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Abena Dove Osseo-Asare
"From Poisoned Arrows to Impure Drugs: Representations of Toxicity in Ghanaian Traditional Medicine Discourse "

Any attempt to construct a history of plant-based therapies in Africa must address the recurrent theme of the potential of medicine to do both good and harm. This talk interrogates traditional medicine discourse in Ghana, noting recurring images of poison and impurity among communities of scientists and healers. From colonial anxiety over poisoned arrows to popular debates over toxicity of herbal drugs, I argue that a discourse of poison has surrounded plant medicine and its agents. Through a multi-vocal examination of this nexus of poison, representation, science, and healing, I focus attention on the imbalances and prejudices which shaped the translation of ethnobotanical knowledge in modern Africa, leaving it open to popular suspicion, governmental disinterest, and international biopiracy. This paper is drawn from my dissertation, "Bitter Roots: African Science and the Search for Healing Plants in Ghana, 1885-2005" which I am writing in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. More about the project is available at http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~osseo

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