Van Sertima, Ivan. Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. Transaction Book, 1990 .
The Lost Sciences of Africa: An Overview
Ivan Van Sertima
One of the marvels of Africa, which mystefied many early travellers, was the way in which some of its peoples communicated information almost instantly over vast distances. Europeans often told stories of arriving in a place many days' journey to find that the people there already knew the details of an event -- a battle or a birth, a death or a disaster -- which had occurred in a far part of the the county from whence they had just come. This was before the telegraphic morse code or the radio. We today, of cource, of the finely tuned instruments Africans devised to relay messages over these distances, sometimes with drum-scripts so ingenious they came close to a rythmic mimicking of the human voice. Some of their communication devices still baffle us.
Charles Breasted, son of James Henry Breasted, the most celebrated of American Egyptologists, details a method the Nubians used to transmit the human voice for a distance of nearly two miles across the Nile. "We never ceased marvelling," he wrote, in a biograpaphy of his father," at their ability to converse with one another across great stretches of water. Again and again in places where the Nile had suddenly widened to a breadth of almost two miled so that we would have to inquire locally regarding possible inscriptions or ruins along the farther shore we would watch a man address a friend so far away on the opposite bank as to be a mere speck wholly out of earshot. He would stand at the very edges of the river, perhpas ten feet above its surface, and cupping his hands some four inches in front of his lips, would talk into the water at an angle of about 45 degrees, in a loud voice but without shouting. At intervals he would stop and listen the distant man evidently replied in kind. But we who stood close by heard no sound. Presently the exchange would end, and he would tell us in a matter of fact way what he had learned..."
This ability to communicate information swiftly across considerable distances must havee be been a great boon to West Africans who, between the 13th and 15th centuries, had to administer empires as large as all the states of Western Europe put together. It did not make them any different, however, from Europeans or Asians or Americans in terms of the relatively slow spread of new techniques or technologies from the centers to the edges or peripheries of their civilizations. Thus, a skilled African surgeon could be performing delicate eye cataract surgery in the city of Jenne in medieval Mali while a villager would be going blind with cataracts a few hundred miles away on the edges of the same empire, for lack of his fine medical instrumentation and expertise.
This phenomenon of concentration of high technology in a center (scholar or priest-caste, trading post or royal capital) and its absence or slow spread to the periphery (village or desert outpost or forest) was the same the world over, at least before the industrial revolution. Instancy of communication today -- the fact that we live in "global village" connected by radio, telephone, and television -- makes it less so. Thus almost everyone on the planet now can be in instant touch, theoretically with everyone else. But something very fundamental has remained unchanged. High technologies (with their complex information networks) are still concentrated in certain primary centers and still relatively absent or disproportionately dispersed at the edges. Al that has changed is that the centers of high-technology now lie in powerful industrial blocs (cities of the super-powers) while whole countries or continents, with mere scraps of that technology, perch on the periphery.
It is important to understand this if we are understand how a science or technology may rise and fall with a civilziation, whey the destruction of a center could lead to the almost instant evaporation of disappearance of centuries of knowledge and technical skills. Thus a nulear war could shatter the primary centers of 20th century technology in a matter of days. The survivors on the periphery, although they would remember the aeroplanes and the television sets, the robots and the computors, they space machines now circling our solar system, would not be able for centuries to reproduce that technology. Apart from the almost wholesale slaughter of the technocratic class, the interconnection between those shattered centers and the equally critical interdependecy between those shattered centers and their peripheries, would be gone forever. It would be like the strands of a web which once stretched across the world, left torn and dangling in a void.
A dark age would certainly follow. Centuries afterwards, the technological brilliance of the 20th century would seem dream-like and unreal. Until archeology began to pick up the pieces, those of us to follow in the centuries to come willl obviously doubt what had been achieved in the centuries preceeding the disaster. This has happened before in the world. Not in the same way, of course, but with the same catastropic effect. It happened in Africa.
No human disaster, with the exception of the Flood (if that biblical legend is true) can equal in dimension of destructiveness the cataclysm that struck Africa. We are all familiar with the slave trade and the traumatic effect of this on the transplanted black but few of realize what horrors were wrought on Africa itself. Vast populations were uprooted and displaced, whole generations disappeared, European diseases descended like the plague, decimating both cattle and people, cities and towns were abandoned, family networks disintegrated, kingdoms crumbled, the threads of cultural and historical continuity were so savagely torn asunder that henceforth one would have to think of two Africas: the one before and the one after the Holocaust. Anthopologists have said that eighty percent of traditional African culture survived. What they mean by traditional is the only of culture we come to accept as African -- that of the primitive on the periphery, the stunned survivor. The African genius, however, was not remain buried forever. Five centuries later, archeologists, digging among the ruins, began to pick up some of the pieces.
