Making Kedjom Medicine: A History of Public Health and Well-Being in Cameroon

By Richards, Sarah C. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Making Kedjom Medicine: A History of Public Health and Well-Being in Cameroon


Richards, Sarah C., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Making Kedjom Medicine: A History of Public Health and Well-Being in Cameroon. By Kent Maynard. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2004. Pp. vii, 408; 16 photos. $63.95.

Over the last half-century, the Cameroon Grassfields have drawn social scientists-myself among them-disproportionate to its size and influence outside the region. The vast literature ranges from precolonial histories of war and migration through colonial studies of agricultural practices and market exchange to postindependence examinations of the region as the heart of political opposition. All the works, whether centered on ritual art, spirituality, witchcraft, or evolving gender roles, have the complex power relationships of the fon-dom (or kingdom) as backdrop or focal point. Making Kedjom Medicine is no exception, and Maynard masterfully explains the small fon-dom of Kedjom's intricate and dynamic medical system through extensive ethnographic and archival research.

Making Kedjom Medicine does fulfill Maynard's stated purpose to "show how complex and contradictory medicinal practices and institutions can be" (p. 30). However, in examining Grassfields cosmologies through the lens of medicine (which in the Grassfields context is defined as substance with transformative power) in such depth of detail, Maynard limits its relevance outside the region and discipline. From the title one may think that the author means to engage public health readers, but this is not the case. Although the last sentence hints at the potential for public health policy makers to learn from the Kedjom approach to medicine, the ethnographic structure and academic writing style of Making Kedjom Medicine make it suitable for the university classroom rather than the desk of an African health planner.

The subtitle of the book indicates Maynard's main argument, that the Kedjom medical system is fundamentally preventive and protective of the community as a whole, even with the proliferation of individual practitioners healing individual patients. He argues that focusing on these more visible "traditional doctors" as representative of Kedjom ideas of medicine, health, and illness misses the concepts of cultural identity, protection, and collective well-being provided by kwyfon (the male society of governance) and other medicine houses at the basis of Kedjom (and Grassfields) society. The first three chapters would serve nicely as ethnographic introductions in undergraduate, graduate anthropology, medical anthropology, or West African studies courses. …

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