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African Local Knowledge & Livestock Health

African Local Knowledge & Livestock Health: Diseases & Treatments in South Africa

William Beinart
Karen Brown
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    African Local Knowledge & Livestock Health
    Book Description:

    Understanding local knowledge has become a central academic project among those interested in Africa and developing countries. In South Africa, land reform is gathering pace and African people hold an increasing proportion of the livestock in the country. Animal health has become a central issue for rural development. Yet African veterinary medical knowledge remains largely unrecorded. This book seeks to fill that gap. It captures for the first time the diversity, as well as the limits, of a major sphere of local knowledge. Beinart and Brown argue that African approaches to animal health rest largely in environmental and nutritional explanations. They explore the widespread use of plants as well as biomedicines for healing. While rural populations remain concerned about supernatural threats, and many men think that women can harm their cattle, the authors challenge current ideas on the modernisation of witchcraft. They examine more ambient forms of supernatural danger expressed in little-known concepts such as 'mohato' and 'umkhondo'. They take the reader into the homesteads and kraals of rural black South Africans and engage with a key rural concern - vividly reporting the ideas of livestock owners. This is groundbreaking research which will have important implications for analyses of local knowledge more generally as well as effective state interventions and animal treatments in South Africa. William Beinart is Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, African Studies Centre, University of Oxford; Karen Brown is Research Associate at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford. South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Swaziland: Wits University Press

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-194-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Environmental Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Names of Common Diseases
    (pp. xi-xi)
  6. List of Maps, Photographs & Tables
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Maps
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  8. 1 Introduction: African Local Knowledge & Veterinary Pluralism
    (pp. 1-31)

    The road from the bustling town of Lusikisiki to the coastal village of Mbotyi in Mpondoland passes through a large tea plantation then twists down a precipitous escarpment through dense indigenous forest. At any point on this route you are likely to find cattle, horses or goats straying across the way. On the beach cattle often roam the sands and dip their hooves in sea water. Green hills with lush pasture sweep up from the shore line. It is a romantic scene, but there is another side to this bucolic idyll. Many of the cattle have parts of their ears...

  9. 2 Ticks, Tick-borne Diseases & the Limits of Local Knowledge
    (pp. 32-67)

    South Africa is a hotbed of ticks. Anyone walking through the veld in rural areas knows their dangers. The Afrikaans word bosluise (bush lice) perhaps conveys their threat more vividly. For humans, they transmit tick bite fever, an uncomfortable and dangerous disease. They are even more hazardous for livestock. Over a century ago, scientists discovered that ticks are responsible for transmitting some of the country’s most infectious diseases such as the ubiquitous gallsickness (anaplasmosis), East Coast fever (theilerosis), and redwater (babesiosis) that infect cattle, as well as heartwater (ehrlichiosis) which affects all ruminants. Despite a century of dipping to eradicate...

  10. 3 ‘The Grave of the Cow is in the Stomach’: Environment & Nutrition in the Explanation & Prevention of Livestock Diseases
    (pp. 68-108)

    Richard Molebalwe from Bethanie (near Brits, North West Province) told us that ‘the grave of the cow is in the stomach’. He was not alone in regarding the stomach and the digestive organs as the key to good health. Stockowners often described the primary symptoms of sickness as lack of appetite, diarrhoea or constipation. Many farmers carried out post-mortems to determine the cause of death before preparing the meat for consumption. They examined the state of the gallbladder – was it inflamed or were the fluids an unusual colour? Were the intestines and stomach congested or blocked? Were the inner linings...

  11. 4 Transhumance, Animal Diseases & Environment
    (pp. 109-136)

    Transhumance, or trekking in South African settler language, was intrinsic to white and black livestock management up to the early decades of the twentieth century. By transhumance, we mean the movement of people with livestock – a practice common to many societies, especially but not only in regions with large areas of pastureland held in common. The practice is not restricted to pastoralists, or those who specialise in livestock, and it takes a multitude of forms.

    In the past, most African societies found it necessary to move their animals during the year, sometimes over considerable distances. Colonisation, private property and veterinary...

  12. 5 Plants & Drugs: Medicating Livestock
    (pp. 137-162)

    Caroline Serename and her husband had farmed in Kgabalatsane (near Garankuwa) for over 30 years. Farming was a family business and as children they had been involved in looking after animals. She had worked as a domestic servant in Gauteng and her husband in factories. They had invested their savings, and now their pensions, in cattle. In November 2009 they owned about 36 Brahman cattle. They favoured Brahmans because they thought these were comparatively easy to handle and grew fast, being ready for market in about 18 months. Their main buyers were African customers who needed cows for ceremonies and...

  13. 6 Medicinal Plants: Their Selection & their Properties
    (pp. 163-196)

    April Nhlapo kept his two cows and one calf in his kraal in the backyard of his house in the densely populated village of Lusaka. He explained how he loved his cows ‘they are my bank and my source of milk’. He sold milk to his neighbours and traded calves when he needed cash. Like many stockowners we interviewed in Lusaka he had a good knowledge of locally available plants and treated himself and his cattle with ‘medicines I find in the veld’.¹

    Pre-industrial societies worked with local natural resources on a daily basis and often achieved a rich knowledge...

  14. 7 Animal Health & Ideas of the Supernatural
    (pp. 197-220)

    Throughout our field sites there were those who attributed some animal diseases to types of witchcraft, or to supernatural causes, but occult explanations were far rarer than environmental and nutritional aetiologies. As discussed in chapter 3, many of our respondents ascribed familiar diseases like gallsickness to the state of the veld and seasonal changes in the texture of the grasses. We cannot definitively assess how commonplace beliefs in the supernatural and ritual pollution are amongst African rural communities. In part this is because we interviewed across a number of sites, rather than observed practices in one village over a long...

  15. 8 Gender, Space & the Supernatural
    (pp. 221-247)

    These two quotations, both from commercial farmers from North West Province reflected contrasting viewpoints on the aetiology of diseases. Morule was president of North West Province Farmers Union – an organisation he believed could be an instrument for agricultural education and rural development. He described himself as a progressive farmer and believed that all Tswana stockowners held a modernist view of the world, in which superstitions and supernatural explanations derived from pre-colonial beliefs and traditions had disappeared. These beliefs included witchcraft and what ethnographers have termed ‘ritual pollution’ – the idea that people, most often women, could undermine human and animal health,...

  16. 9 Conclusion
    (pp. 248-255)

    Understanding local knowledge has become a significant academic project amongst those interested in Africa and developing countries more generally.¹ We have explored a central body of African knowledge about livestock diseases. We have drawn on the small but expanding field of what others call ethnoveterinary research but we have attempted to move beyond this literature.² We have examined, first, changing patterns of local knowledge and the extent to which it has become hybridised. Second, we have analysed the relationship between local and scientific knowledge. Third, we have tried to understand an overarching range of ideas and practices and move beyond...

  17. Appendix 1: Recommendations
    (pp. 256-264)
  18. Appendix 2: African Ideas about Diseases and Conditions Associated with the Environment
    (pp. 265-271)
  19. Appendix 3: African Ideas about Supernatural Causation
    (pp. 272-272)
  20. Appendix 4: Plants and Diseases
    (pp. 273-283)
  21. Appendix 5: Non-Plant Remedies
    (pp. 284-287)
  22. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 288-292)
  23. Index
    (pp. 293-304)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 305-305)