Writing and Medicine Started Here

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Christine Qunta

There appears to be scientific consensus that Africa is the birthplace of humanity. No doubt this fact is interesting. It remains, however, an accident of geography.

What is far more significant and worth celebrating is that Africans were the creators of the world's first great civilisation during antiquity in ancient Egypt. Africans in Egypt invented the first writing system in the history of humanity. They invented hieroglyphic writing which, by 4000BC, was already in use.

The Egyptians taught writing to the Phoenicians, who later transmitted it in alphabetical form to Greece, which in turn passed it on to the Romans, and it became the script that is used by the Western world up to today.

The ancient Egyptians were not the only people on the continent who invented systems of writings. The Mundar people of west Africa, who in ancient times were concentrated in the Western Sahara, developed several types of scripts, the earliest which has been dated back to 3000BC. A hieroglyphic writing called njoya exists in Cameroon.

During antiquity, the Akan people, now located in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, developed an ancient writing system which survives in what is today called Ashanti Gold weights. An Ivorian professor, Niangoran Bouah, in his book Sankofa, identified 135 symbols which provide a basis for deciphering the script.

In addition, the treasure of manuscripts found in ancient libraries in Timbuktu, Mali, detailing the knowledge of the sciences, philosophy and law clearly illustrates that the notion African societies were primarily oral societies is not based on historical fact.

Insofar as medicine is concerned, Africans across the continent had an extensive knowledge of herbal medicine. African traditional doctors also had a good understanding of the physiology of the human body and used surgical methods long before they came into contact with any Western people.

An African doctor in Uganda performed a caesarian section in 1879. This operation was observed and described in detail by a missionary named Felkin.

A full account of this operation is contained in an essay by Charles S Finch in the book edited by Ivan van Sertima titled Blacks in Science.

The real father of medicine comes from Egypt and was called Imhotep. He lived in Egypt around 2980BC. As a member of the royal court he was grand vizier, chief architect and royal physician and priest. He designed the step pyramid of Saqqara, which is the oldest monument of hewn stone in the world.

Surviving medical texts show that the Egyptians were the first people in the world that had knowledge of the brain and described it in detail. Already during the third millennium BC, the Egyptians knew that the brain, as well as the spine, was the source of control of movements of the body. They had about 4 000 years of experience of dissecting and bandaging mummies, and this very directly contributed to their advanced surgical technique.

Egyptian medical knowledge deeply influenced Western medicine through the impact that it had on Greek medicine. Several Greek philosophers studied in Egypt and took their knowledge back to Greece. …