Ways of Knowing™ Symposium: Exploring Cultural Based Healing Traditions & Practices

African Medicine: A Science Out of the Shadows

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Charles Finch, M.D.

Dr. Finch began the presentation by paying homage to his personal deity, Mami Wata. He explained her importance as the mother of waters, both oceans and fresh waters, and as he lit the candles and incense, he shared the symbols on her altar- the color golden yellow, sweet things, assorted feminine accoutrements, and a symbol of the mermaid. She accepted his prayers only after he relit the incense on the altar. Wise Mami Wata told him that she made the men to move the women.

359The second part of his presentation was a historical odyssey, a geo-ethnic survey of “The Imhotep Factor”, passionately honoring the African presence in the history of medicine. He highlighted that ancient Egypt was actually part of the African continent, NOT the Middle East. Ancient Kemit was a BLACK African civilization that together with ancient Cush comprised the Nile Valley/ Egyptian civilization. He shared an amazing listing of known figures in Egyptian healing. Imhotep (~2600 B.C.), who started the first Temple of Asclepius, was the first figure of a physician to stand out from the mists of antiquity. Over 2200 years after Imhotep, Hippocrates trained in this temple medicine, so it’s not accurate to call Hippocrates the “father of medicine”.

  • Peseshet was the earliest known female physician (2000 B.C.)
  • The Alexandrian Heart Diagram written by Erasistratos (290 B.C.) would have been informed by the Egyptian Book of the Heart & Vessels (~4000 B.C.)
  • The Edmund Smith Papyrus described neurophysiology 6000 years before Paul Broca, in the mid 1800’s A.D., described functional brain localizations for articulate speech!
  • Birthing chairs, surgical instruments, suturing techniques, and trephination were clearly in use, as early as 3000 B.C.
  • The symbol for the Eye of Horus resembles our symbol for Rx.(prescription.)
  • The ancient Egyptians had a familiarity with plant medicines. For example, there was likely use of natural tetracycline in the Sudan 4th century A.D.
  • A story of a Ugandan C-Section reported by R.W Felkin in 1879 demonstrated a sophisticated medical understanding that predated C-sections in Europe by twenty years.
  • The African slave, Onesimus, shared his understanding of small pox vaccination with Cotton Mather, who then implemented the small pox vaccination to limit the mortality in the small pox epidemic of Boston, 1721.

The third part of his presentation was titled “A Spirit Science Out of the Shadows”.

He shared Dr. Erick Gbodossou’s African Model of the Self, a multidimensional spiritual personality:

Spiritual Cosmic
Moral Religious
Psychic Emotional

When all these dimensions are in harmony and balance, there is Health. In this African Model of the Self, biophysical health alone is not sufficient for Health.

Dr. Finch described the African Family as the nexus of the visible and invisible, crossing through the Self, which is why the crossroads symbol is important:

In the African culture, reincarnation occurs into the same family, which explains why ancestors are particularly important in their culture. “The dead are not dead.” Illness is an indication of spiritual disharmony and frequently requires reconciliation with the ancestors in order for healing to occur.

Dr. Finch shared his experiences with 100 year old Maam Fatou Seck, a practitioner of the Ndepp healing tradition of Lebu (Senegal). She and other Nedppkat (practitioners) communicate with the seven main Rabs, the cosmo-spiritual and ancestral beings of Ndepp. These beings are venerated, but not worshiped. The use of drums, dances, songs, invocations, offerings, and sacrifice are used to heal disorders of mind and spirit.

African Medicine Chart

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  • Ways of Knowing™: Cultural-Based Healing Traditions and Practices