In 1978 anthropology professor, Peter Schmidt, and professor of engineering, Donald Avery, both of Brown University, announced to the world that, between 1,500-2,00 years ago, Africans living on the western shores of Lake Victoria, in Tanzania, had produced carbon steel.
The Africans had done this in pre-heated forced-draft furnaces, a method that was technologically more sophisticated thn any developed in Europe until the mid-19th century. "We have found," said Professor Schmidt, "a technological process in the African Iron Age which is exceedingly complex....To be able to say that technologically suprior culture developed in Africa more that 1,500 years ago overturns popular and scholarly ideas that technological sophistication developed in Europe and in Africa."
There were Africans still living (the Haya people, for example) who, although they no longer produced steel, remembered, down to the last identity of detail, the machine and the process their ancestors used and were able to reconstruct the furnace and carry out a successful smelt. When Schmidt and Avery began excavating near Lake Victoria and dug up 13 Iron Age furnaces, they found that "the construction of furnaces and the composition of the steel was essentially the same."
The temperature achieved in the blast furnaceof the African steel-smelting maching was higher than any achieved in a European machine until modern times. It was roughly 1,800 degrees Celcius, some 200 to 400 dgrees higher thath the reached in European bloomeries. the record for Europe was in an experimental 2nd century Roman shaft furnace where scientists recorded a temperature in the combustion zone of 1,600 degrees Celcius.
The African superiority was due to the fact that they preheated the air blast by inserting blow pipes into the base of the furnace. This not only led the extraordinarily high temperatures but also to greater fuel economy. This was important since, in the areas there the Africans produced steel, there is evidence of a severe depletion of forest resources, demanding a fuel saving technology.
The machine they devised and the resourceful way they made use of available materials, is in itself fascinating. For example, the pit they dug beneath the furance was lined with mud made form a termite mound. The termite mound was an excellent choice since termites make their hills of material that won't absorb water, bits of alumina and silica piled up grain by grain. The African also introduced a process in their smelting that was very original and in advance of their time, making steel through the formation of iron crystals rather than by "the sintering of solid particles" as in European smelting. This led Professor Avery to comment: "It's a very unique process that uses a large number of sohpisticated techniques. This is really semi-conductor technology -- the growing of crystals -- not iron-smelting technology."
This technology was not confiend to Lake Victoria. Further investigations showed that there was a widespread distribution of Early Iron Age industrial sites in West Lake and neighboring areas, such a Rwanda in Uganda. The nature of the industry also indicates that these Africans lived in densely populated centers, with an organizaed, highly cooperative labor force.
Astronomy -- Kenya
In the same year that the African steel-smelting machine was discovered, another team of American scientists -- Lynch and Robbins of Michigan State -- uncovered an astrnomical observatory in Kenya. It was dated 300 years before Christ and was found on the edge of Lake Turkana. It was the ruins of an African Stonehenge, with huge pillars of basalt like the stumps of petrified trees lyiing at right angles in the ground. The place had an awesome-sounding name, Na-mo-ra-tu-nga, which, in the Turkana language, means "the stone people."
Not far away the scientists had found stones like these but they were merely standing in circles around graves. They were probably just ceremonial slabs of stone marking the sites of ancestors. But the huge stone pillars at Namoratunga II were different. These -- there were 19 of them -- were arranged in rows, and set down at such angles that the sense of an order, precise and significant, immediately struck the observers.
Lynch and Robbins know that modern Cushites in Eastern Africa had a calendar based on the rising of certain stars and constellations. If this were true, they would before them the keystone of the system, the prehistoric beginnings. in fact, of one of the most accurate of pre-Christian calendars.
They decided to check this out more carefully, to see if the stones did line up with the rising of these starts and the location of these constellations. There was, however, one problem. The world had not remained in the same precise placesince 300 B.C. There had been gradual changes in its axis of rotation since then.
