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Introducing The Science of African Herbology

A. Oppong Wadie

Authens Asantewaa Oppong Wadie was born the third of four children to Jamaican immigrant parents living in Evanston, Illinois. She attended the primary through high school in the Evanston school district. Her undergraduate work was completed at University of Illinois at Chicago. Asantewaa holds a master's degree in theology and a doctorate in Education. She is currently working as a professor and an education consultant in Chicago. Asantewaa is also the proud wife of Kwadwo Oppong Wadie. Together they have four children between the ages of 15 and 4. Asantewaa says of herself, "my first job is to be a mother. Everything else just supports that."

Q: Tell us about your background and your work, particularly as they pertain to education.

Wadie: I have had a wide and rich education background. My most centering educational experience came from the informal, trans-generational education that I received from my Jamaican immigrant parents and their community. This education was rich in folklore and the African centered ways of seeing and appreciating the natural world. I went through Evanston, Illinois school district from primary school to high school. I then completed my undergraduate work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I went on to complete a Masters of Arts in Theology at Northwestern's Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.
Immediately after graduating I married and was soon expecting our first child. I knew that I wanted to have a natural home birth assisted by a midwife from the African- American tradition which reaches back to Africa. This was difficult to find because of legal issues in Illinois. When I did find such a midwife she informed me that I had to learn the tradition myself because they were not allowed to practice in Illinois. This is when I became a scientist. My first teachers were African American midwifes, I also learned from herbalist and Naturopathic practioners. Sometimes I have had a mentor on this journey, and other times not, but study of the craft is constant. In 2009, I complete a doctor of education degree at Northern Illinois University. Currently, I teach on the community level and at the college level.

Q: Tell us about your knowledge of the science of African herbology as it relates to your educational practice. How important has the contribution of African herbology been to modern medicine and the lives of its practitioners?

Wadie: My knowledge of the science of African herbology has opened a new world me. It was really African American mid-wives that made me first realize that nothing that African people do in their spiritual and medicinal life is random. It is all based on a very ancient and scientific cosmology (understanding of the universe). There is an extensive oral tradition without which African American plant-based medicine traditional remains convoluted. There are also great publications which corroborate the oral traditional, such as, "The African Background to Medical Science: Essays on African History, Science and Civilization" by Charles S. Finch III, M.D. A combination of the oral tradition and the scientific research which supports it makes me very confident when I present this information to the public. My ancestors have left me a solid foundation on which to stand as an educator.
The natural medicine that African people brought with them to shores of America is the most probable reason for their continued existence. Their medicine involved a profound connection to the spirit world, with an intense emphasis on healthy interpersonal relationships, and finally a careful use of food, plants and environment to maintain and restore health. It was holistic. Modern western medicine has been slowly absorbing all of these ideas. That is, Europeans have been learning from African people from the first day they encountered them. It is safe to say that Africa provides the future template for modern medicine.

Q: Please elaborate on your collaborations with various institutions such as the DuSable Museum of African History in Chicago, particularly its "traveling suitcases" initiative, and the impact of these collaborations on students.

Wadie: I have worked as a consultant for the DuSable Museum for the past 10 years. During that time I have done several workshops for teachers on the African American Ecological Suitcase. The creator of the suitcase, wanted to get African American students involved in ecological issues. She also wanted to show African Americans that much of the medicinal folklore in their families has deep roots. The suitcase is an excellent way to address both goals. Most often, I introduce the suitcase to classroom teachers. Thus, I cannot accurately measure its impact on students.

Q: What inspired you to choose your current career path?

Wadie: As a healer, I was inspired by my parents who would make tinctures of ginger, allspice and other warming herbs to rub on the skin to draw cold out of the human body. I clearly remember my elders speaking about the effectiveness of Epsom salt, cerassse tea, and prayer. These ideas were foundational in my thinking. They made me hungry for more. As an adult I would find new inspiration among older healers, midwives and others who urged me to keep studying; especially for the sake of keeping our way of knowing alive.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far in your career?

Wadie: The biggest challenge is getting the appreciation that should be given to this tradition. There are many healers, social and medicinal who have died misunderstood and financially impoverished. In my work I have always tried to build respect for those pioneers who have made such a tremendous sacrifice in order to bear witness to the truth that our ancestors taught us.

Q: Finally, in your opinion what are the most important strategies that parents can employ to facilitate the academic success of their children?

Wadie: Parents, in my judgment must see themselves as their child's primary teacher. Teach, even aggrandize your traditions at home; this to buffer your children against dominant mainstream culture. When parents teach the truth of the African origin of civilization (education, culture and spirituality) their children will naturally value learning. They will meet and exceed the standards that are set for them by the school system.

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2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)