Dis-Ease in the Colonial State: Medicine, Society, and Social Change among the Abanyole of Western Kenya

By Osaak A. Olumwullah | Go to book overview

Epilogue

A modern history of disease and medicine in Africa during colonialism is, first and foremost, a narrative of the introduction of Western medicine on the continent and how this interacted with African therapeutic and belief systems.1 But it is also the study of disease and medicine as understood by nutritionists, anthropologists, historians, state bureaucrats, biomedical practitioners, and African consumers of biomedical therapies. It is, therefore, a history that attempts to bring together the visions of these constituencies, as well as the visions of the colonized on the relationship between disease, medicine, and processes of social change. Thus, by its very nature and unlike earlier anthropological and historical works, the writing of such a history must of necessity use a multidisciplinary approach that focuses, at once, on therapeutic pluralism as both a product of the transformation of African therapeutic terrains and a transformative force whose dynamics are understood not wholly in terms of a “phenomenological account of the constitution of knowledge that works according to the structure of a subject perceiving an object”2 but as an open dialogical process. On the basis of this, this book attempts to go beyond earlier, overly political and economic histories of medicine,3 as well as case histories of particular diseases,4 that have in many ways been seen by scholars as having had important effects on the development of the continent. Central to this undertaking is the argument that the importance of biomedicine in colonial Africa lay partly in its fight against the so-called tropical diseases, partly in the interest that it had in African bodies as vehicles for defining and understanding the colonized “Other,” and partly in its use as a cultural tool for colonial domination.

It is further argued that, if biomedicine as a cultural tool for colonial domination categorized the colonized as perceived and felt experience, the reading of its technologies and practices does provide the social historian of rural Africa with a rare opportunity to uncover not only African experiences with new diseases and biomedical technologies but also the meanings and role of these experiences in the transformation of the rural world. Africans might have, at one point or another, rebelled against colonial state political and economic institutions, but the intellectual domain within which these rebellions gestated

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