goats more than sheep and is said to be able to kill them. One
treatment reported from Ishiara is to smear the affected animal with a type of red earth
found where there is no vegetation and called ĩthetu rie turũ (5/6), literally "bare earth".
Another treatment, also reported from Ishiara and presumably more recent in origin, is to
smear the animal with petrol.

mũvare, 3/-, mange, [goats and sheep].

Also heard as ũvare (14/-) and synonymous with mũng'ũrũ (3/-, see above).

mwĩgunyĩ, 3/-, "wet hide" [cattle].

This is a condition in which the entire hide of cattle becomes rough in texture and looks as
though it is wet. It is not very common and although there is no local treatment it is not
known to kill cattle. Cattle with this condition like to remain in the shade when it is hot,
hence the name mwĩgunyĩ, which literally means "shade". No treatment is reported from
either Kamũgũ or Ishiara.

mwĩnamo, 3/-, "bending down" [cattle, possibly goats and sheep]

This name (derived from the verb kwĩnama, "to bend down") describes one of the
symptoms of ntigania ("dry dung"): cattle with this disease tend to keep their heads
facing downwards. As an alternative name for ntigania it is synonymous with
mũkurumo. The latter term is better known to old people, while mwĩnamo has greater
currency among young people.

ndangũrũ, ndangũrũ, 9/10, tapeworm, [cattle, goats and sheep].

The symptoms of tapeworm infestation are said to include loss of weight. The same name
is given to tapeworms in humans.

ndigania, 9/-, "dry dung", [cattle].

An alternative to ntigania (see below).

ndũrũ, (ndũrũ), 9/(10), "enlarged bile" [cattle, goats and sheep].

The primary reference of ndũrũ is to the bile duct and fluid. In the singular it can also be
used to refer to a disease said to be characterised by "swelling of the bile". According to
an Ishiara informant, this is a disease caused by ticks. It affects the digestion and when
slaughtered the animal's liver is found to be yellowish. Sometimes the bile has burst. This
disease affects rabbits as well as the ruminants, though rabbits are rarely kept in Mbeere.
An old woman from Karambari (Thambu Sub-location) reported that she had successfully
treated this condition by giving her goat a cup of cold black tea. Given that ndũrũ is
primarily diagnosed during post mortem examination, it may be that she had treated a less
serious problem.

ngaĩ, ngaĩ, 9/10, "swollen glands", [cattle].

The primary reference of this term is to the neck and other glands of cattle. It can also be
used to refer to the inflammation of these glands. In the Ishiara area it is said that the
standard treatment is to heat a piece of iron, usually a panga, on the fire and then place it
on the swollen glands. Firing in this way is thought to kill the germs which have caused
the swelling of the glands. This treatment leaves scars on the cattle treated. Veterinary
officers discourage this practice, saying that although it may cure the swelling it can
damage the area around the glands and leave the cattle less resistant to other diseases.
Many livestock-keepers, however, take no heed of this advice, but continue to fire their
According to an informant from Karie ngaĩ is characterised by swollen glands both on the
neck and at the top of the legs, as well as by difficult breathing and foaming at the mouth.

ngũmba, ngũmba, 9/10, "Three-host Tick", [cattle].

This is described by an Ishiara informant as a kind of tick (ngũva, 9/10) which has legs
that are partly yellowish and is identified as a "Three-host Tick". It is said to bring a lot of
disease to cattle. When picked off cattle they can leave wounds which form scabs when

ngũva, ngũva, 9/10, ticks (generically), [cattle]

In Ishiara there is said to be no local treatment for tick infestations other than removing
them from the animal by hand. Several different kinds of ticks are recognised, one of
them being ngũmba (9/10), the "Three-host Tick".

