Herbs, prescriptions and whatever it takes for it to not end in tears

Friday June 18 2021

Author, Benjamin Rukwengye. PHOTO/FILE.

By Benjamin Rukwengye

The bringers of colonial religion and education reasoned that it was necessary for Africa’s civilization. In fact, some of the first sects were called “Abazukufu” – ‘the awakened’ – probably what millennials might call the “woke”.

But soon, missionaries realized the complexities of the terrain in which African society thrived and survived. That many of the converts also came from families which were quite steeped in traditional African religion, witchcraft and sorcery. That whereas by day, they recited the rosary, and beat drums to a God in heaven, they also hadn’t quite given, up on practices that were condemned as heretical. By night, they indulged in rituals around burials, succession, the birth of twins, etc.

This duality of existence also probably explains why, for example, you might get bounced off of a front pew in church so that a big man or woman can have a seat. Never mind the fact that said VIP is known – even to the church – to keep the company of dibias like Fiina’s mother.

It wasn’t very different in medicine. White doctors got used to the fact that their patients would carry and keep jerrycans of herbal concoctions beneath their hospital beds. These, they would use to supplement prescriptions of whatever that time’s equivalent of Azithromycin was. Or even that patients would disappear for a while and then show up again, healed or on the verge of death, having escaped to consult a traditional healer in some shrine.

With the passing of time, these contradictions have ultimately fused. It is not uncommon to have a patient crisscrossing between a hospital ward, a shrine and a church overnight – all of it in search for healing. It is a crisis of identity no doubt, but only if you have the luxury of choice. Many of our ancestors had been dispossessed culturally and materially and therefore had one option – to survive.

We are right in the eye of the storm. It could be you or someone around you who is dealing with Covid-19. The most you can do is hope that the body puts up a good fight; because nobody wants to imagine what happens when stuff hits the fan. Every time you log onto social media, someone you know has lost their person or is running a fundraiser to meet the kings-ransom costs of ICU.


To this loss and helplessness, add the anxiety from the streams of disinformation flooding every WhatsApp group.

How do you deal with the grief of losing multiple members of your family in a matter of days? How do you deal with the anxiety that you could so easily be the next one? How do you sleep, knowing that should you catch Covid-19 and it escalates to admission level, your chances are anything but – because oxygen is in short supply and there is no winning the race for an ICU bed? 

How are you supposed to stay at home when your employer, who pays so little, insists that you show up at work in the middle of the pandemic – and you must because that salary is all the income you have? 

Under these desperate circumstances, it is only normal that, like our ancestors, we too, dispossessed of any socioeconomic and political standing, there is only one option – to survive. Inevitably, we are seeking God and trying out modern medicine and also doubling as herbalists. Only difference is that the Rona is so ravaging that there is no time and chance to visit shrines.

Those who are supposed to do something about it are more often the reason why things are this bad. There’s no time to mourn and process. So, it’s easy to lose sense of self. To feel helpless and angry.  To wonder how to fix what is breaking around us but not know where to start. To get numb and not want to feel. To get desensitized by all the fear and anxiety. 

Here is to hoping that we can all feel that we are in this together, and that because of that, all of us can be each other’s keeper. That we recognize what’s important and do just that, avoiding whatever distractions we can. That we understand how sometimes, you just need to survive through today, without having a plan for tomorrow. Here is to trying everything that you need to, if that’s what it will take to survive.

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. rukwengye86@gmail.com