This edition of our weekly talk will look at the setbacks that fetishism, lack of logical thinking and bodily laxity have had on the advancement of indigenous medicine in Africa.
These are not the once advertised Madagascar Covid biologics, for although they have not gone through universally established clinical validation phases, they are advanced to some degree from the type that formed our subject of today.
We focus exclusively on those effective natural medicines that heal the populations of indigenous Africans in the hinterland.
Let’s start with a true story.
I once had a distant cousin nicknamed Chief Iberedu, who practiced native medicine on a part-time basis. He knew how to prepare herbal remedies for dog and snake bites. He cut the herbs, roasted them and ground them into powder.
About 2ml aliquot of the (now black) powder would be emulsified in about 2ml of palm oil in an earthen petri dish, and the victim of a snake or dog bite would be asked to pour it four times with his left index finger and four times with the correct equivalent.
Then he would be asked to go to the Iberedu Shrine where he would rub another concussion at the bite site.
This is repeated for an indigenous week (four consecutive days, i.e. Nkw’izu) in the Igbo calendar.
On the 4th day, the patient will be asked to bring a rooster, two kola nuts and a half gallon (about three and a half liters) of palm wine as libations to perform and ratify the healing.
The implication is that if the patient does not fulfill this libation obligation, there will be repercussions.
The impact can go both ways. Either the practitioner (in this case Chief Iberedu) is suffering from skirmishes of paranoia in his health for failing to make his patient obey appropriately, or the patient (already cured) will begin to develop symptoms of infection by rabies whether it was a dog bite or cerebrospinal complications for snakebite. Although this is an unverified claim, they would link it to the punishment of the shrine, “Because it is the sanctuary that gives power and effectiveness to the concussion.”
This practice was popular and predates the history of the natural medicine expedition in many areas of Igbo land.
However, in 1994, another cousin of mine, but this time from my mother’s family – Mr. Gregory, a Catholic apologetic, had a friend in a remote hamlet. This friend was a traditional occupational therapist. He was of noble stock, with a good reputation, whom our people believed to be “more precious than silver and gold”.
He had to ask Mr. Gregory. to pay a certain amount so that he can teach her the principles and practices of local medicinal plants.
He gave conditions for the agreement: First, he (my maternal cousin) must not teach anyone in the hamlet, in order to protect his patent rights and/or his monopoly. Secondly, his own house must be more than four kilometers from the home of the native doctor, to avoid “professional” rivalries.
So when these conditions were met, my cousin asked his friend if any of the different diets required idol worship for power. The man said none of them did.
Then he (my maternal cousin) excused himself to go and consult our priest. The reverend gentleman has given Mr. Gregory the imprimatur to go ahead, as long as the practice does not have one iota of paganism.
My maternal cousin came back and rushed into the bush, picked up all the herbs and processed them according to the guidelines. His concussions were effective without any fetishistic attachment and gave him fame in nearby villages and beyond.
But as his fame skyrocketed, something happened!
He noticed that the same tree he was barking for dog bite was the same one my distant cousin, Chief Iberedu, who was the first to practice in our town, also used. Already, Mr. Gregory’s fame has spread throughout the city. The narrative was that a Mr. Gregory gives the best of alternative medicine without exorbitant expense and without the burden of spiritual libation etc. Sometimes he considers the economic strength of his patients and offers “pro bono” treatments.
And of course, he naturally ordered more customers than Chef Iberedu, and a malevolent craving set in as a result. Iberedu was filled with a burning rage. But he could not express it outwardly, for fear of a public backlash. However, since his own clients changed patronage to this Catholic man who had no supernatural involvement in his own remedies, Chief opted for the worst “silent”.
He went into the bush one night and cut down that shrub that they use for dog bite, and sprayed herbicides on the legumes used for snake bites, scorpion sting antidotes, etc. The shrub was only one in the whole village, and legumes were scarce too. Only he and Gregory knew and used these plants.
This story got longer than I thought. I had to cut it here.
But the lesson is that Africa is underdeveloped in the field of alternative or complementary medicine. The spirit of fraternal solidarity seems to have left us as a memory of post-colonial exposure. Capitalist culture, which was foreign to our indigenous pre-colonial lives, took center stage.
Chief Iberedu died 10 years ago, none of his children or brothers learned the art of these herbal remedies. Mr. Gregory, on the other hand, is still alive and at least ten of his relatives have learned the preparation and administration of this therapeutic, under his tutelage.
Imagine if the late Iberedu, a pioneer of the practice, was liberal with his knowledge and generous with his therapeutic procedures. We would have had at least twenty more practitioners behind him rendering the same service to humanity.
Pfizer is a cross-generational global pharma giant because the founders weren’t selfish when it came to knowledge. And it had earned them perpetual royalty.
But an average African will not bloat. Emzor and other major pharmaceutical companies will manufacture drugs and package them with a package leaflet containing detailed information about the drug. But not with native remedies.
The man of Oyibo will write manuals of medicine and pharmacy for the benefit of humanity and will ensure the perpetuity of knowledge, but the black man is stingy with his own. A typical African drug owner would rather die with his knowledge than share it for the common good of society.
During the second decade of this millennium, African medicine rose to prominence. Research in the field which was rare before that time was stimulated.
Some graduate and undergraduate research projects were oriented there. But with a depressed economy, insensitivity on the part of the government, and insincerity on the part of most of our local medical researchers, the impact is well below the noticeable threshold.
Most of our diets lack documentation on dosage and measurement. This means that to this day, our indigenous medicine is still behind due to our selfishness, insincerity, fetishism and a kind of mental laxity.
Another thing is the excessive connection between spirituality and the effectiveness of indigenous therapeutic elements. We should learn to distinguish between nature, science and spiritualism.
A shrub with therapeutic potential is powerful without attributing its effectiveness to a sanctuary, etc. Moreso, Mr. Gregory in our opening story asked his mentor why he had to roast these plants before administering them?
“Nothing, it’s just to confuse intelligent patients who might after seeing the leaves recognize it and go to the bush to get them and use them” replied his trainer. It was therefore a technique for the protection of patent rights, and not a sine qua non. The same manipulation applies to using a particular finger to lick a concussion.
But people like Chef Iberedu won’t tell their customers.
One can take antimalarial tablets from a pharmacist and be cured even without paying the agreed price for the medicine because the payment or debt has nothing to do with pharmacokinetics and so on. pay their charges, one is bound to suffer evils again, as a 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 carefully define their boundaries for our indigenous medicine to progress scientifically.
May the light of day spare us!