But the Man Does Not Throw Bones

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Mogobe Bernard Ramose


From time immemorial some African peoples associated bodily and spiritual healing with their relationship with the living-dead and communication with them. The use of selected animal bones by a special healer was one of the means of communication with the living-dead in the process of determining the cause of illness and receiving advice on its cure. This practice endures in some parts of Africa today. Our cane spirit- addicted white boss incurred the wrath of his white colleagues in the South Africa of the seventies by submitting himself to medical examination by a Western-trained Bantu medical practitioner operating in a Bantustan. In defence of his decision our white boss declared: ‘But the man does not throw bones!’ By this he contrasted the bones to the stethoscope; the latter being the symbol and reality of the assumed superiority of Western medicine over African ways of healing based on African culture. At the same time he challenged the racism of his time by accepting that he could be examined by a Bantu medical doctor. The purpose of this essay is to examine the ensuing epistemological and cultural tension between the bones and the stethoscope, and argue that the tension is based on different and contending paradigms of healing, none of which has prior and unquestionable superiority over the other. This argument is reflected in part by the somewhat unconventional style of our presentation, that is, storytelling, as a way of challenging the contentious dogma that there is only one ‘science’.


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How to Cite
Ramose, M. (2016). But the Man Does Not Throw Bones. Alternation Journal, (18), 60-71. Retrieved from https://journals.ukzn.ac.za/index.php/soa/article/view/1354
Author Biography

Mogobe Bernard Ramose, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University