The natural world is filled with dangerous things that can hurt you or make you sick. With a little bit of intelligence and experience, we can avoid most of these. We know to slow down when running over uneven rocks so that we don't fall and hurt ourselves. Mothers everywhere warn their children not to eat too many berries out of season or they could get sick. Every child learns to be careful around a hot stove or they will get burned.
The supernatural world is filled with even more dangers, and they are not as easy for us to see. If we get sick from eating the wrong berries or burned from a hot pot, turning to a traditional healer is the obvious thing to do, but when injury or illness comes from the spirit world the answer is a witch doctor.
When European explorers first encountered native healers in their explorations of Africa, the Americas, and Oceania, they were taken aback by the huge amount of political power witch doctors held over their villages and tribe. Ironically, many of these explorers were supposedly working as missionaries to spread Christianity which had featured exorcism, the casting out of demons, as a central tenet of their faith.
To the scientific mind, the elaborate ceremonies and rituals practiced by witch doctors seem like the worst form of quackery. To a barely literate colonial soldier, they could appear to be nothing short of devil worship. Although a witch doctor's knowledge and practices often had a basis in superstition, modern analysis has shown that some of their potions have true medicinal value.
In the sensationalist literature of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the term witch doctor carried racist overtones with the implication that the native peoples who lived under the influence of witch doctors needed the civilizing influence of white society. In fact, people living in these tropical regions often enjoyed a healthier lifestyle with greater opportunities than the poor living in Victorian London.
Tarzan of the Apes, 1932-1934, WOR, World Broadcasting Syndication. This series, although incomplete, is very faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original stories. In fact, Burroughs approved the scripts and Jane is played by his daughter, Joan Burroughs.
Tarzan and the Diamond of Ashair, May 1935, WOR Syndication. Perhaps the earliest surviving complete serial featuring the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The King of the Jungle is guiding a party to discover the Father of Diamonds, which the native witch doctors will prevent at any cost.
Moon Over Africa, July 27, 1935, Bruce Eells Syndication. The Professor, Jack, and Lorna witness the Witch of the Moon transform from a girl into a leopard. The leading warrior convinces his witch doctor to concoct a spell to drive the white man away from the village.
Suspense, October 27, 1942, "Lord of the Witchdoctors", from a story by John Dickson Carr. Three colonial nations are competing for influence over the island of Zanzibar, a rich caliphate of the coast of Equatorial Africa. Along with his harem, the Sultan keeps a ferocious lion caged in his palace. The natives on the mainland are being driven into a frenzy by the Lord of the Witch Doctors. The Witch Doctor is actually a Piccadilly Street magician sent by the Foreign Office, which means that along with supernatural shenanigans, there is plenty of Victorian Era espionage.
Adventure Ahead, September 23, 1944. "Talking Drums". American adventurer Philip Baring grew up on the West Coast of Africa and returns to help his father complete construction of a railroad through the jungle. The Ashanti Talking drums are spreading fear among the native workers. What are the witch doctors using the drums to tell the workers? Young Philip speaks Ashanti, can his music studies help him understand the drums as well?
Mark Trail, October 27, 1950, Mutual Network. The great naturalist is in Hawaii to survey the population of Nenes, rare Hawaiian geese. Early in the survey, Trail has a run in with a kahuna, or Hawaiian witch doctor, who promises him a supernatural whammy!