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by Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson, at 10:00 am, August 10, 2018, History

British colonialists in West Africa survived Malaria in the early 1900s thanks to this Nigerian-born herbalist

John Augustus Abayomi Cole was born in Abeokuta, Nigeria, in 1848 to parents originally from Sierra Leone. His exposure to many African cultures made him identify himself as a proud West African. He lived in Liberia for a while where he developed a strong devotion and love for Pan-Africanism.

Much of his works are hidden in in-depth academic records which need to be exposed to the everyday African. Nothing extensive is written about this intelligent African herbalist, farmer, politician and doctor who later worked as an affiliate of the National Association of Medical Herbalists in the United Kingdom playing a significant role in the Malaria epidemic that broke out in the 19th century.

When he was four years old, John’s parents moved back to Freetown, Sierra Leone, for unknown reasons. He was educated in Freetown until he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Medicine from the Fourah Bay College in Freetown.

Shortly after his graduation, John taught for a while until moving to U.S.A in his mid-20s. In the U.S.A, John played a significant role in helping freed West African slaves to return to Sierra Leone through a petition he sent to the Wesleyan Methodist Church. The West Africans successfully arrived in 1889. Soon after, John would leave the church due to the various problems he had with Christianity and Religion.

He continued his medical education in the U.S.A.  where he became a medical doctor and a Fellow of the Society of Apothecaries (F.S.A.)

After many readings in theology and philosophy, John moved back to Sierra Leone where he set up his own religious movement in 1905. The church was known as the African Chruch called the Gospel Mission Hall where many traditional Africans started to worship.

While practising medicine, John became interested in indigenous healing techniques using African herbs and would later become a famous farmer growing various herbs and plants for medicinal purposes.

John Cole became the most sought-after doctor and herbalist in West Africa appointed as a medical and scientific advisor to the then Governor Sir Leslie Probyn, the administrator of the British Empire sent to work in West Africa. He also worked as an affiliate with the National Association of Medical Herbalists in the United Kingdom travelling there as and when he was physically needed.

John Cole found a way to combine is knowledge of traditional healing practices and modern medicine to find cures for skin and eye diseases and rheumatic pain. Whites and Blacks from all over West Africa travelled to Sierra Leone to see the great herbalist.

One of his most significant works will be the invention of the ‘tea-bush’ made of camphor, lime and spirit used to cure the flu during the 1918 flu pandemic in West Africa. Dr Cole also prepared a popular antidote for poison known as ‘Ekpe’ which is still used in Sierra Leone.

Dr John Augustus Abayomi Cole was appointed by the Colonial Government to help find a cure for Malaria when it became a drastic taker of lives, mainly the Whites living in West Africa. The successful herbalist managed to prepare a herb mixture which he gave to his patients who would later return after a few weeks with the same symptoms.

Worried about the Malaria epidemic, he set up an organisation to work with volunteers who became known as the “mosquito missionaries”. The volunteers were sent to the houses of the locals and Whites across West Africa with the help of the colonial government.

The research indicated that Malaria was as a result of poor sanitation and mosquitos breeding in stagnant waters in the houses. The volunteers were then sent back to advise the people on how to live, a move that reduced people dying from Malaria drastically. Impressed by his work, the Colonial Government paid all the volunteers per the number of months they worked.

Aside his extensive work in medicine, Dr Cole produced various academic writings on traditional African practices, his most read paper was the “Philosophy of Paganism,” which he wrote in 1904. He was also very popular in the Political scene and inspired the establishment of many pressure groups in Sierra Leone.

For his great work, John Cole was decorated with the insignia of Knight Commander of the Liberian Order of African Redemption in 1914  and awarded an honorary doctorate by the College of Liberia 1926.

He is described as a talented man with a forever young look. He died at the age of 93 in 1942.

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