They made allowances for this and found that their hunch was correct. Taking observations at various points of this ancient African observatory, they found that each stone stone was aligned with a star as it rose in 300 B.C. "This evidence," the team concluded "attests to the complexity of prehistoric cultural developments in sub-Saharan Africa. It strongly suggests that an accurate and complex calendar system based on astronomical reckoning was developed by the first millenium in B.C. in eastern Africa."
Astronomy -- The Dogon of Mali
Far more remarkable than the megalith observatory found in Kenya before Christ is the discovery of extremely complex knowledge of astronomy among a people in West Africa known as the Dogon. These people live in a mountainous area in the Republic of Mali, about 200 miles from where the legendary University of Timbucktoo once lay. The astronomer-priests of the Dogon had for centuries, it seems, a very modern view of our solar system and of the universe. They knew also of things far in advance of their time, intricate details about a star which no one can see except with the most powerful telescopes. They not only saw it. They observed or intuited it mass and nature. They plotted its orbit almost up until the year 2,000. And they did all this between five and seven hundred years ago.
Hunter Adams III, a scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory, in an article, "African Observers of the Universe: The Sirius Question," has thrown the most recent light on the scientific breakthrough of these Africans. He not only summerizes the work done by anthropologists on the Dogon but he exposes the gross prejudices of Eurocentric scientists who try to explain away what the Dogon have done, who simply would not accept that nay African astronomer-priest could yield the knowledge which, until the 20th century, escaped European observation.
The Dogon were studied very closely and over a considerable period of time by two French antrhopologists, Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen. From 1931 to 1956 -- a whole generation --- the two lived and worked with these people, looked at and listened to everything, wrote down all they could find out, even drew diagrams of the evocative architecture of the Dogon village, which is patterned after the form of the human body. Griaule and Dieterlen sank their roots into the people so deep that they became Dogon. They were initiated into the tribe. Griaule became so loved and trusted that, when he died, quarter of a million Afriacns turned up at his funeral.
And yet, in spite of this intimacy, they to pass through stage after stage of iniation before the Dogon allowed them to enter the inner sanctum of their most secret knowledge. Their education lasted longer than the American student's passage from high school to Ph.D. Not until the sixteenth year, as Adams tells us, did the Dogon call together a conference to reveal to the Europeans the first level in an eight-level stage of their knowledge.
Among the revelations that emerged at this stage was the Dogon's intimate knowledge of, and concern with, a start within the Sirius star system. They had a ceremony to Sirius every sixty years, when the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn converge. But the odd thing about it was that, although Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, the ceremony was not to Sirius but to its companion, Sirius B, a star so small, so dense, so difficult to perceive, it is try amazing that any medieval science was aware it but saw it as the basis of that star system while Sirius A, the big bright star we know so well, was simply the point around which this unusual little star orbited. to the Dogon this dwarf was the most important star in the sky.
The Dogon knew that this star, although invisible to the naked eye, had an elliptical orbit around Sirius A that took 50 years to complete. Modern science confirm this orbit. The Dogon drew a diagram showing the course and trajectory of this star up to the year 1990. Modern astronomical predictions are identical with this.
To privide such detail about somehting that only the most advanced observatories can detect today and to do in advnace of them, has send, as Adams put it, "shockwaves through the scientific world." Adams cites a number responses from scholars which reveal the profound contempt for African scientific capabilities which still dominates scholarship.
Kenneth Brecher of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, said quite bluntly in an aritcle "They [the Dogon] have know business knowing any of this." Brecher suggests that perhaps a Jesuit priest told them about it. Robert Temple, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Great Britain, in a highly acclaimed book, The Sirius Mystery, speculates that space-beings from the Sirius star system must have brought this marvelous knowledge down to the Africans. Humbled by evidence of the scientific advances of the Egyptians and the Sumerians, whom he links with the later Dogon, Temple arrogantly claims: "Civilization as we know it was an imporation from another star in the first place....The linked cultuure of Egypt and Sumer in the Mediterranean areas simple came out of nowhere." Carl Sagan, superstar of the TV serious Cosmos, goes one step futher. His solution to the mystery is that some clever European traveller who appeared among the Dogon before the anthropologists came to study them. This scienfically literate European, proposes Sagan, exchanged his sophisticated knowledge of the stars in return for the savages simple lore. When Griaule and Dieterlen cmae, the black merely played back what they had heard in a parrot-like fashion. Sagan had not even stopped to consider that no scientifically literate European, even today, much less before 1931, can speak with the certainty of the Dogon elders of the one year orbit of Sirius B on its own axis. Nor has it occured to him that this obsession with the star-system expressed itself in ceremonies among the Dogon centuries ago nor thaht the tradition they were supposed to have imbibed from an itenerant white genius and regurgitated to the anthropoligists like parrots, never surfaced until after 16 years of continuous probing.