njereri, 9/-, "eye disease" (pink eye?), [cattle, sheep and goats].
According to an Ishiara informant this is a condition affecting cattle, sheep and goats in
which the eye of the animal, including the pupil, becomes completely white. It is treated
using the shell (ng'ari, 9/10) of a land snail called ĩrumbo (5/6). This is the only (or at
least the most common) species of large snail found in Mbeere. When alive its shell is
dark brown in colour, but it turns white when the snail is dead. The live snails are
generally only found during the rains, and therefore the shells of dead snails are collected
and used at most times of the year, though live snails can also be killed for the purpose.
The medicine is prepared as follows. Once the shell has been collected it is burnt white
and ground into a fine white powder. The larger particles of shell which remain are
removed by hand. Then the powder is put into a potsherd (rũgĩyo, 11/10) and heated
strongly in the fire until any remaining particles have turned to a very fine powder. The
potsherd is then removed from the fire and the powder allowed to cool. When it has
cooled down the powder is put into a clean and covered container, for example an empty
soda bottle. Then it can be carried to the affected livestock. A small amount of powder is
applied by hand to the afflicted eye(s). This treatment is repeated three times a day for 4-7
days, after which the eye will heal. This treatment is reputed to very effective.
According to Kamũgũ informants this condition can also be treated with njavĩ (9/10), the
Lablab Bean, Lablab purpureus. The harvested beans are ground to a powder which is
then applied to the affected eye. Alternatively, the bark of ĩthũri (5/6), Euphorbia spp.
(also used in the treatment of kĩthũri "coughing") is burnt to charcoal, and this charcoal
ground to a powder and applied to the eye.

njoka ya nda, njoka cia nda, 9/10, intestinal worms, [cattle, goats and sheep].
Worm infestations are said to be the major killer of ruminants in Mbeere. This problem is
particularly serious during the rains when animals drink from the seasonal streams which
flow at that time.

ntigania, 9/-, "dry dung", [cattle].

This is described as a condition in which the cattle produce dung which is very dry and
hard. Cattle with this disease also tend to keep their heads facing downwards, hence the
alternative names mũkurumo and mwĩnamo, both of which literally mean "bending
down". ntigania (also ndigania) is very common at Kamũgũ, where it kills cattle, and is
also found at Ishiara. It occurs especially during periods of drought and when fodder is
scarce. According to informants in Kamũgũ it can be treated by boiling the leaves of
certain plants and feeding the resulting infusion to the affected animal. Three different
plants were cited as providing effective treatment of this kind: gĩnjũe kia marigũ (7/8)
(unidentified), kĩrema (7/8) (possibly Indian Greens, Basella alba, mũrerema in
Kikuyu), and mwenũ, (3/4), Cassia didymobotrya and Cassia longiracemosa.

ntua ya mbũri, ntua cia mbũri, 9/10, lice, [goats and sheep].
These are distinct from ndaa (9/10), human lice, and ntua (9/10), human jiggers.
Treatment is the same as for fleas, irovoto (singular kĩrovoto).

nyimba, nyimba, 9/10, "boil, abscess", [cattle, goats and sheep]

This term is usually applied to boils on humans, though it can also be used for livestock,
instead of the more usual ĩvũva (5/6).

rũvaro, 11/-, "mild diarrhoea", [goats and sheep]
This is said to affect young goats and sheep in particular. It is not very serious, unlike
kanyũkũ (12/-), which describes severe and repeated diarrhoea. Like kanyũkũ, however,
rũvaro can also be treated with an infusion prepared from the leaves of kagumĩ (12/13),
Ormocarpum kirkii.

thita, 9/-, anthrax, [cattle].

According to an Ishiara source there is no local treatment for anthrax.

ũng'ũrũ, 14/-, mange, [goats and sheep].

Synonymous with mũng'ũrũ (3/-).

ũvare, 14/-, mange, [goats and sheep].

Synonymous with mũvare (3/-).

ũvere, 14/-, "skin disease", [cattle, goats and sheep].

According to an Ishiara informant this is another name for mange, more properly called
mũng'ũrũ (3/-) or mũvare (3/-). ũvere is more accurately applied to a skin disease
affecting humans and characterised by small spots all over the body (ringworm and other
conditions). An informant from Karie described it as a condition characterised by sores
on the skin which itch and are scratched by the animals, whose hair therefore drops off.
Otherwise Kiritiri informants described it as pimple-like spots on the skin, affecting goats
and treated with oil.

yani, 9/- (?), "swollen teats" (mastitis), [cattle].

Described by a single informant from Karie, the name not recognised by an informant
from Ishiara.

(no information yet on donkeys, which are not widely kept in Mbeere).

Canines and Felines:

kĩrovoto, irovoto, 7/8, fleas [dogs and cats (and other livestock)].
(no specific treatments recorded).

kĩũngũthi, 7/-, rabies, [dogs].

This is the term for rabies according to Kiritiri and Ishiara informants. Another Kiritiri
source described it as "going round biting people and barking anyhow".

Poultry and other Domestic Birds:

gĩcoma, 7/-, "watery nasal discharge", [chickens (and other livestock)].

