The term witch doctor is generally used with negative terms. It is often used to imply that the healer has little or no experience or ability in medicine.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that the first recorded use of this term is in 1718, in a book by Francis Hutchinson.
The witch doctors in Africa are known as sangomas in Southern Africa. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first use of the term "witch doctor" to refer to African shamans (i.e. medicine men) was in 1836 in a book by Robert Montgomery Martin (1803?-1868).
The role is only partly a practical one. It is also a spiritual one. The so-called witch doctor is often the guardian of the tribe's belief system and rituals. Key ceremonies must be properly held or else the life of the community may fall apart, as has happened in many places. Aggressive action by outsiders to the local belief system may lead to the 'genocide of indigenous peoples'.
- An Historical Essay concerning Witchcraft. With Observations upon Matters of Fact: tending to clear the texts of the Sacred Scriptures, and confute the vulgar Errors about that Point, Francis Hutchinson, Printed for R. Knaplock and D. Midwinter, London, 1718.
- History of Southern Africa comprising the Cape of Good Hope, Mauritius, Seychelles, &c., R. Montgomery Martin, J. Mortimer, London, 1836.
- Jones, Adam 2010. Genocides of indigenous peoples in Genocide: a comprehensive introduction. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415486187.