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African Medicine

African Medicine

African medicine is viewed as a kind of antipode to the medicine and science of the civilised world. However, African witch doctors, healers, medicine men and women, through careful watching of nature, studying the properties of plants and flowers and their effect on the organism, arrived at interesting findings simultaneously with European doctors, and often even much earlier. Although some of the treatment methods applied in African medicine are as yet so shocking that a modern patient accustomed to conveniences and comfort would not venture to give them a shot.

European doctors visiting African countries and treating indigenous people as part of missionary expeditions have related about the methods of tribal medicine with great relish and enthusiasm. Plenty of curious information is up to now being collected by scientists during archeological excavations of aboriginal tribal settlements.

According to the testimonies of witnesses, most diseases were treated by African medicine men with remedies of plant and animal origin. For example, malaria was treated using aconite root, which possesses powerful diaphoretic properties, and pills from the specific type of spider web. African medicine men have traditionally been treating leprosy with chaulmoogra seed oil, while European scientists discovered this method only after the World War I. Gastric ulcer was treated with porcupine stomach infusion. Sheep wool was considered good for skin diseases. Nasal cavity was treated with snail extract, and today the method is widely used all around the globe — mucin (glutamine extract from snails) helps cure nasal catarrh and laryngitis.

Not only African medicine men mastered the art of healing — they also performed unimaginable surgeries. For example, they treated deep cuts with black ants: the insects were placed inside the wound in such a way that they bit into the human flesh thus joining the wound edges together. As a result, the wound was literally stitched with almost no scar left. The aborigines, whom white doctors viewed as “wild,” could perform the Caesarian section, craniotomy, amputation, and other major surgeries. For anaesthesia, “patients” were to drink strong banana wine, which was no less effective than modern anaesthetics. Alcohol was used for disinfection by the “surgeon”. Bleedings were stopped by searing a wound with hot iron. The wound was stitched with a strong thread coiled around a metal nail.

Skilled dentists were also present among the ranks of African medicine men. Of course, they did not have special instruments for pulling bad teeth out. However, they had all necessary means to destroy such teeth: special infusions, roots and dried plants gradually destroyed the tooth or deadened the nerve.

Many diseases, though it may sound odd, were treated with poisons or following the approach of “like cures like” — that is infecting the patient with another disease. Paralysis was cured with mosquito bites or malaria. Regular mite bites helped prevent typhoid fever, because natural antitoxins protecting from typhus were produced in human blood.

Treatments used by African medicine men are absolutely different from and having nothing in common with the standards of modern medicine. At the same time, they were no less effective. They were accompanied with ritual dances, chanting, music, shrouded in magic and enchantment. And so far, Africa still harbors many mysteries, reluctant to share them with the wide world.

Tags: folk medicine, alternative medicine, African medicine

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