Mandela and African traditional doctors
IT was cheering news on Tuesday September 3, 2013 to hear that our beloved icon Dr. Nelson Mandela, former President, and first Black President of South Africa, was released from hospital. He had been under treatment for lung infection and other ailments in the last few months. Throughout July and August, it was acidic fear and anxiety over his health and life. Hundreds shed tears, thinking the end had come for this great son of Africa, an epitome of good leadership and, selfless and outstanding member of the human family. While hundreds cried, millions prayed for God to grant him more days and years.
On July 4, the orthodox doctors who were treating him panicked and lost hope. As they could not stand seeing Mandela suffering, lying helpless, at the mercy of life support machines and not knowing what else to do, they advised Mandela's family to switch off his life support machines so that the spirit of the great Mandela could go and rest in peace. Their advice was based on their perception of his condition which they described as a 'permanent vegetative state'. In fact, one of his authorised biographers. Mr. Charlene Smith after seeing Mandela, asserted hopelessly 'He's basically gone. He's not there. He's not there'. However, the traditional doctors who had access to Strategic Spiritual Intelligence (SSI) unlike the orthodox Western trained doctors vehemently opposed anybody cutting off the life support facilities. They (traditional doctors) insisted that only the ancestors will determine when Mandela will die. If not for these traditional doctors, the family of Mandela may have been swerved into what is known in the medical world as mercy killing, which backfires at times. There have been several cases of people who were pronounced dead by medical doctors, but who later woke up in the mortuary or during their funeral rites before burial. In such cases, their spirits had wandered away and later came back to their bodies. The body cannot be pronounced dead with finality, when it has not been ascertained that the spirit has departed in finality. This is why in many pre-colonial African societies, dead bodies were left for two or three days before burial. In Malagasy some groups believe that the spirit of a dead person does not depart with finality until the body completely decays. Thus, when a person dies, they embalm and wrap the corpse and keep it in a tomb. Every seven years, they bring out the corpse at the appointed festival period, re-unite with it, dance with it, cook and feast, and return the corpse to the tomb.
In the case of our beloved Mandela the Great, it is now very clear that cutting off his life support facilities in July, would have tantamount to murder. The Great man has been discharged from hospital, he has rejoined his beloved family. I saw him smiling when he was taken home. Even though he has not been given a clean bill of health, he is alive, and can talk, and move about with some physical support. He is not in any permanent vegetative state today. In fact, his time has not come to go. We thank God for His mercies, and I join millions of other peoples of goodwill to pray and wish him many more years ahead. After all, before Oyinbo came to this continent, our ancestors lived up to 150 to 250 years. There is a tortoise called Baba Agba in the palace of the Soun of Ogbomoso which is said to be about 300 years old. Also, an ancestral great tree called Ukor tree which was felled down by a storm on May 16, 2013 at Umudagu Ihitte Mbieri, in Imo State had stood for 300 years. Thus, in this continent of Africa, living things, human, plant and animals lived for centuries. Unfortunately, so-called civilisation has come, with all the evils, atrocities, synthetic food, 'poisons', drinks, and disastrous artificial medicines. Sorry for Africa.
Three lessons standout from this Mandela story for all of us in this continent of Africa. One, Nelson Mandela was treated and is still being treated in a South African hospital! He did not elect to be carried to an American Hospital in Paris or Germany. He did not go to Saudi Arabia, London, or Italy for treatment. His health condition even nose-dived into the dungeon of death, but he was revived to life inside a South African hospital with state of the art facilities. I even over-heard his former wife, Winnie, on TV saying that in his house, all types of necessary health machines are there, and so there will be no need rushing him back to hospital unless in an extreme bad situation. It is a great shame to anybody who has ruled this country call Nigeria, that each time our leaders are sick, they rush abroad squandering our resources. It is a shame that in 53 years of our independent existence, no leader could equip even one hospital in this country to the point that at least other African Heads of state and Presidents can come to Nigeria for health services. It is a shame, big, big shame, that our citizens that are in serious danger health-wise, have to waste their scarce resources flying abroad. We know the political leaders squander our national, state, or local government resources. South Africa, that just emerged from apartheid stranglehold, could treat her President at home to the point of reviving him from death! If it were in Nigeria, there would have been no electricity to sustain the life support machines even if they are available in a private or any public hospital. Sometime ago, my friend's poor child that came pre-maturely died in its incubator in a top rated hospital simply because light went off in the night. Cry thy beloved country!
The second lesson is that the orthodox western trained medical doctors should know the limits of their skills, knowledge, and expertise, and call in the spiritual and or traditional people when necessary. While I appreciate Hans and Zacharias Janssen of Holland who invented the microscope, which advanced the modern concept of disease, it should be noted that there are several things that cause diseases that even the electron microscope of this 21st Century cannot see. Modern medicine teaches, as noted by Professor Ikede that disease is caused by a variety of factors such as infectious agents, inherited errors, physical and chemical agents, endocrine disturbances, and cancer. However, he was humble enough to also warn that 'for many others, the causes are unknown'. Based on this, he advises medical scientists thus: 'The lesson for us medical scientists is to be humble and not to claim that we possess or can ever possess the absolute truth or knowledge of the cause, effect, and cure of all diseases. We should therefore be willing not only to learn more but also to concede to the genuine traditional healer and even the genuine spiritual leader their rightful place in the society where the majority cannot yet afford the time, money, and often impersonal nature of modern medicine'.
The third lesson concerns the exact time of death of a person or patient. A person is only really dead when his or her spirit has departed from the body with finality. It is difficult for the modern medical doctor to know because his training is mainly to feel the pulse, examine the heartbeat, and check the person's eyeballs. These are not enough in this continent at least. For death to be pronounced in this continent, the spirit must depart with finality, and this is known to have happened when one's ancestors arrive to escort the spirit home. Even when the sick or dying person is in coma, he can still see his ancestors (spirit of dead relatives such as father, mother, brother, sister, grandfather, etc). Once he sees them arriving, he will be welcoming and greeting them and calling them by name. It is these ancestors that will lead his spirit away in finality, leaving the body as corpse. This is probably why the South African traditional doctors in July this year, insisted that Mandela's family should not switch off his life support facility, as only the ancestors will determine when he will die. Today, Mandela is alive and has been discharged from hospital, and is in the warmth of his home and loved ones. Alleluya, God is Great, and Africa is blessed, and shall rise to greatness one day.
Africans should use their God given skills, herbs, and SSI capacities for better health services. It is also time to integrate Western (orthodox), the spiritual and the traditional health knowledge, skills and medicines.
• Professor Nwolise is of the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan.