Quick Note on Successful C-section Pre-Colonial Africa, in Bunyoro Kingdom

As I read the account of Dr.  Robert W. Felkin of a successful C-section in the Bunyoro kingdom, I could not help but realize that in Africa, and particularly in this instance in the Bunyoro kingdom there was superior anesthetics, antiseptics, and advanced medicine which allowed them, at a time when in Europe this was considered a desperate measure performed only on dying mothers, to successfully deliver both mother and child.

Caesarean delivery in Uganda, 1879 (Felkin RW. Notes on labour in Central Africa. Edin Med J 1884;29:922-30.)

One important oddity in Felkin’s account is the illustration of the native doctor and his assistants and the pregnant mother. Note that in his written account, Felkin said of the woman that, “she was perfectly naked. A band of mbugu or bark cloth fastened her thorax to the bed, another band of cloth fastened down her thighs…The oddity is in the drawing: why would Felkin draw the native doctor and the assistants all naked, when he stated that the woman was naked? If the native doctor and assistants were all naked, wouldn’t he have stated that also? If he stated that she was naked, that means that, that was already something that stood out, i.e. that in normal days, the woman would be dressed, and for this operation only was she naked. This also implies that the native doctor and assistants were clothed, and only the patient was naked! Lastly, this may mean that either it was not Felkin who drew the image, or that Felikin was so astonished by the superiority of the Bunyoro doctor and assistant, and Bunyoro superior medicine, that he felt the need to present them in some ways as inferior people, savage men. What better way than by drawing them as primitive people all naked?

See… this is another case of falsifying history, denigrating a people, and debasing them. How low! Remember how I told you about the rich history of African Fabrics and Textiles and the falsification performed by The New York Times, and also about the account by Cadamosto in the 1400s of very well dressed Africans (Description of African Dressing in 1400s) he met on the coast of most likely modern-day Gambia!

The Diisa : Malian Men’s Life Scarf

I recently learned about the Diisa, a long fringed indigo shawl worn by men in Mali, and men across the Sahara Desert. I knew of the  shawl, but never knew its name. I also knew of the shawl and always wondered why it was always blue, and not any other color. The Diisa has been worn by African men for centuries. Its ‘blue-ness’ comes from the ‘diisatogène‘ which is one of the strongest artificial component of Indigo dye.The shawl itself takes a long time to weave, and is later on indigo dyed. Our ancestors probably knew all this chemistry that I just learned today, and probably honed down the recipe. Samori Toure, the great African leader, can be seen wearing his diisa shawl on several occasions.

The excerpt below is from the Adire African Textiles blog. Enjoy!

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Malian artist and master dyer Aboubakar Fofana commented:

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Samori Toure wearing his diisa

… The dissa shawl was such an important piece for a man from this region. It was given to a young man by his mother when he got married. She would have saved for this shawl since her son was very young they were a lot of work and were worth the same as 10 head of cattle. They were indigo dyed, and when the man died, this shawl would be his shroud. The celestial blue of indigo would help him pass from this world to heaven. I’m very proud to be making a modern interpretation of the dissa, with its long fringes, and I hope I am carrying on the tradition of something important in my culture.

And Belgian art historian Patricia Gerimont, who is working on a book on indigo dyeing in Mali, supplied this information on indigo in Burkina Faso (my translation): “the indigo shawls and wrappers in Burkina are dyed by a specific group called the Yarsé, and also by other groups of Marka dyers. The Yarsé speak Mossi but are of Marka origin, you also find them in Dogon country under the name Yélin.