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Tales From The Bush

NAGB hosts ‘fun, profound’ stories about natural medicine

By JEFFARAH GIBSON

Tribune Features Writer

jgibson@tribunemedia.net

AS a way to keep her immune system in tip top shape, Nellie recently tried lemon grass tea for the first time in her life. She heard it was a great immunity booster, something she saw as a necessity in the time of COVID-19.

Nellie poured herself a cup, but almost as soon as the tea touched her lips she spit it out again. The tea sprayed all over her boyfriend, who had been the one to get the lemon grass for her.

“I could not believe how horrible the taste was,” she told Tribune Health. “It was my first time and certainly my last.”

Stories like Nellie’s will be featured during the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas’ online event called Bush Medicine Stories that kicked off yesterday. Each day, the gallery will share the funniest, most outrageous, profound, and reflective bush medicine stories on its blog. The sharing of stories will end on November 30. One story will be selected each week.

Bush medicine is a form of traditional medicine using tropical plants for curing diseases and treating ailments. It has been a practice of Bahamians who have discovered the healing potential of medicinal plants.

The Bush Medicine Stories activity is being held in collaboration with the NAGB’s current permanent online exhibition, “Medicine & Memory: Public Health in the Bahamas”, which can be viewed on its website.

“ ‘Medicine & Memory’ takes a look at the histories and practices around public health in the Bahamas in four parts: History of Public Health, Post Colonial Health Inequalities, Impacts of Climate Injustice on Health and Well-being, and Alternative Healing Modalities, and Black Healing Practices,” said the gallery.

“What are our histories of healing? From materia medica to botánica, we look to all manner of medicines for the body and the soul - to remedy and restore ourselves and our communities. This permanent exhibition begins to unpack our complex and hybridised practices around healing and medicine (of the pharmaceutical and bush variety both) in the Bahamas. Let’s start to get to the root of what ails us and heals us as a people in this moment when we need it most.

“Over the course of the Bahamas’ human history, this archipelago has transformed from indigenous land of shallow seas, to the New World, to West Indies land of exile, to British Colonial rebranding as Edenic paradise. The health and wealth of the land and its peoples have gone through massive shifts. Public health practices both informal and formal, with hybrids of Western Medicine and West African botanical healing practices, have helped make or break our space. And in the current moment -which it is worth noting is not at all our first pandemic - the significance of how to heal, maintain and protect the body is more important than ever - and history shows our ability to adapt, survive, and thrive through it all.”

Artists featured in the online exhibition include: Margot Bethel, Jacob Frank Coonley, Tyrone Ferguson, Tamika Galanis, Peggy Hering, Leanne Russell, Netica “Nettie” Symonette and Maxwell Taylor.

Last year, the Ministry of Health announced plans to create an “indigenous health desk” to examine Bahamian bush medicine therapies involving cerasee, neem, fever grass and other substances in a wider effort to boost the country’s fight against chronic non-communicable diseases.

The indigenous health desk will also study the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

According to the 2019 STEPS survey, 13.7 percent of Bahamians with hypertension reported seeking advice from a herbal/naturopathic healer while 23.1 percent of Bahamians reported taking herbal medicines to deal with the condition. Among people with diabetes, 12.8 percent reported taking advice from naturopathic helpers and 17.7 percent said they took herbal medicines. For those with cholesterol problems, seven percent reported seeking advice from naturopathic healer and 8.7 percent took herbal medicines.

The objective of the unit will be “to facilitate the improvement of health outcomes of individuals with chronic non-communicable diseases through early detection, scientifically-proven, effective natural treatments, and high-quality medical research.”

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