According to an Ishiara informant, birds affected by this condition produce a very watery
nasal discharge. It can kill chickens, especially during the cold period and if they are in a
pen which is not roofed. The local treatment is with chilli pepper, ntũrũ (9/10), Capsicum
annuum, and the sap of a kind of cactus (unidentified sp., name not given), and is said to
be capable of producing full recovery.
As well as describing a similar condition in cattle, goats and sheep, gĩcoma can also be
used to refer to a running nose in humans.

gũtũndũka, 15/-, "sore spots", [chickens].

This is described in Ishiara as a condition in which the affected birds have sore spots on
their fleshy parts like the cob and wattle. They are given the same pepper treatment as for
gĩcoma. The sores are sometimes smeared with "Kimbo" or other cooking fat. When
treated the birds usually recover.
The literal meaning of the term is "having many small swollen parts", and it can also be
applied to humans.

kĩrovoto, irovoto, 7/8, fleas, [chickens (and other livestock)].

The following are all recorded as treatments for chicken fleas, which particularly affect the
head of the chicken.
(1) Basil, mũtavi (3/4), Ocimum basilicum, is placed inside the chicken pen where its
strong smell acts to eradicate the fleas (the same plant is also uprooted and smeared on the
inside of beehives to give them a smell which is attractive to bees). This treatment is
recorded from Ishiara.
(2) The plant called kĩrĩta (7/8) (unidentified) and the rotten inner sheath of mũruruku
(3/4),Terminalia brownii or Terminalia kilimandscharica, are ground on a stone, water is
added and mixed in a basin and the resulting infusion is spread in the chicken pen. This
treatment was described by an informant from Karambari (Thambu Sub-location).
(3) Another informant, from Kigwambiti (also in Thambu Sub-location), simply used the
rotten inner part of mũruruku (Terminalia brownii or Terminalia kilimandscharica)
alone, spreading it all over the chicken pen without any other preparation.
(4) An informant from Kiambiti (Thambu Sub-location) spread the leaves of magũata-
ng'ondu (-/6) in the sheep pen. The fleas are said to stick to these leaves and die.
magũata-ng'ondu is a generic name which means "sticks-to- sheep" and describes the
grass Setaria vertilliata and other plants (including Commicarpus sp. (? lanceolatum),
Cynoglossum coeruleum, and Plumbago zeylanica) with sticky seeds or fruits which cling
to the coats of passing livestock.

kĩthuri, 7/-, "coughing", [chickens (and other livestock)].

According to an Ishiara informant "coughing" in chickens is not treated as it is in other
livestock, but is just treated just with chilli pepper, ntũrũ (9/10), Capsicum annuum.

kĩvuruto, 7/-, "viral disease" (Newcastle Disease?), [chickens and doves].

This is described as a viral disease which is very common, occurring 4-6 times every year
in the Ishiara area. It is the most serious disease and can kill all of the chickens in Ishiara
town in less than a week. It also kills domestic doves. The Mbeere name of the disease
reflects the devastation which it can cause: it is derived from the verb kũvuruta, "to
sweep, wipe clear" (and so "wipe out" the affected flocks). When they are affected by this
disease chickens produce droppings which are stained with blood. The local treatment is

with chilli peppers, ntũrũ (9/10), Capsicum annuum. This treatment does not always
work, however, and one Ishiara informant reported that both this and treatment by
veterinary officers failed to prevent the death of his chickens.

kũthira mbũĩ, 15/-, "loss of feathers", [chickens].

The name kũthira mbũĩ literally means "finishing the feathers" and it describes a
condition in which the feathers of a chicken look rough and start to drop off. According to
an Ishiara informant it is not a very serious disease and does not kill the birds. No local
treatment is known.

mũgocererwo, 3/-, "dozing sickness", [chickens].

This term, derived from the verb kũgocerera, "to doze", was given by a Karie informant
to describe a condition in which chickens are always asleep. An informant from Kiritiri
also described this disease, without knowing what it was called. In this case it had killed
all the chickens in the local area. They had begun by suffering from loss of appetite and
dozing a lot. Finally they vomited a yellow mucus (and produced a similar nasal
discharge) and died. No treatment was described.

The research on which this draft is based was undertaken as part of the ESCOR-funded research
project 'Rural Livelihood Systems and Farm/Non-farm Linkages in Lower Embu, Kenya L972-4
to L992-3' (Research Scheme R4816), under the direction of Dr. Diana Hunt. The glossary draws
on the work of a number of research assistants, including Silas Kibwece, Peter Murithi, Jonathan
Mutua, Charity Wanjiru Nyaga, Mugo wa Nyaga, Justus Runji and Rosemary Wanja.

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