Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




McKenna, Kathrine M.


Prior to colonial rule and the imposition of western medicine and practices, several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa relied on traditional medicine to treat tropical diseases that ravaged the populace. Specialists in traditional medicine, both men and women, restored and preserved their patients' health through herbarium and spiritism. Like their male counterparts, female traditional medicine practitioners on the Gold Coast were highly respected by people for their knowledge and competence as their communities' primary healers and caregivers. This study, drawing on various primary and secondary sources, including oral traditions, colonial reports, medical journals, and historical accounts, argues that women played a substantial role in traditional medicine on the Gold Coast. However, the disruption of traditional medicine practises caused by the imposition of colonial rule and Western medicine in the late nineteenth century led to the exploitation, marginalisation, and exclusion of women in some fields of the newly imposed colonial medical system on the Gold Coast. This study explores native women's roles in medicine on the Gold Coast during the pre-colonial period and how Western medicine and practices altered their role and place in the field during colonial times.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis examines the contributions, place and roles of Indigenous Gold Coast women in traditional medicine during the pre-colonial times and how they were exploited, excluded, and marginalized in medicine by the British colonial governments after the imposition of colonial rule and Western medicine from the late nineteenth century to mid-twentieth century. The women of the Gold Coast, who had been integral members of the healthcare provision in all traditional medical systems prior to colonial policies favouring the training and employment of male healthcare practitioners, were marginalised. Women were only allowed into subservient roles as nurses and midwives, enforcing and imposing European mothercraft concepts on their fellow African or indigenous mothers and paving the way for their male counterparts who cooperated with colonial authorities to occupy and dominate higher medical fields.