Was Cannings’ Madang decision judicial overreach?
My first return to Papua New Guinea 1

Plants that heal: the old folks know

| My Land, My Country

LAE - Our planet is filled with millions of plants with healing properties – some of which we are only starting to understand.

In Papua New Guinea, traditional healers and elders in our many cultures  are custodians of a lot of  that knowledge.

My maternal grandparents taught me a lot  about the healing properties of guava leaves, hibiscus, native gingers and cinnamon bark.

But healing was not just about the treatment of physical illness with medicinal plants. The generation that went before had a holistic approach to treating a person or child who was ill.

We now know, from scientific research, that the state of the human mind can have a direct influence on one’s physical health and that children heal quicker when they are with people who love them.

How did our ancestors know that psychological and emotional state was so important for our physical state?

In my mother’s village years ago, we observed a child who was sick and vomiting on the veranda of a house.

My grandmother asked the child’s grandfather why she was sick. The discussion revolved around the absence of the child’s mother.

The grandfather said the child was happy and healthy until her mother left to remarry.

While they understood that the physical illness could be treated, they also knew it would be difficult to treat the child’s unhappiness that stemmed from her mother’s absence.

In Goroka, I was sent off regularly to look for medicinal plants which my grandmother used to treat infertility in women.

These are the five most common conditions in PNG treated by herbal medicine - from PNG Traditional Knowledge System & Science Advice http://mddb.apec.org/Documents/2015/SOM/CSA/15_csa_014.pdf

After the herbs were put together, the women were given strict instructions to be kind to their husbands, to treat them with respect and heal their relationship.

Thereafter many of the couples she helped had children.

Were the herbs just placebos? I don’t know. But we do know that placebos are used in modern medical practice as well.

How did the ancients come to learn about its effects on the mind?

Years later, I came to realise my grandmother’s ‘treatment’ of infertility didn’t just rely on the herbs she gave.

She also taught women how to build and strengthen their relationships with husbands and in-laws.

She wasn’t just treating the physical problem. She was also helping a young couple deal with the emotional and relationship issues they had.

In traditional society, those relationships were essential for cohesion and for the health of children.

Only after I became a dad did I come to realise the importance of happiness in a family.

I found that my children healed faster when I was calmer and determined to see them heal.

They would become sick during any temporary physical and emotional absence.

After our youngest daughter contracted tuberculosis at the daycare facility she attended. Her condition deteriorated rapidly.

At the time, our family was in transition with me in Madang and my wife and our girls in Port Moresby.

When I got to Port Moresby, my daughter wasn’t doing well. I was worried.

Then I remembered what my parents used to tell me about the healing abilities of a happy mind, or the willingness to be happy.

I knew that my daughter was looking forward to moving to Madang because of the sea.

I held her in my arms and said to her, “You have to get better because we are going to Madang. You get to play in the sea every day.”

I literally saw her face light up despite her difficulty breathing.

Within 24 hours, she was able to get up. Her body responded to the medication overnight and within 36 hours we were on a flight to Madang.

I learned to trust ancient wisdom.


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Robin Hide

There is a long and important history in Papua New Guinea of recording traditional information about the medicinal use of plants and, in recent decades, chemical investigations of such plants and their possible efficacy in treating illness.

I have prepared for readers a few examples, noting that this is only a very small sample of a much larger number of studies and publications.

Prior to 1940, this work was mainly done by just a few anthropologists, such as Beatrice Blackwood during her work in Bougainville and Morobe.

Because of the length and importance of Dr Hide's commentary, I have set it aside for publication in full tomorrow (4 February) on the main page - KJ

AG Satori

And oh, the old folks are dying out fast.

Whereas before it was sacred knowledge used for the betterment of the community, and passed on as such. The young who have been passed these knowledge are making it a transactional item.

There was a growing trade in the Highlands in recent years of a herbal drink. Plenty of hawkers traded on the knowledge with their bottles of self-prescribed wonders.

Before our country becomes shamanized by this well meaning new generation of transactional knowledge keepers, we must get the knowledge into the public domain.

How? The village recorder should record the known medical herbs in print. And in pictures.

AG Satori

There are many bush medicines. All these need to be recorded. I am not sure if it is one of the duties of the Institute of Medical Research.

It would be in a better position to collect these known bush medicines and the accompanying anecdotal stories.

They should provide these raw stories first then later work their medical magic to find whatever medicinal properties these bush medicines have. And yes TLC (tender loving care) also places a bit part in curing.

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