Continuity and Change in the Indigenous Therapeutic Systems among the Abagusii of Nyamira County, Kenya, 1880-2010
Mwalimu, Johnstone Nyamboga
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This study is an historical exposition and analysis of the developments of indigenous therapeutic systems among the Abagusii of Nyamira County, Kenya, between 1880 and 2010. Abagusii belong to the Bantu communities of western Kenya, including the Luhyia, Kuria and Suba. The study traces continuity and change in indigenous medical practice among the Abagusii. The study has examined the status of Gusii herbal medicine on the eve of British colonialism; the encounter between Gusii indigenous medicine and western medicine, education and Christianity; and manifestations of the interface between contemporary lifestyles of the Gusii and indigenous medicine. These three issues formed the objectives of this study. The study examines practitioners of herbal medicine; the diseases treated using indigenous therapy; the herbal medicines used; witchcraft as a science or indigenous medicine; the process of procurement; administration of the medicine; processing; storage; sales and packaging. The study shows how the introduction of western education, Christianity and conventional medicine interfered with the traditional Gusii herbal therapies, which nonetheless proved resilient and continued side by side with western medicine. Over this long period, the study found that indigenous medicine was not annihilated. By using the rational action theory, the study found that even during the colonial and post-colonial era, the Gusii, being rational human beings, had the opportunity to seek and choose alternative medicine to diagnose, treat and prevent illnesses by even attending conventional medical centres. Modern health centres were set up in various places and the use of conventional medicine increased during the colonial and post colonial period. The study applied the resilience and rational choice theoretical frameworks to analyse continuity and change in the use of herbal medicine among the Gusii. The study established that there has been continuous use of indigenous medicine even in the presence of modern medicine. At the same time, indigenous medicine has been commercialised, with new packaging, practices and sales methods adopted. The study used both primary and secondary sources to analyse continuity and change of Gusii indigenous medicine. Primary sources were obtained from oral informants and the Kenya National Archives. Purposeful sampling techniques were used in identifying informants with vast knowledge in herbal medicine. A pilot study was carried out to determine validity and reliability as well as clarity of the question guidelines. Data was then collected using interview guidelines and more than 244 informants of both genders were interviewed. Collected data was analysed, processed and presented in descriptive design format. The study, in conclusion found that indigenous therapeutic system among the Gusii was a firmly established and comprehensive system of healthcare delivery in the pre-colonial era. Rather than declining, the system increased and diversified in the colonial and post-independence period inspite of the presence of western medicine. The study recommends for government support to indigenous medicine practitioners in an effort to boost the country‟s health sector and also preserve the country‟s natural forests which are the source of indigenous medicine.