The tendency to deny an African astronomical science is due to the fact that such accurate observations over long periods involve the most precise record-keeping, a capacity to measure complex distances and times, to calculate orbits and azimuths, and convergences. The calls for a mathematics and not just the simple handcount of one, two, many. Very few anthropological works have ever mentioned a mathematical system in Africa. At the moment only one single book exists -- Africa Counts: Number and Pattern in Afriacn Culture by Claudia Zaslavsky -- which attempts to deal with mathematics south of the Sahara.
Why is mathematics so rarely mentioned in the study of the African? One reason, of course, is the assumption that the African was incapable of developing abstract thought. Another is the fact that anthrolopology has a love affair with the primitive and would prefer to set its tent down among the bushmen of the Kalahari than among African traders who are accustomed to dealing in large sums of currency. There is a rold of difference between the mathematical thinking of a hunter-gatherer and a trader from an African city state.
Not all Africans had mathematics, it is true, but neither did all Europeans. Most Europeans got their mathematics from the Greeks who used cumbersome letters of their alphabet for numbers. It was not until 1202 that Hindu numeral were introduced into Western Europe. these the numeral we use today. We call them Arabic numerals because it was the Arabs who eventually accepted by most European traders as the Moorish hold was consolidated. The Church at first banned them. Mathematics progessed very little outside the commercial centers. The universities only taught some arithmetic and bits of Euclidean geometry, translatic into Latin from Arabic. Mathematics was viewed with general suspicion. One of the crimes for the Spanish Inquisition inflicted death was the poassession of Arabic manuscripts and the study of mathematics. As late as the 17th century, the time of the persecution of Galileo, "mathematics was looked upon with fear in Europe because of the magical use of numbers."
Among the earliest evidence of the use of numbers is a find in Africa in the Congo (Zaire). These are markings -- a notation count -- on a bone 8,000 years old. It is known as the Ishongo bone since it was found near an ancient fishing site of that name. The discoveror, Dr. de Heinzelin, says it is a numeration system. Dr. Marshack, who has examined the notches on the bone, says its a lunar calendar. For whatever purpose the system was used, it is the first we know of in Africa and among the first in the world.
Mathematics developes according to a need. If a situation calls for a simple count of objects a people will develop a simple set of numbers. If their cultural demands are more complex, a more complex mathematics system will evolve. Thus systems of numeration may range in Africa from a few numer words among the San people, who have been pushed into the least hospitable areas of the continent, to the extensive numerous vocabulary of African nations having a history of centuries of commerce.
One such nation is the Yoruba and the related people of the city of Benin in Nigeria, who been urbanized farmers and traders for centuries. They have a complex number system based on twenty. But a mathematical system is not always recoverable, is not always blessed with historical continuity like that found among the Yoruba and a number of large African sommunities. It may be hidden in architechtural design or in abstract patterns or in measuring systems or in games.
Architecture and Engineering
Mathematics is also needed for great engineering projects, the construction of enormous palaces or churches or ceremonial centers. Most people think that this kind of building may only be found in the north of Africa and that mud and straw and vines is the limit of material used by the traditional African. People use what materials are available to them and where stone was available to Africans they built in stone. When less sturdy materials were at hand, they African was still able to place the stamp of technological ingenuity upon those materials. A British engineer has bited suspension bridges built with vines by the Kikuyu which equalled in engineering skill and potential durability any comparable bridges of whood he had seen in his own country. South of the Sahara lie several architectural wonders. One of these is Great Zimbabwe, the most immense construction site found in Africa outside the pyramids of ancient Egypt and Sudan.
Great Zimbabwe is a massive stone complex -- perhaps we should call it a stone city -- found seventeen miles south of Nyanda, a city in today's Zimbabwe. It is more than 800 years old but was only two years ago, when Zimbabwe regained her independencethat any African scholars ventured to the site to study if closely. Molefi Asante and his wife, Kariamy Asante, both Fulbright scholars, have done the most recent study of this remarakble ruin.
