A Drummer's Testament
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Chapter II-27:  Diseases and Medicine  <PDF file>

Dagbamba ideas about medicine and health problems; major health problems of Dagbon; major diseases and how they are treated; other problems:  guinea worms and parasites

Paragraph outline
Proverbs and sayings
Dagbani words and other search terms

Contents outline by paragraph  <top of page>

Transition:  medicines of belief versus real medicine

1.  medicines that treat people who are not well; compared to doctor
2.  sickness and death are fearful topics
3.  Dagbamba ways of treating sickness is different from developed countries
4.  bad medicines can give people sickness; good medicine treats same sickness; example:  anthrax
5.  example:  leprosy; medicine can give someone leprosy; medicines treat it
6.  poisoning; can give such medicine in food
7.  witchcraft can be countered by medicine
8.  “woman coughing” and its medicine
9.  people who are killed by sickness from medicine or witchcraft; typical Dagbamba give different type of funeral
10.  people pray for protection against sickness; medicine also can protect against bad medicine
11.  someone with real medicine is important; all go to someone with medicine

How people get medicine

12.  sickness has many types; every sickness has medicine
13.  in olden days, Dagbamba learned to use medicine from trees and herbs
14.  can go to medicine man to learn; need to know trees
15.  protocols of getting medicine man to teach about medicines
16.  medicine is secretive; not bought with money; not kept; some people deny they have it
17.  sick person is directed to the medicine man who has necessary medicine
18.  sick person does not ask the medicine man about his medicine
19.  sick person directed to get the tree that will provide the medicine
20.  ways of preparing and taking medicine

Medicine’s limits

21.  medicine does not treat every sickness successfully; the role of fate or destiny
22.  example:  not giving an intended  gift; medicine may or may not work
23.  can treat sicknesses like leprosy; other conditions resemble it; cannot know all diseases
24.  leprosy a contact disease, but many stories about what can cause it

Pain and swelling:  kpaɣa

25.  kpaɣa:  the root of sickness
26.  kpaɣa medicine from plant roots; how it is administered
27.  kpaɣa in different parts of the body:  pain; medicine can help
28.  kpaɣa as a lump; hernia; can change and grow
29.  kpaɣa can be dangerous and fatal; firipi

Other sicknesses

30.  sompuɣli:  stomach sickness in women; prevents conception
31.  kpaɣaʒɛgu:  malaria
32.  gonorrhea
33.  yoɣu:  swelling; boil
34.  dirgu:  many different sicknesses; sores, blindness, headaches, impotence
35.  jaɣa:  yaws
36.  treatment of yaws
37.  anthrax:  can kill
38.  kpilimpihi:  epilepsy; has types
39.  kɔhim piɛlli:  tuberculosis
40.  tira ka nyɛra:  cholera
41.  dɔɣu:  convulsions
42.  kpante
43.  muliŋmee


44.  worms:  inside the stomach or body
45.  ʒigora
46.  schistosomiasis
47.  elephantiasis
48.  napompuli:  swelling in legs, another type of worm

Guinea worm

49.  guinea worm
50.  guinea worm in water; can be seen
51.  guinea worm can spoil parts of the body
52.  tie the guinea worm so that it won’t go back into the body


53.  snakes:  kill people; Dagbamba treatment
54.  snakebite:  Mossi treatment; different Mossi medicines

Conclusion:  modern medicine

55.  some sicknesses are new to Dagbon; hepatitis
56.  many sicknesses have strength in Dagbon; need for people with medicine to come and help

Proverbs and Sayings  <top of page>

Maalams say that if you are sitting in a town and there is no medicine man in that town, you should leave that town.

The medicine that frees people is what we call “medicine.”  But the one that gives trouble, it’s not true medicine.

Every type of sickness has its medicine, and every medicine has the one who owns it.

In Dagbon here, a medicine man has more strength than a tindana or a soothsayer.

They have eaten him.

She fought and died.

“Don’t hold my hand” is better than “Let go of my hand.”

Sickness has no end.

As a human being has different parts, that is how sicknesses also are.

There is no sickness that they don’t know its medicine.  If they say that this sickness has no medicine, then it is not a sickness, and the sickness is not there.

I have seen that every sickness has its medicine in Dagbon.

It is not that medicine can treat every sickness.

Somebody will become sick, and the medicine is there, and that person will die.

If death were not there, then this world would not have been good.

Those who have medicine, they treat people who have life.

Where you enter the river, that is where the crocodile catches you.

Everybody and what his medicine is, and everybody with his end of sickness, and everybody with the medicine that will take him back to his house.

If there is no kpaɣa in a person’s body, that fellow too is not there.

If they are going to make a human being, they make him and the kpaɣa the same day.

Some types of sense can be more than medicine.

As people have gathered, that is why many sickness have come.

Key words for ASCII searches  <top of page>

Names and persons
Abdul-Rahaman (Abdulai)
Afa Simaa
Fuseini Jeblin  (Fuseini Jɛblin)  (Alhassan)
Maachendi  (Maachɛndi)
Mangulana (Alhaji Adam Alhassan)
Mumuni (Abdulai)

Diseases and sickness terms
dogu  (dɔɣu)
gingalanyugu  (giŋgalanyuɣu)
guinea worm
zhigora  (ʒigora)
jaga  (jaɣa)
kohim pielli  (kɔhim piɛlli)
kona  (koŋa)
kpaga  (kpaɣa)
kpagazhegu  (kpaɣaʒɛɣu)
kpante kuunga  (kpante kuuŋa)
kpante mahili
kpagapielga  (kpaɣapiɛlga)
kpariwawu, kpariyuri
mulingmee  (muliŋmee)
napongtimtimli  (napoŋtimtimli)
nyerfu  (nyɛrfu)
pag’ kohinga  (paɣ’ kohinga)
sompugli  (sompuɣli)
tahanyelga  (tahanyɛlga)
tira ka nyera  (tira ka nyɛra)
wobnapong  (wobnapoŋ)
yogu  (yoɣu)

Miscellaneous terms
barkpandaa  (four-leaved senna)  [Cassia absus L.]
bira  [Hibiscus surattensis L.]
bluestone, brustrom  (copper sulfate)
gungon  (guŋgɔŋ)
Holy Qur’an
kapawu  [exclamation]
kasigirba  (kasiɣirba)
maalam, maalams
taanga  (taaŋa)  (shea tree)  [Vitellaria paradoxa]
tukari  (leaves of baobab tree)  [Adansonia digitata]

Cultural groups
Mossi, Mossis

Towns and places