Stephen WhiteMidterm SOC400 Healthand healing varied in multiple ways from the pre-colonial to the colonialperiod in Africa. Africa was known for traditional healers and witchcraft.
While much of Africa was colonized during the scramble for Africa. The Europeanpowers were bringing western medicine over to Africa. In many places in Africathe Europeans fighting for control would ban the use of traditional Africanmedicine. The Europeans came to Africatrying to colonize and spread western medicine.
Europeans do not believe intraditional African medicine. They did not accept the traditional medicinebecause that would mean that the Africans were in fact not inferior. Pre-colonialAfrica health and healing was controlled by the traditional healers. In Africa,not all illness is attributed to the witches or spirits contrary to what isbelieved in the west. They were aware of several causes of illness and diseaseslong before western medicine.
The traditional healers have an extensivepharmacopeia deriving from barks, roots, leaves, saps, and many other naturalresources. In pre-colonial Africa, most of the health problems were taken careof and handled in the household by the traditional healer. The spirit causation was a large part of thetraditional medical system. Intraditional Africa spirits are known to cause certain kinds of illness toindividuals, families, and communities. The people would consult a doctor whowould use their own spirits or mechanical devices when the cause of the illnesswas unknown. The doctors would sometimes diagnose the problem as a neglect ofancestral spirits.
The person would have to go to specific sites and offergifts to the spirits. Sorcery was also alarge part of pre-colonial Africa. Sorcery involves antisocial or nefarious acts;sorcery is suspected when people die suddenly or have unexplainable illnesses.There is another type of traditional health is public taboos, when catastrophicevents happened the authorities would stop people from doing certain day to dayactivities. The evidence of these cases is drawn from the oral traditions andarchaeological findings and linguistics and ethnographic data. The traditionalhealers had a more personal connection with the people they treated and helped.
Whenthe British came to Africa in pursuit of colonization they brought westernmedicine with them. Colonial rule was established through a series of conquestthat began in the 19th century on in the 20th century,these journeys took place in east-central Africa by the British. They began totake control from the kings and chiefs of the villages. The western scientificmedicine known as biomedicine had become popular for its vaccinationslaboratory testing and high tech gadgets. It had the image of advanced medicalcare. “They import technology from the West in the form of hospitals andpharmaceutical products, primarily for use by the elites.”(Waite, therapeutictraditions of Africa).
The Europeans had this idea that they were colonizingAfrica and in a way, being the savior. The term and concept “public health” isgenerally associated with biomedicine and concerned with vaccinations,quarantining, and regulations to ensure sanitation and control environmentalhazards ” (Zulu). This is where sanitary segregation is practiced. “It hasbeen proved that the segregation of Europeans from natives is one of the mostefficient means of protection against disease and endemic amongst nativeraces.”(Curtin, Colonial tropical Africa). While quinine was becoming very big in treating and preventing ofmalaria in German west Africa they practiced the sanitary segregation.
Thecolonial state started spending resources on the construction of new segregatedcities all based on the false ideas of spreading disease. they also found thatmalaria mainly affected the youth of Africa from ages five and younger. The newcities were not any healthier or cleaner and the colonial state was essentiallydriven by nationalism and racism. They believed that mosquitos were spreadingmalaria. Also, this was a way of keeping those who govern away from thegoverned. this is a way of showing that most of the practices instituted by theEuropeans was to benefit themselves and not the native African people. By theend of the 1800’s Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur created the “Germ theory”between the two of them they found out that different bacteria were responsiblefor different diseases, and that diseases weren’t rising up from the soil.
Also,the two created Prophylactic quinine to prevent and cure malaria. This lead tothe pushing of widespread quininization, but it was found to be ineffectivecausing many villages to be displaced by Europeans. The colonial’s idea ofmedicine became much less personal and became more of a job.
For example,giving birth with traditional medicine the entire village or whoever was aroundhelped with the birth of the child, with western medicine it was controlled bya doctor. “The colonizing of birth was not only a transfer of authority fromwomen to doctors, it was also a positivist unveiling of the Muslim female body,a rendering visible, readable, and quantifiable,” it goes on to say, “the SHPattempted to redefine birth from mother’s sacred act to doctor’s medicalprocedure.” (Amster, 2013). This necessarily wasn’t a bad thing because withtraditional medicine the fatality birth rate was much higher than in westernmedicine. As the new medical institutions were being built the old African oneswere being surpassed.
The British were firm believers that the witchcraft andsorcery were based on nonsense. “In Africa around 80% of peopleuse traditional medical systems for much or all of their health care. It isimpossible to summarize the diversity of traditions used by the many cultures.Local traditions have grown and changed over thousands of years in response toculture, religion and migration.”(science museum Brought to life).
This showsthat even after colonialize brought many new hospitals and western medicine butit was still only accessible to the elites and the Europeans and not so muchthe native African villages. The colonials brought over western medicine as away of being superior to the natives. Even though the African villages alongwith their traditional healers had many methods to heal illness that did workfor the villagers. The Europeans were susceptible to many of the diseases andillness that the Africans were immune too.
The Europeans did not believe in anyof the medicines or treatments that the traditional healers practice. The twodifferent views on medicine fused in a way. they learned how to co-exist. Whilemost of Africa still uses their traditional medicine because the westernmedicine and hospitals are only located in the few major cities and whiletransportation limits many native Africans the Europeans flourish with properhealth care. Citation Amster, E.
J.(2013). Medicine and the Saints: Science, Islam,and the Colonial Encounter in Morocco, 1877-1956.
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Curtin, P. D. (1985). Medical Knowledge and Urban Planning inTropical Africa. The AmericanHistorical Review,90(3), 594-613. doi:10.
A. (n.d.). Bodies, Politics, And African Healing. Indiana University Press. Retrieved from https://farmingdale.
G M Waite, Ahistory of traditional medicine and health care in pre-colonial East-CentralAfrica (New York: E. Mellen Press, c1992) “Science Museum. Brought to Life: Exploring the History ofMedicine.” African medical traditions,broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/africanmedtrad.