This ancient Ugandan kingdom perfected Caesarian section long before contact with Europeans

June 25, 2019 at 02:00 pm | History

Nii Ashaley Asé Ashiley

Nii Ashaley Asé Ashiley | Contributor

June 25, 2019 at 02:00 pm | History

Image source: bunyoro-kitara.org

Up until the late 19th century, infection-free surgery was yet to be born in the medical houses of England and many parts of the western world. A Caesarian section in England was regarded as an operation of the greatest gravity only to be performed in the most desperate of circumstances (Young, 1944).

Surgical practitioners in Europe were also recorded to have washed their hands after surgery and usually not before, they were also caught up in having to choose between the mother or child regarding whose life to preserve in the course of a Caesarian section.

The ‘medicine men’ and highly experienced surgeons of the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom of present-day Uganda have carried out advanced level infection-free and highly successful Caesarian sections since the days of antiquity, and as far back as the ancient Egyptian civilization stretches.

Bunyoro-Kitara is a Kingdom located around Lakes Victoria and Kioga. Her western borders were guarded by the dense forests forming the Congo Basin, her eastern and southern borders were manned by the highlands of East Africa and her northern frontier protected by the swamps of southern Sudan. The indigenes were farmers, artisans and highly skilled medical practitioners; art forms they were able to nurture given the near-isolated nature of their location. One of the crafts the medicine men of Bunyoro-Kitara succeeded in developing to a high degree is that of the Caesarian section.

One explorer; R. W. Felkin, after a few years of study in medical school volunteered along with some friends of his to go as missionaries to the Ugandan Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara in 1878. Over there, he had the rare privilege of witnessing a medicine man of Bunyoro-Kitara carry out a highly successful Caesarian surgical procedure on a 20-year-old woman…

…In the Ugandan hut where the Caesarian section was to take place were three men; one was holding a knife, the other was holding unto the ankles of the young woman and the third stood above her abdomen, supporting either sides with his hands in the course of the surgical procedure. The surgeon who wielded the knife foremost washed his hands, surgical instruments and the abdomen of the young woman with banana wine for sterilization purposes, he then proceeded to ‘baptize’ only his hands and the abdomen of the woman with a clear liquid resembling water…

…the woman was laid in an inclined position with the head of her bed supported against the wall of the hut. She was given a considerable measure of some banana wine to drink in order to make her less sensitive to the surgeon’s blades. Bark cloth was used to cover her breasts and vagina area…

…the surgeon started the Caesarian section by reciting an incantation occasionally voicing out certain key phrases to which the community of his patient’s relative and loved ones gathered outside the hut responded. After the ceremonial prayer ritual, he proceeded with the operation proper…

…the Bunyoro-Kitara surgeon cut the woman’s abdomen from above her clitoris to the point beneath her navel. The cut was done with such precision and such skill as was unprecedented. The surgeon unhanded his knife and reached out for the wailing baby in the womb. Punctured blood vessels were remedied by the use of hot iron, and this was skillfully but sparsely deployed as well. The baby’s umbilical cord was cut and handed along with the baby to the assistant who held onto the woman’s ankle…

A visual of one of the knives used by the traditional surgeon.
Image source: bunyoro-kitara

…the surgeon afterwards turned the woman unto her side close to the edge of the bed so that whatever liquid is left within her uterine walls can drain out, he then closed up the opened area with a paste of medicinal herbs. Sterilized metallic ‘clamps’ were used moments later to close up the open flesh on the abdomen and again covered by a paste made out of roots and herbs mixed in measured proportion…

…with the Caesarian section completed and successful, the Bunyoro-Kitara surgeon delivered woman and baby to her family and she was ushered home amongst cheers, love and happiness.

This practice was common place for the medicine men of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, and they mastered it long before there was any contact with the Europeans as well as explorers, adventurers, missionaries and plunderers from other parts of the world.

The Afrikan heritage still lives, it is a timeless destruction-proof house of insight. Our duty therefore is to explore its rich depth with zeal and passion so that we can by virtue of our satisfied curiosity well-inform our progeny.

References

Davies, J. N. P., The Development of ‘Scientific’ Medicine in the African Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara.

Young, J. H., (1944), A History of Caesarian Section, London.

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