Revisiting the African Past: Local Knowledge Production on Malaria in Pregnancy in Colonial Yorubaland

Scholarship on tropical diseases neglect how endemics shape maternal health in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the various colonial interventions in combating the menace of malaria, little is known about local knowledge production on malaria in pregnancy. It is undeniable that the considerable attention on knowledge production in African societies in both global discourse and African studies renders it pertinent to revisit the engagement of Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria with this form of knowledge informed by cultural legacies. These legacies include 1) the penchant to engender maternal health as solely invested in ‹traditional healers›, rather than being relational and multifaceted; 2) Yoruba religious belief on health and diseases that emphasises the roles of traditional healers as well heralds ritual, sacrifice, medicinal plants and spirituality; 3) analysing the value for children in the continuity of life and legacy; and 4) drawing on dichotomies that characterized the medical pluralism employed to contain the scourge of malaria. In order to fully appreciate and understand the local knowledge production on malaria in pregnancy in Yorubaland, this paper attempts to interrogate such fundamental questions: How did local knowledge production shape the understanding of pregnancy, reproduction and motherhood during the colonial era? How appropriate and redefine were knowledge diffused by traditional healers among the Yoruba? Did knowledge production on malaria in pregnancy shape the ways Yoruba people (in particular pregnant women) see themselves and their (imagined) past? Is it true to suggest that knowledge production was a ‹contested coproduction› in contemporary era? And what was the nature of contestation between Yoruba traditional healers and colonial medical officers during this period? This paper aims to demonstrate that African local knowledge is central to understanding responses and measures in combating endemic diseases in the global community.

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