A while back, I came across a business on the platform – Juma Samuel Shimba – whose owner was a medicine man looking for funds so as to restock since his customers were increasing. He was probably going to buy raw materials and make more medicine. I found myself wondering whether this man was a witch doctor and whether by uploading this loan on the MYC4 platform, we were promoting sorcery?
Growing up I remember my grandmother telling me that people in her days rarely got sick like they do nowadays. This was because they had healthy eating and cooking habits, she said. Most of their foods consisted of plants and was cooked mainly by boiling. Pollution was also not as serious as it is now; most homesteads had countless trees which have now been cut off to create room for plantations and houses, hence no fresh air. She also told me that there were very few hospitals and they were very far away, the vehicles were even fewer and unless you took a bicycle, the only other option to the hospital was by walking. Most people did not visit the hospitals.
What Happened If They Got Sick?
When people got sick or a woman was about to deliver, many people sought the services of medicine men and midwives. These had a diverse knowledge of herbs and plants and knew which plants were poisonous and which were helpful and could treat what disease. They also knew which part of the different plants were helpful, be it the stem, bark, the leaves or the root as well as where to find a particular plant. Sometimes they had to travel long distances just to get the right plant. I remember asking her where these medicine men got their knowledge from considering there was little or no formal education in her time. She then informed me that most of these medicine men had this “gift “inborn, and that they would have visions that a certain plant treated a certain ailment. Different people would be having the same symptoms but be given different concoctions. Some were taught by their fathers and grandfathers on the different parts of plants and the different diseases they were used to treat. These herbs were either taken raw or by; chewing or crushing into juices, applied or boiled and the concoction drunk. Some of these herbs were applied in bathing water. These medicine men had to be careful as to know what to mix with what and how to avoid contamination as well as how much of a herb could be used and when. Most of these medicine men offered the herbs and services for free, because most of these plants were readily available in the society and most importantly, they took their ability as a calling, just like today’s doctors view it as a calling. To be recognised for the ability and esteemed in the society was enough pay for them. Every village had a herbalist or a medicine man.
Herbal Medicine Today
Today, herbal medicine men are widely accepted but not without controversy as they are constantly confused with witches and wizards and are therefore shun by many and those who visit them mostly do it secretly for fears of being seen as backward people. Some of these fears are understandable as some witches and wizards post themselves as medicine men. But it is rather unfair to assume all medicine men are sorcerers; it is not true, and there are genuine medicine men who give an alternative to conventional medicines. As modern botany would have it, many medical and recreational drugs come directly from the plant kingdom.
Traditional herbalists/medicine men currently go for training so as to separate myths from reality so that valid remedies and practices can be distinguished from those that are patently ineffective and unsafe. This has been addressed through many programs, for example the WHO traditional medicine strategy whose aim is to discuss the role of traditional medicine in the health care system, current challenges and opportunities. The government of Kenya is trying to come up with policies that regulate traditional medicine so that they can deal with safety and efficacy where they look at the threat to Kenya’s medical plant resource, how to respond to the growing use of traditional medicine, protection of indigenous knowledge, domestication and commercialization among other issues.
Many people who openly condemn medicine men use herbs unknowingly; different people use different concoctions to treat different ailment. For instant lemon juice, crushed ginger and garlic added with warm water and honey is used in many homes in Kenya as a remedy for flu. Where is the sorcery in that? Other parts of the world also recognise herbal medicine. And this has granted people an alternative to conventional medicine that has already worked for them. Just as Paracetamol might work for some and not for others, hence given another alternative like Ibuprofen, herbs could be an alternative, don’t you think?
My conclusion was and is that the herbalists and traditional medicine men are doing a good job and are contributing to the health sector in Africa. Let us be open minded and device ways of making herbal medicine better and safer, hence get the benefits that can come from its usage.