Alternative medicine: The African experience

This edition of our weekly discourse will look at the setbacks that fetishism, dearth of logical thinking and corporeal laxity may have had on the advancement of native medicine in Africa.
This is not about the once publicised Madagascar Covid organics, because though, it did not pass through universally established phases of clinical validation, it is advanced to some extent compared to the type that formed our topic for today. 
We are focusing exclusively on those efficacious natural medicines which heal populations of native Africans in the hinterlands. 

Let’s kick-start with a true-life story.
I once had a distant cousin nicknamed Chief Iberedu, who was a part-time native medicine practitioner. He knew how to prepare herbal remedies for dog and snake bites. He would cut the herbs, roast it, and grind it into powder.

About 2ml aliquote of the (now black) powder would be emulsified in about 2ml of palm oil in an earthen petri dish, and the victim of snake or dog bite would be asked to leak it four times with his left fore-finger and four times with the right equivalent.
Then he would be asked to go to Iberedu’s shrine where he would rub another concussion on the spot of the bite.

This is repeated for one native week (four consecutive days, i.e Nkw’izu) in Igbo calendar.
On the 4th day, the patient will be asked to bring a cock, two Kola nuts and half gallon (about three and half liters) of palm wine as libations to effect and ratify the healing. 

The implication is that if the patient fails to fulfill this libationary obligation, there will be repercussion.
The repercussion could go both ways.Either the practitioner (in this case, Chief Iberedu) suffers some paranoia skirmishes in his health, for failure to make his patient comply appropriately, or the patient (already healed) will start developing rabies infection symptoms if it was dog bite or cerebrospinal complications for snake bite. Though, this is an unverified claim, they would tie it to the punishment from the shrine, “because it is the shrine that gives potency and efficacy to the concussion.”
This practice was popular and predated the history of natural medicine expedition in many zones of Igbo land.

However, by 1994, another cousin of mine, but this time from my mother’s kindred — Mr. Gregory, a Catholic apologetic, had a friend in a distant hamlet. This friend was an occupational traditional therapist. He was of a noble stock, with good name, which our people believed was “more precious than silver and gold.”
He was to ask Mr pay some amount so he could teach him principles and practices of local herbal medicines.
He gave conditions for the deal: First, he (my maternal cousin) must not teach anyone within the hamlet, in order to protect his patent rights and/or monopoly. Secondly, his own house must be more than four kilometers away from the native doctor’s home, to forestall ‘professional’ rivalry.

So when these conditions were satisfied, my cousin asked his friend, if any of the different regimens requires idol worshiping for potency. The man said none of them do.
Then he (my maternal cousin) excused himself to go and consult with our parish priest. The Reverend gentleman gave Mr Gregory the imprimatur to go ahead, so long as the practice has no iota of paganism.
My maternal cousin came back and dashed to the bush, gathered all the herbs, and processed them in line with the directives. His concussions were efficacious without any fetish attachment and gave him fame throughout the neighbouring villages and beyond.
But as his fame soared, something happened!

He noticed that the same tree he de-barks for dog bite is the same that my distant cousin, Chief Iberedu who, was the first to practice it in our town was using too. Already, Mr Gregory’s fame has spread across the length and breadth of the town. The narrative was that one Mr. Gregory gives the best in alternative medicine without exorbitant fees and with no burden of spiritual libation etc.Sometimes, he considers the economic strength of his patients and offer “pro bono” treatments.
And of course, he naturally commanded more clients than Chief Iberedu, and malicious envy set in, as a consequence. Iberedu was filled with burning rage. But he couldn’t express it outwardly, for fear of public backlash.However, since his own clients have switched patronage to this Catholic man who held no supernatural implication to his own remedies, Chief opted for the ‘silent’ worst.

He went to the bush one night and cut down that shrub which they use for the dog bite, and sprayed herbicides on the legumes used for snake bite, scorpion sting antidotes etc. The shrub was just one in the whole village, and the legumes were scarce too. Only he and Gregory knew and use these plants.
This story has gotten longer than I thought. I had to cut it here.

But the lesson is that Africa underdeveloped herself in the field of alternative or complementary medicine. The spirit of fraternal solidarity has seemingly taken flight from us as a souvenir of post colonial exposure. Capitalist culture, which was alien in our native pre-colonial lives, took the centre stage.
Chief Iberedu died 10 years ago, none of his kids or brothers was taught the art of those herbal remedies.Mr Gregory, on the other hand, is still alive, and at least ten of his kindred men have learnt the preparation and administration of this therapeutics, under his tutelage.

Imagine if late Iberedu who pioneered the practice was liberal with knowledge and generous with his therapeutic procedures. We would have had at least twenty more practitioners behind him rendering same service to humanity.

Pfizer is a trans-generational global Pharma giant, because the founders weren’t selfish with knowledge. And it had earned them perpetual royalty. 
But an average African won’t bulge.Emzor and other big pharmaceuticals will manufacture drugs and package them along with a leaflet containing detailed information about the drug. But not so with native remedies.

Oyibo man will author medical and pharmacy textbooks to benefit humanity and ensure perpetuity of knowledge, but the black man is stingy with his. A typical African medicine proprietor will rather die with his knowledge than share it for the common good of the society.

In the second decade of this millennium, African medicine gained prominence. Research works into the field which were scarce prior to this era was given a boost.
Some graduate and undergraduate research projects were directed towards it. But with a depressed economy, insensitivity on the part of government and insincerity on the part of most of our homegrown medical researchers, the impact is till below perceptible threshold.
Most of our regimen lack documentation on dosage and measurement. What it means is that as of today, our authochtonous medicine is still behind because of our selfishness, insincerity, fetishness and mental laxity of a sort.
Another thing is the inordinate linkage of spirituality to efficacy of native therapeutic elements. We should learn to distinguish among nature, science and spiritualism.
A shrub with therapeutic potential is potent without ascribing its efficacy to any shrine etc. Moreso, Mr Gregory in our opening story asked his mentor why he had to roast those plants before administering them? 
“Nothing, it’s just to confuse smart patients who may after seeing the leaves would recognize it and go to the bush to procure and use them” his trainer answered. So it was a patent rights protection technique, not a sine qua non. The same manipulation applies to the use of one particular finger in licking a concussion.

But the likes of Chief Iberedu won’t tell their clients this.
One can take antimalarial tablets from a pharmacist, and get cured even without paying the agreed price for the drug because the payment or debt has nothing to do with pharmacokinetics etc. But in native medicine, the practitioners would cow their clients into believing that unless they pay their charges, one is bound to re-suffer the ailments, as punishment.
We must learn to separate mother nature from paganism. Religion and Medicine are two different fields. But since the two find their meeting point in Man, then we must cautiously define their boundaries for our native medicine to proceed in scientific advancement.
May daylight spare us!


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