AN ASANTE PHARMACOPEIA?
By Ivor Wilks
Emeritus, Northwestern University
(Courtesy of Julien Durup-Student of History)
Charles Zialor of Anse Royale, Seychelles, died in 1975 at the age of 95 years. He was renowned throughout the western Indian Ocean for his skill as herbalist. A brief note on his accomplishments appeared in Seychelles Rendez-Vous, 2, 1, January 1998. The unidentified author commented, “interestingly the books from which he drew his knowledge about curing people, was [sic] given to him, a one time fisherman of Anglican obedience, by King Prempeh — an Ashanti king from Ghana, who was exiled in Seychelles for some time.”
On 22 March this year, in the course of a short visit to Seychelles, I was able to meet the erudite Kantilal Jivan Shah, whose many interests include local history. He knew the story that Zialor had acquired medical knowledge from the Asante, but doubted whether any book had ever existed. The exiles, he surmised, could neither read nor write. We know, however, that his was not the case. Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh — “King Prempeh” — used part of his enforced leisure in Seychelles to have Asante traditions committed to paper. The earliest items to survive, and probably the first to be written, is the work entitled, “The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself,” and glossed, “Written by me, F. A. Prempeh and was dictated by E. Prempeh.” It was begun in 1907, the eleventh year of the exile. Edward prempeh was the baptismal name taken by Agyeman Prempeh, and Frederick A. Prempeh was one of his sons.
In the early 1900s, having little hope of ever returning to his homeland, the Asantehene seems to have determined that at least some of the knowledge possessed by the exiles should be preserved for posterity in written form. His concern to have Asante historical traditions committed to paper is manifest. Is it possible that this concern extended to other field, and especially to putting together an Asante materia medica or pharmacopoeia?
We know that when Asantehene Agyeman Prempeh was taken into exile in 1896, among those he chose to attend him were two members of the nsumankwaafo, the court physicians, namely Kwaku Afre and Kwame Yeboa. They were presumably well versed in medical lore, selected for their demonstrated skills. Both accompanied Agyeman Prempeh to Seychelles, and in british colonial documents of the period are described as “native doctors.” Was it their knowledge that was drawn upon, to be transmitted in turn to Charles Zialor?
In the event, Agyeman Prempeh did return from exile, in 1924. He was soon to be involved with the British colonial administrators in developing a means of effectively licensing “native doctors.” The National Archives of Ghana, Kumase, have a letter of his describing the Kumase “Pharmacology” as it had existed prior to his exile [Edward prempeh to District Commissionor, Kumase, dd. 14 April 1928 -- an unaccessioned file when I saw it thirty or so years ago]. “We had,” he wrote, “well trained and qualified Physicians in charge, whose duty it was to attend the sick and the injured.”
We cannot, then, reject out of hand the Seychelles tradition that the Asante exile had “books from which he [Zialor] drew his knowledge about curing people.” The purpose of this note is to do no more than suggest that the matter is worth further investigation.
Courtesy of Mr. Julien DURUP-Student of History))