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African traditional Medicine : The view of Nigerians

Updated on July 31, 2012

Before the Westerners came to Africa and introduced the currently known orthodox medicine, Africans had their own traditional medicine that was in use then and which is still in use in many places in Africa today. However, some African no longer considers it right or normal to depend on the known herbs and roots of their land used for curative purposes.

This hub is written because of a question asked by a student during a surgery lecture. The student asked the lecturer, “my grandfather was a surgeon and in their time he said, he applied potash after surgery. What is the function of the potash?” the lecturer explained that potash may have some antimicrobial activity which she was not certain. She explained further by saying that men of the past used agents they did not really know the active ingredient yet they got results because such agents had therapeutic value.

Her explanation reminded the writer that even in the western and developed society, there was a time in their history when they used curative combinations or concoctions for therapeutic purposes. The recent development in medicine is because of the efforts made to purify and isolate the active agents in those mixtures, plants, and other sources. Thereby not only improving the therapeutic values of such agents but also reducing their adverse effects with a knowledge and precision of the dosage needed to achieve the desired cure. It is because of such modern knowledge that agents like curare which had been used by the ancient as arrow poison can be used for its therapeutic value as muscle relaxant.

The Chinese are among the few that are known to have maintained their traditional medicine, at least to an extent, till the present time and the case is not the same in most other places. For instance after the student asked the above question, another student opposed the idea and said it was wrong, in the past, for men without prior/formal education to be surgeon. The second student is not the only one that opposes African traditional medicine because in most places like Nigeria, such traditional healers are commonly known as native doctor, a name that connotes evil to most Nigerians, even as they seem to ignore or forget the good side of the so called native doctors. It is for this reason that it sounds like an evil act for someone to visit a native doctor for any reason.

The writer recall a discussion he had with a professor in pharmacology. The professor said his team is making efforts to work with these traditional healers because he has come realize that there are mixtures which they use to cure some diseases which the orthodox medicine does not have a definite cure for such disease. However, he claimed that these healers are not willing to reveal the herbs they use for the mixture because they feel that such revelation would be selling out of their knowledge, yet they are putting more effort with assurance to these native doctors.

The main point is that man over the ages had ways/knowledge of curing or preventing diseases either knowingly or unknowingly and such knowledge still exists till today in the various traditional settings. It is for this reason that traditional medicine practitioners have organized trade fair and other exhibitions to showcase their work. However, it must be noted that not in all cases do their concoction work therapeutically which could depend on the knowledge of the native doctor about the underlining sickness/ sincerity of the native doctor as some of them just want to make money without giving the right cure. Notwithstanding how Nigerian consider their traditional healers, there are many cases when they usually run to them for help/healing and this is usually when the orthodox doctors had confirmed that the traditional medicine may have a better knowledge of a cure to a disease or when the orthodox medicine can no longer help them. But the sad part of it all is that African traditional medicine in Nigeria is dwindling and if care is not taken only few would possess it knowledge in the nearest future.


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