Epistemological base of African traditional herbal medicine in Uganda
Kuteesa, Disan Mugenyi
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There is noticeable increase in the use of African traditional approaches in the treatment of physical and psychosocial ailments (Mwangi, 2000).This is largely due to the perceived high costs and inaccessibility to Western medicine, and a feeling that traditional medical approaches are more dependable (Wandira, 1986).This research sought to find out the epistemological underpinnings of African herbal medicine among traditional herbalists, traditional bone setters, traditional birth attendants, and village elders, with knowledge of traditional herbal medicine in Western, Eastern, Central and Northern regions of Uganda. The justification for this study is that African traditional approaches are not exactly the same as Western methodologies. Whereas Western medical practitioners have come out clearly on their approaches, their traditional African counterparts have not. It is not clear whether traditional healers are aware of their epistemic theories, sources, and validation methods (Mokaila, 2001). Yet in contemporary times, to sustain a medical practice without a clear understanding of its epistemological foundation is detrimental to human health; hence, this study was an investigation of the epistemological basis of African traditional herbal medicine, taking Uganda as a case study. The research used interviews, document analysis, and focus group discussions to collect data from different respondents with a stake in African traditional herbal medicine. In each of the regions, five (05) traditional birth attendants, five (05) traditional bone setters, five (05) traditional herbalists, five (05) village elders and two (02) representatives of NACOTHA were purposively selected, giving a total of eighty-eight (88) participants. Respondents claimed that African traditional herbal medicine is based on oral tradition, gods, ancestral spirits, and other unquantifiable beings; these characteristics are not unique to only African traditional herbalists, but they have precedence drawn from Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715). The study, therefore, found out that the Epistemological Theory, which can appropriately explain the basis of African traditional herbal medicine, is twofold involving Malebranche’s Epistemological Theory and the Bucket Theory of Mind as advocated by Karl Popper. In addition, the epistemic sources for traditional medical treatment are non-conventional; the originative source being Empirical intuitionism, while the method of Conjectures and refutations, Memorial, Perceptual, and Verbal testimonies are secondary sources, and the Correspondence Theory of Truth expresses how traditional healers in Uganda validate herbal medicine. Henceforth, the study observes that, though African traditional herbal medicine is not on the same explanatory pedestals with Western medicine, it is not primitive as ascribed by intellectualists, but should be modified and improved. The study recommends Michael Gibbon’s Mode 2 Knowledge Production and Popper`s Falsification Theory; to do away with falsity content in the African traditional herbal knowledge acquisition process in Uganda. These models, if introduced, put African traditional herbal medicine at the same level with Western medicine, which is internationally recognized. Otherwise, with the growth of conventional medicine, African herbal medical knowledge is likely to be suffocated. The major limitation of the study was that many participants were not willing to reveal their sources of knowledge and theories, in spite of the fact that the researcher, with the help of the National Council of Traditional Healers` Association representatives (NACOTHA), explained to all the respondents the general objective of the study.