J Ethnopharmacol. 1998 Nov; 63(1-2): 1-175.
Traditional pharmacology and medicine in Africa. Ethnopharmacological themes in sub-Saharan art objects and utensils.
Scientific Institute Dutch Pharmacists, The Hague, The Netherlands. [email protected]
Drawing from the general description that ethnopharmacology studies the human use of crude drugs and poisons in a traditional context, ethnopharmacological themes in native art can be defined as themes visualizing different features of traditional medicines and poisons, such as natural sources, methods of preparation, containers, usage and implements, target diseases and effects. This review documents that native African art objects and utensils are a goldmine of such ethnopharmacological themes by focusing on the following subjects: (a) objects related to the use of medicines (sources as well as tools for their collection, preparation and keeping); (b) objects related to the use of poisons (e.g. for ordeals, hunting and fishing); (c) objects related to the use of psychotropic agents (e.g. alcoholic beverages, kola nuts, smoking and snuffing materials); (d) pathological representations (e.g. treponematoses, leprosy, smallpox, swollen abdomen, scrotal enlargement, goiter and distorted faces); and (e) portrayals of certain types of treatment (e.g. topical instillations, perinatal care, and surgery). To avoid the impression that ethnopharmacology has little else to offer than armchair amusement, an epilogue outlines the medical relevance of this interdisciplinary science for Western and African societies.