Multiple Voices, Multiple Paths: Towards Dialogue between Western and Indigenous Medical Knowledge Systems

Multiple Voices, Multiple Paths: Towards Dialogue between Western and Indigenous Medical Knowledge Systems

Rutendo Ngara (University of South Africa, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0833-5.ch015
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Abstract

The Western knowledge paradigm – with its ways of knowing, ways of seeing and its notions of reality - has dominated the global knowledge arena, rendering many indigenous knowledge systems as invalid, illegitimate and irrelevant. This is particularly true for indigenous medical knowledge systems, which have struggled to articulate their voices from the marginalisation imposed by colonialism, globalisation and modernity. This chapter outlines paradigmatic tenets and key conceptions underpinning Western Biomedicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Traditional African Medicine. It explores areas of synergy and contradiction, as well as points for potential dialogue between the medical systems. The chapter suggests that if carefully excavated, explorations into such ontologies and epistemologies can make meaningful contributions to knowledge brokerage, thus promoting inclusivity and ethics in knowledge societies. It therefore makes a case for cognitive justice – ‘the right of different traditions of knowledge to co-exist without duress'.
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Background

The Declaration of the Alma Ata of 1978 expressed the need for urgent action by all governments, all health and development workers and the world community to protect and promote the health of all the people of the world. It declared the gross inequality in health status of the people - both between and within countries - as politically, socially and economically unacceptable. Its goal was the global resolve of ‘health for all by the year 2000’.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Epistemology: The nature, basis and theory of the origins of knowledge. Epistemology relates to what constitutes valid knowledge and how it can be obtained.

Western Biomedicine: The sum total of knowledge, skills and practices of the modern Western scientific tradition, used for the diagnosis and treatment of illness. Also called allopathic medicine, Western medicine, conventional medicine, mainstream medicine and orthodox medicine.

Quantum Physics: A fundamental branch of modern physics that explains the behaviour of matter and its interactions with energy at the atomic and sub-atomic levels. Also known as quantum theory or quantum mechanics.

Medical Pluralism: The use of more than one medical system, or the simultaneous use of Western and indigenous/complementary/alternative medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine: The sum total of the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences of indigenous Chinese culture, that is used in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental illness, as well as the maintenance of health (adapted from WHO, 2000 ).

Traditional African Medicine: The sum total of the knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs, and experiences of indigenous African culture, that is used in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of physical, mental illness and spiritual illness, as well as the maintenance of health(adapted from WHO, 2000 ).

Cognitive Justice: The right of multiple forms of knowledge to co-exist. This plurality recognises the diversity of knowledges not only as methods, but as ways of life ( Visvanathan, 2009 ).

Ontology: The study of or assumptions regarding the nature of reality. Ontology relates to how existence can be understood.

Western: For the purposes of this chapter, ‘Western’ is not taken as a geographic locality, but rather indicates a paradigm largely initiated by the modern European worldview post the 17th century Age of Enlightenment.

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