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5 w African-Indian Encounters and Their Influence on African Therapeutics, 1860–1948 In 1905, Parasoo Ramoodoo, an ex-indentured Indian living in Ladysmith, wrote to the Colonial Secretary of Pietermaritzburg to apply for a “native doctor ’s” license.1 Ramoodoo’s letter explained that he came from a long line of “native doctors” in India and had been practicing medicine for twenty-two years. He included a list of twenty-five patients, mostly Africans, whom he had cured, and asked that another “native doctor” subject him to an examination. Though the government had reputedly granted inyanga licenses to earlier applicants of Indian descent, Ramoodoo found his request—like others— denied on the grounds that he was not African.2 Today’s Indian practitioners of African medicine seem to face an equally liminal and dubious future, as predominantly African policy-makers assume that Indian healers and muthi shop owners are purveyors of goods rather than holders of indigenous knowledge . This chapter sets out to map one aspect of the largely unexplored and collective history of African-Indian encounters with regard to health and medical knowledge in Natal and Zululand. Indians make up only a small minority of South Africans, approximately 3 percent, yet over a million Indians reside within the province of KwaZuluNatal —home to six million Zulu-speakers. Within the confines of KwaZuluNatal ’s cities and towns, Africans and Indians work, shop, play, and live within close proximity. Evidence of their encounters (historical and present) can be seen in news stories of Indian households terrorized by tokoloshes (the local African apparition said to be short, hairy and possessing a large penis) or of African schoolgirls suffering possession by ufufunyane (local African interpretations of Indian and/or white spirits).3 Within the vicinity of Durban, one can 158 You are reading copyrighted material published by Ohio University Press/Swallow Press. Unauthorized posting, copying, or distributing of this work except as permitted under U.S. copyright law is illegal and injures the author and publisher. find Indian inyangas running muthi shops, Indians seeking out African healers and medicines, and African Muslims and non-Muslims visiting Muslim healers and attending Sufi shrines for health and blessings. Indian muthi shops as well as African sellers at the Warwick Avenue muthi market sell herbs and medical substances of African and Indian extraction, both of which have been incorporated within the body of African therapeutics. While rumors of an African poojari (Hindu priest) at a Hindu temple and Indian isangomas could not be confirmed, they are not outside the imaginations of modern day Durbanites.4 Indeed the cultural blending between Indian and African populations in a city that boasts of African rickshaw drivers bedecked in “Zulu” beaded headdresses is hardly surprising. Such cosmopolitanism is not new but has a long and complicated history with rural roots stretching far out into the hinterlands of KwaZulu-Natal. Despite an implicit understanding that many in the general public have of the intermingling of African and Indian cultural ideas and practices, a certain collective amnesia seems to have developed during the apartheid years. Presentday antagonisms between Indians and Africans are seen by many as natural, the result of two culturally distinct groups rather than a cultural production arising from specific historic circumstances. Likewise, the general history of Indian-African relations has received little attention from either scholars or journalists. With the exception of a few dissertations and cursory paragraphs in Indian–South African histories, little is written about their interaction.5 What is written mainly focuses on the 1949 Cato Manor riots, when Africans destroyed Indian shops and homes.6 Historical works on Indian South Africans tend to be singularly focused, exploring the maintenance of Indian culture and Indian-white relations in the struggle for social, economic, and political equality. The post-apartheid era shows signs of a shift away from this earlier historiography and toward an examination of Indian and African encounters, albeit with slow beginnings.7 By examining the historical encounters of Indians and Africans around issues of health and healing in South Africa, this chapter seeks to demonstrate the nature of medical pluralism found in Indian and African communities as well as broader questions regarding their intercultural contact. The purpose is not to quantify such encounters, but to show a pattern of mixing. This chapter provides evidence of polyculturalism in both groups between the 1860s and late 1940s, but particularly the polycultural development of African therapeutics . By delineating a few threads of influence between Indian and...


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