Sharing the Burden of Sickness
A History of Healing and Medicine in Accra
Published by: Indiana University Press
In Sharing the Burden of Sickness, Jonathan Roberts examines the history of the healing cultures in Accra, Ghana. When people are sick in Accra, they can pursue a variety of therapeutic options. West African traditional healers, spiritual healers from the Islamic and Christian traditions, Western clinical medicine, and an open marketplace of over-the-counter medicine provide ample means to promote healing and preventing sickness. Each of these healing cultures had a historical point of arrival in the city of Accra, and Roberts tells the story of how they intertwined and how patients and healers worked together in their struggle against disease.
By focusing on the medical history of one place, Roberts details how urban development, colonization, decolonization, and independence brought new populations to the city, where they shared their ideas about sickness and health.
Sharing the Burden of Sickness explores medical history during important periods in Accra's history. Roberts not only introduces readers to a wide range of ideas about health but also charts a course for a thoroughly pluralistic culture of healing in the future, especially with the spread of new epidemics of HIV/AIDS and ebola.
List of Terms
Note on Sources
1. The Roots of Therapeutic Pluralism in Accra, 1677 to the mid-1800s
2. The Convergence of the Five Healing Traditions in the "Healthy" Capital of the Gold Coast
3. Therapeutic Pluralism during the Cocoa Boom, 1908–1930s
4. Colonial Medical Culture at Korle Bu
5. The Creation of an African "Bloodstream"
6. The Resilience of Therapeutic Pluralism on the Eve of Ghanaian Independence
Jonathan Roberts de-centers the narrative of 'medical progress' that is so often used to explain the history of health and medicine on the African continent. By doing so, he gives important weight to non-Western forms of medical care, and shows the ways in which these traditions have become intertwined with others to produce a hybrid approach to care.~Jessica Lynne Pearson
Finally! A history of medicine in Africa that is not about witches' brew or European salvation. Roberts uncovers a world of medical choice amongst shared, shifting, and dynamic medical traditions.~Oluwatoyin Oduntan, Towson University
In this fascinating, lucid book, Roberts challenges Western medical metanarrative by examining five therapeutic traditions on equal terms, convincingly demonstrating how each continuously adapted to new political, economic, and cultural circumstances in Accra, a cosmopolitan center of therapeutic pluralism. Roberts delivers an innovative history of this dynamic West African city, originally a fishing village and today a metropolis and Ghana's capital, a place that has always welcomed peoples, material cultures, religions, and therapeutic traditions from the hinterlands and across the oceans. Sharing the Burden of Sickness is a significant, compelling intervention in the literature on the history of healing.~Dennis Laumann, The University of Memphis, author of Colonial Africa, 1884-1994
In this sweeping story of medicine in Ghana's capital city, Roberts vividly recounts the sagas of the many people who sought to heal Accra's residents since the 1600s. Writing with wit and warmth, he provides a balanced and nuanced view of how the people of Accra intertwined medical approaches in their quests for therapy—from Ga shrines, to Muslim amulets, Christian prayers, injections, and imported patent medicines. Roberts convincingly argues that multiple healing approaches have coexisted in Accra up to the present, with Ga healers, charismatic Christian pastors, Muslim therapists, drug peddlers, and Ghanaian physicians and nurses all contributing to healthcare simultaneously. His detailed excavation of how Ghanaians combined different healing alternatives over time and made biomedicine their own is a critical contribution to debates on the limits of biopower in colonial and postcolonial periods.~Abena Dove Osseo-Asare, author of Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa