People of color have used holistic approaches (like the ones in this book) to heal their ailments for hundreds of thousands of years. And not just bug bites and stomach aches, either. I can show you records of Black and brown people doing brain surgery 6,000 years ago. Don’t believe me? As always, you can look it up (but we’ll go into full details in The Science of Self).
But I’ve gotta give you both sides of the story. Even with our incredible collective knowledge of traditional healing, I wouldn’t advise you to go see the roots man when you’ve got a bullet wound or a serious life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. Why? The following excerpt from The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees by James Mooney illustrates an important reality:
SHAMANS AND WHITE PHYSICIANS
Of late years, especially since the establishment of schools among them, the Cherokees are gradually beginning to lose confidence in the abilities of their own doctors and are becoming more disposed to accept treatment from white physicians. The shamans are naturally jealous of this infringement upon their authority and endeavor to prevent the spread of the heresy by asserting the convenient doctrine that the white man’s medicine is inevitably fatal to an Indian unless eradicated from the system by a continuous course of treatment for four years under the hands of a skillful shaman. The officers of the training school established by the Government a few years ago met with considerable difficulty on this account for some time, as the parents insisted on removing the children at the first appearance of illness in order that they might be treated by the shamans, until convinced by experience that the children received better attention at the school than could possibly be had in their own homes. In one instance, where a woman was attacked by a pulmonary complaint akin to consumption, her husband, a man of rather more than the usual amount of intelligence, was persuaded to call in the services of a competent white physician, who diagnosed the case and left a prescription. On a second visit, a few days later, he found that the family, dreading the consequences of this departure from old customs, had employed a shaman, who asserted that the trouble was caused by a sharpened stick which some enemy had caused to be imbedded in the woman’s side. He accordingly began a series of conjurations for the removal of the stick, while the white physician and his medicine were disregarded, and in due time the woman died. Two children soon followed her to the grave, from the contagion or the inherited seeds of the same disease, but here also the sharpened sticks were held responsible, and, notwithstanding the three deaths under such treatment, the husband and father, who was at one time a preacher still has faith in the assertions of the shaman. The appointment of a competent physician to look after the health of the Indians would go far to eradicate these false ideas and prevent much sickness and suffering; but, as the Government has made no such provision, the Indians, both on and off the reservation, excepting the children in the home school, are entirely without medical care.
Did You Know?
For thousands of years Indian villagers have used an extract from the Neem tree as an insecticide. So when a US company patented a process for producing the substance in 1994, India reacted with outrage. After spending millions of dollars in legal fees to successfully overturn the patent, India’s government is now creating a 30-million-page database of traditional knowledge to protect against “entrepreneurs” trying to patent the country’s ancient wisdom. The database, called the Traditional Knowledge Data Library, will help ensure that traditional remedies are not presented as new discoveries.
This book was written in 1891, and Native Americans are still underserved by American healthcare. Not to mention that they’re still dying at record numbers. In fact, healthcare is so lacking in Native American, Black, and Hispanic communities in America to the point where we might as well be living in a third-world country (yet we never stop bragging about this golden land we live in, huh?).
But let’s talk about the story above. What went wrong? Was the shaman clueless? A stick in her side? Sounds stupid right? Not really. You see, “consumption” was an old word for the disease we now call tuberculosis, which got its name from tubercles bacillus, a stick-shaped bacterial microorganism that attacks the lungs, the kidneys and other organs on the side of the human body. Chew on that for a minute. So what this says to me is that our traditional healers have some incredible knowledge from a remote past when we understood way more than we do now, especially considering that Europeans named tuberculosis “consumption” because they believed “something” was eating people up from the inside. Before that, they called it “King’s Evil” because they believed it could be cured by the touch of a king.
But let’s be real. This knowledge we “once” had, we don’t all have it anymore. Some of these traditional healers are just traditional crooks. They make their living selling hope to people who are willing to believe them, and unwilling to consider a second opinion. Some of them haven’t been properly trained by anybody, and don’t have a medical degree, a naturopathy degree, or even a high school degree. But they’re getting paid. Some of these folks have even killed their “patients” through their bad advice, while some of us have killed ourselves trying to treat infectious diseases with roots and candles.
I understand the fear many of us have about going in for a routine physical and then being told we have HIV (See “False Positives in HIV Testing”). But Western medical science has made a lot of progress in terms of diagnosis. And if you can find a doctor you trust, preferably one who is also familiar with traditional medicine, that’s a lot better than choosing someone who doesn’t have a proven track record of success with traditional healing. The key is finding someone with expertise in their field, who values your approach to health. If you’re trying to avoid pills and prescriptions, find a doctor who understands that and who can suggest alternatives. If you’re using a healthcare provider directory, I suggest checking out people who have Asian or African names. But just be warned. A so-called holistic doctor nearly killed my wife with her backwards approach to her hyperemesis gravidarum. (See “I’m Not a Doctor”) Again, the key is expertise. This lady was clueless. We saw it in our first conversation with her, but we weren’t smart enough to run when we should have. Now, our family’s approach to medicine and healing looks like the following:
Whenever we aren’t super-sick, we strive to heal ourselves through our diet. Either we fast, eat foods that have the appropriate healing properties (See “The Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables), or we take the appropriate herbs (See “Herbs = Medicine”).
In more serious cases, we consult with someone we know who is very knowledgeable in treating such cases holistically. If we decide that we most likely need an antibiotic, we go to the CVS Minute Clinic (it’s quicker and often cheaper than waiting for a doctor’s appointment) for a prescription.
In the most serious cases, particularly when there is significant pain or need for immediate attention, we go see our doctors, who are all familiar with our family’s approach to health (meaning they’re not going to prescribe any medicines that aren’t absolutely necessary).
In closing, there are traditional methods to cure just about anything. There are even traditional methods to treat bullet wounds. But, unfortunately, the roots man down the street probably doesn’t know how to do it right. So, don’t be dumb about your well-being – go to a doctor when you need to. On the other hand, if you don’t believe that traditional medicine – when done correctly – is all you really need, check out the following story about rapper MCA from the Beastie Boys, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, but beat it after going to India and following a traditional Tibetan approach:
MCA (Adam Yauch), 45, now says that he is on the road to recovery and getting healthier and stronger daily…He reportedly feels that he is hopeful that he has beaten the cancer after undergoing successful surgery and visiting Tibetan doctors in Dharamsala (India). He has been reportedly taking medicine recommended by these practitioners of Tibetan medicine and eating a vegan/organic diet, which he said was helping…Welcoming Yauch’s interest in India and its institutions, acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed has wished him a speedy recovery. According to Zed, Tibetan medicine is an art, philosophy, and science combined, which provides a holistic approach to health maintenance, and it includes the key Buddhist principles of karma, ethics, and altruism. According to Tibetan medical theory, all things in the world are made up of the five proto-elements: chu (water), me (fire), nam-mkha (space), rlung (wind), sa (earth). Changing a patient’s lifestyle and/or diet is the first form of treatment in Tibetan medicine. Medicines are considered only if lifestyle-diet change fails to cure an ailment…Zed, who is president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, says that India also offers another herbal-based health care system known as ayurveda (life-knowledge) whose thesis is that disease is due to imbalance of three bodily humours – pitta (bile), kapha (phlegm) and vata (wind) – and balance can be recreated by changing person’s diet, thoughts and habits. Ayurveda covered complete wellbeing of the person – mental, physical, and spiritual.
See the common denominators here? Among Original people (not just those in the East), we have traditionally recognized that health and illness prevention are accomplished through a healthy diet, a healthy mind, and a healthy lifestyle, even down to how we treat other people. This is why you hear about those “medicine men” in different societies telling people they need to “appease the gods” before they can get well. That’s just a corrupted form of the original science of “making yourself right with the universe” and “cleansing your mind and body.” Doing these things won’t cost any money on their own, but if the medicine man or healer tells you that you need “special” items, which only he can provide (and bless appropriately), then you’ve gotta spend money with him to get better. Hence, even the first instances of medical corruption (putting profit before the patient’s health) can be found amongst us. That should be expected, considering that we’ve been on the planet for millions of years, which is plenty of time for some of us to start becoming selfish. But this type of behavior isn’t a characteristic of the ENTIRE system, as you’ll find with Western medicine, which is almost entirely built on staying in business by keeping people sick and in need of more medicine and more diagnosis. Instead, you can still find plenty of examples of traditional healers who will teach you how to get your body (and mind) so ‘right’ that you’ll never have to visit them again. And ain’t that the kind of doctor you’d want to see? Always check credentials and background.