An Emergent Ethnomedicine: Rastafari Bush Doctors in the Western Cape, South Africa
AuthorPhilander, Lisa Erin
Committee ChairRobbins, Paul F.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation is based upon research of an emergent ethnomedicine in a botanically rich area, the Western Cape of South Africa. It examines the interface between ethnobotany and medical anthropology by investigating the biological and social factors related to the knowledge, use and trade of medicinal plants by Cape bush doctors. Incredible syncretism was observed in the identity formation of this homogenous urban group of healers who combined elements of a globally recognized eco-religion and sociopolitical movement Rastafari with several South African cultures through knowledge of medicinal plants. By rejecting colonial principals, including capitalistic biomedical systems, bush doctors have crafted a niche acquiring knowledge and herbal remedies for the treatment of common ailments. Transmission amongst Rastas and trail-and-error experimentation with herbs emphasize that plant knowledge is situational and arises through relationships. From an estimated 200 bush doctors in the Cape, 62 almost exclusively middle-aged coloured males were interviewed. They declared their mission was 'to heal all people' through a reintroduction of KhoiSan healing traditions, an indigenous ancestry largely rejected by coloureds during apartheid. An ethnobotany of bush doctors revealed that of 192 species, 181 were medicinal and included various herbs important to most South African cultural groups. This largely herbaceous pharmacopeia is narrow compared to the region's high biodiversity and thirty-three species were identified as conservation priorities. The presence of bush doctors at transportation hubs as herbal hawkers creates a diversified economy through cultivation of relationships with primarily disadvantaged coloured and black consumers. The consumption, trade and sale of local plants by bush doctors represent efforts to embody the landscape; it reasserts coloured links to indigeneity, renews respect for their heritage and affords rights to resources. By evoking tradition within their tolerant philosophy, leaders of this emergent ethnomedicine develop a racially equitable and ecologically sustainable platform for health care evidenced by medicinal plant gardens in townships and transmission of diverse ethnomedical knowledge. Bush doctors are legitimized through the performance of transmission. This phytomedicinal knowledge reifies an ideology, repositioning coloureds in a moderate stance between colonial biomedicine and traditional African ethnomedicines, but also creates a unified South African medicine.
Degree ProgramArid Lands Resource Sciences