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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Reuben Abati: Of herbal healing, spirituality and public health

Reuben-Abati

The other week, July 20 to be precise, I was the reviewer of an important book on herbal healing. Herbal healing is often dismissed as a form of sorcery and in these days of obsession with Pentecostalism, many Africans still consider traditional medicine a taboo. To disprove this, a Catholic monk, Fr. Anselm Adodo began an experiment in 1996 when he set up in Ewu, Edo state, an institution titled Pax Herbal Clinic and Research Laboratories “to serve as a centre for genuine African holistic healing that blends the physical and spiritual aspects of the human person, and to serve also, as a research centre for scientific identification, conservation, utilization and development of African medicinal plants.”

Pax Herbal since then has produced over 32 products, listed and certified by NAFDAC. These include Pax Beauty Cream, Bitter Tea (an antibiotic), Diatea (for the treatment of diabetes, cholesterol, and hypertension), blood tonic, BK caps, cough syrup, herbal soap, potensine capsules, logotine caps, kilodine, pain cream, skin ointment, and Pax herbal colour therapies. Many of these products can be found and purchased at Catholic churches across the country.

Fr Anselm has been able to establish that traditional medicine is a viable business and that alternative medicine, properly modernized can indeed be a useful contribution from Africa to the world and a major source of constructive engagement. In this book: Anselm Adodo, Integral Community Enterprise in Africa: Communitalism as an Alternative to Capitalism (London and New York: Routledge, 2017, 172 pp). the author provides an intellectual justification for his enterprise. I find this, a far more interesting subject at this moment, away from politics and the increasing stupidity of Nigerian professional politicians.



I consider Dr Adodo’s book a work of significant scholarly insight and interest. Much of the global discourse on issues of development, history, economy and culture has been governed by a tendency to inferiorise the poor and the seemingly underdeveloped, “the other” as it were, thus extending a colonial, imperialist rhetoric in new forms. Africa has in particular been a victim of this negative rhetoric, with unanalytical presumptions, which project Africa as the dark, unproductive, continent, without culture, history, civilization, medicine or any indicators of modernity or human advancement.

Whereas this old presumption had been tackled by a generation of African scholars in different fields, the snobbery continues to exist, it is back in fashion as it were, evident in a sense in the notion that Western countries are rich because their culture is superior and Africa and other countries of the world are poor because they are governed by a culture that permits indolence and waste. The effect is the dominance of the Western, neo-liberal, capitalist perspective, a kind of epistemological terror, which makes race, identity or wealth the core of geo-politics, and creates unfair advantages and a regime of inequity. The poor are left unprotected, groups are marginalized, and the bottom billion suffers not only from the imbalances in the world but also from an identity crisis.

It seems to me that Anselm Adodo’s most compelling argument is that “the world needs a new model of development”, and that new model may not come from the centre, but from the periphery. The problem however with that periphery, is that the leaders and the people themselves seem to have bought into the inferiorisation project, into one way of seeing the world, a kind of slave mentality co-optation which violates the people’s identity and pushes them willy-nilly into an identity and self-authentication crisis. This predominance of an emerging unitarist view of reality robs the world of the advantages of inclusiveness, also of a broad range of useful knowledge. We live then, in a divided world that is in urgent need of transformation, innovation and a new paradigm of thinking. This transformation would require new modes of doing, of action, of being, of learning and understanding.

Adodo, in seeking this new reality offers a humanistic paradigm that is rooted in his own local context but which nevertheless constructs the world as an integral entity and essence, a new system where the purpose and the overriding objective is the common good. Put differently, he recommends a development model that is cognitive, spiritual, and cultural, based on the integration of four worlds: the North, the West, the South and the East or what he calls the four PAXes – community, the spiritual, science and enterprise, or the 4Cs: call, context, co-creation, contribution or CARE defined as Community Activation, Awakening of Consciousness, Research to innovation and Embodiment via transformative education and transformative enterprise –a movement away as it were from a limited, biased Western-oriented model that ignores and negates other axes of development. Adodo’s paradigm is about balance, and harmony, the unity of man and nature and his environment, a world that is driven by value and higher ideals, rather than the venal pursuit of individual interests and capital for selfish gain.

The alternative he offers is what he calls “communitalism”, as different from communism or communalism, an Afrocentric development model built on the integration of the indigenous and the exogenous, nature, culture, the community and the spiritual, to lead towards the decolonization of knowledge and the release of the individual’s genius and capabilities, an empowering, liberative model of social and economic enterprise. Adodo comes across as an Africanist, and an Afro-optimist, without relapsing into the self-adulatory constraints of negritude, but he provides an ample illustration of the viability of his thesis through a voyage into his own cultural background, the cosmology of the Yoruba and the African, the rules of the Benedictine monastery to which he belongs, his work and exploits as a monk, priest, scholar and herbalist, and his efforts in promoting integral healing, closing the gap between allopathic and herbal medicine, and his community-oriented approach to healing, and how that provides a useful model for an integral, inclusive, transformative approach to health, politics, economics and education.

Adodo dwells heavily on context, integration, and essence. Readers will find his submissions useful and enticing, particularly the originality of the work that he and others have done with an enterprise-in-community project in Ewu community, Esanland, Edo state, supported by both the community and the St Benedict Monastery. Adodo’s context is herbal healing and the transcendental, transcultural, transpersonal, transdisciplinary nature of health and healing, the limits of profit-driven medicine and the troubling reductionism of neo-liberal capitalism and biohealth.

In this regard, he had established in 1996, the Pax Herbal Clinic and Research Laboratories at the Benedictine Monastery in Ewu, Nigeria, to preserve, and integrate indigenous medical knowledge into the mainstream of healthcare service. Twenty years later, this experiment in herbal medicine is a major provider of jobs, the source of 33-certified products, and a thriving research and training centre, with established partnerships with related institutions.

In this book, as in two others before it, Herbs for Healing: Receiving God’s Healing Through Nature (2011), and Nature Power: Natural Medicine in Tropical Africa (2013), the author makes a case for the value of traditional African medical practice, and the effort of the Paxherbal project and the African Centre for Integral Research and Development (ACRID) in Edo State, Nigeria, to discredit the misconception that herbal medicine is no better than witchcraft and sorcery. The synergy that he urges between the indigenous and the exogenous is sensible and understandable, and the case that he makes is already, notably, well-exemplified by the countries of Asia where culture has remained resilient in the face of the forces of globalization, and cultural neutralization. What is the difference between Asia and Africa? Why is Africa still lagging behind in the global context for power, authority, and space?



I am particularly intrigued by Anselm Adodo’s phenomenological critique of feminism in
an African context and his argument that nature, community and culture matter. Yes, they do, but no one should be under any illusion that African cultures and communities are necessarily idyllic, and it is reassuring that this is not Adodo’s eventual conclusion. His concept of communitalism is also not as easy as it sounds, for as he himself admits, research is useful only when it results in innovation, and action, that is, research must become a perspective in action, for the realization of essence and the move from theory to praxis. Here is the catch: This can only happen nevertheless in the context of objective conditions, many of which are problematic in Africa and other developing parts of the world.

I agree with the author’s view that “transformational knowledge is a process, a continuum: always evolving, becoming, flowing. It cannot be monopolized, blocked, tied down, or controlled…” The problem with capitalism, however, is that the greed at the heart of it is more in keeping with the nature of man, rather than the connection with spirit, nature and community that the author recommends. His prescriptions are therefore idealistic at best, despite the success of Paxherbal and ACRID. In a market-dominated global village, human beings are cynically attracted by profit and self-interest, and a binary relationship with others. Perhaps they may not be easily persuaded, changed or transformed, by philosophy, ethics, or by proven and tested models of being-ness, and/or the exposure of established nothingness. The author should remember as the Bible tells us, “…not all men have faith.”

Adodo recommends “the way of a true Pax Africana”, a reinvention of the way we live and a reconnection with nature, culture and spirit, a role for the African voice, and a Southern theory in the intellectual space, an echo of the call elsewhere for African aesthetics, but Africa’s dilemma within the global space is, remains and still is, the crisis of leadership. For Africa to transform and innovate, it must build and develop a different breed of leadership, a knowledge-driven leadership that is committed to the same ideals that this author defines. The arrogance of the neoliberal framework is not a Big Bang phenomenon, it is an orchestrated cultural and leadership invention. For Africa to project its value in the global context and to transform itself economically, educationally and developmentally as it were, its leaders must be prepared to raise standards.

Anselm Adodo’s Integral Community Enterprise in Africa is a product of much erudition and quality, practical, lived and felt the experience. What he describes is noteworthy. His promotion of herbal healing is especially commendable. He recommends in this regard, a departure from a germ theory of disease, to focus on the psycho-social and spiritual existence of the patient, and a cost-effective model of ensuring the well-being of the populace. It is in the enlightened self-interest of governments in Africa, and perhaps elsewhere, seeking economic diversification and renewal, and more open and democratic access to affordable healthcare to understudy and promote this model. The originality of the case study that the author offers is in addition, a useful contribution to development economics and an advertisement for the value of indigenous African knowledge systems.

What remains is for the Nigerian government to develop a much keener interest in Traditional medicine. There is in Lagos, The Federal College of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, established for the purpose of training herbalists, and an umbrella body of herbalists, the National Association of Nigerian Traditional Medicine Practitioners. But with the increasing cost of healthcare in the country and the restriction of access to regular hospitals, given the out-of-pocket mode of health financing in the country, many Nigerians are compelled to resort to herbal and traditional medicine. Fr. Anselm Adodo’s experiment and effort should be encouraged, for viable as that example is, there are as well in Nigeria, many quacks dabbling into the business and causing avoidable health complications. Perhaps the most popular herbal products would be burantashi, alomo, aleko, agbara, dorobucci, orijin, opa eyin, jedijedi, striker, bajinotu, baby pull over, apiah –body energizers and libido enhancers which advertise the popularity of herbal medicine. It is important, however, to monitor and raise standards.




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