The ancient plan of this city is in two parts. The king's part, the Royal Enclosure, is on the top of the hill. the other building -- nine separate stone sites -- are down in a valley. Among the buildings in the valley is the Great Enclosure where the king really lived although he spent a lot of time up on the hill. From that hill he could the coming and going of traders and warriers along that valley for a distance of about 30 miles.
The Royal Enclosure on the hill is a fascinating and mysterious place. Secret winding passageways and stone steps approach it from the south and withing the hill-top castle there are vast rooms, among these one for ritual, one for smelting, one for iron-keeping. The king kept his ironsmiths and copper craftsmen there. There was also a royal treasure cove made by a huge granite rock.
Down in the valley, where the rest of the ancient city lies, is the largest of all the buildings, the Great Enclosure. The wall around this palace is 250 meters ling. It is composed of 15,000,000 tons of granite blocks. It is estimated that 10,000 people lived in that city, making it one of the largest cities of its day.
But it was not an isolated achievement at all. The Asantes point to the fact that in that areas there more than 200 stone villages. They are scattered over Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The site, Great Zimbabwe, was the seat of a civilization in the South. The same type of structural concept was spread over a very large area occupied by native Africans. The engineering skill of these Africans was not confined to architecture. Even before Great Zimbabwe became a seat of civilziation, Afriacns in the southern part of the continent had dug the most ancient mines found in the world. Several such ancient mine works and rare minerals were discovered by the German treasure seeker, Karl Mauch, not far from great Zimbabwe itself.
Yet when this great stone city was found, Europeans not only began to steal the treasure but even the right of the natrive Africans to lay claim to their own civilziation. Many books have been written, trying to prove that this archtectural site, which is right in the heartland of Africa, half a thousand miles away from any seacoast, was built by Perians, Phoenicians, Portuguese, Arabs, or Chinese. The fact that there are no prototypes for Zimbabwean architecture and art and ritual among any of these foreign peoples does not seem to bother the conjectural historians.
Had they stopped at stealing the claim, that would be enough. But they stole everything they could put their hands on. Not just the faience and glass and celadon which the Africans imported in the overseas trade but enormous caches of ivory and gold, copper rings and necklaces and bangels and bracelets, bells and gongs, sacred birds of soapstone, divination bowls and dishes, even ritual phalli. The Asantes catalogue the thefts, part of the massive movement ancient African treasures from their place of manufacture to the museuems of the West. In 1871 a German prospector even carted away stone posts and confiscated a beautiful platter which he sold to Cecil Rhodes, after whom that area was solemnly named Rhodesia. As if that were not enough, the English Royal Horseguards attacked the Great Enclosure in 1892, gutting the inside of the building, taking everything that could be removed.
Great Zimbabwe rose in significance from the 12th century and flourished as the capital of an African empire, known as Monomotapa, for 300 years. The great stone city housed the emperor, his family, officials of the court, servants, and later, traders. It was the Shona people who built this center, seat of power for the southeastern interior of Africa. Like the earlier pyramids of Egypt, this structure not only "symbolized the power, permanence, and authority of the ruler" but it also crystallized the science and technology of that people, place, and time.
African engineering skill may also be seen in the skillful construction of boats. The image of jungle canoes promoted by Tarzan movies has created the popular impression of a fragile and easily capsizable dugout as the hallmark of African watercraft. The dugout, in fact, is just a building block, "a template," as oceanographer Stewart Malloy has shown, "for extension and expansion techniques used world-wide to make a boat seaworthy." Africans in West and Central Africa developed a variety of boats. They had a marine highway, 2,600 mile long, and on that highway -- the Niger -- once could find reed boats with sails, like the reed boats of ancient Egypt and Ethiopia; log rafts lashed together; enormous dugouts as wide-berthed, long, and sturdy as Viking ships; double canoes connected catamaran fashion like the Polynesian; lateen-rigges dhows as used bu the Arbas and the African maritime peasantson the Indian Ocean; rope sewn plank vessels with cooking facilities in the hold and jointed boats fitted out with straw cabins.
Malloy has taken a new look at the watercraft of West and Central Africa, a region which once formed part of a great interlocking trade network running from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Guinea and the from the West Coast to Lake Chad. Western Africa crisscrossed with a network of trade routes leading to the interior. These trade links between the West Coast and the Niger River existed for many centuries before the coming of the European. The nautical skills on the Atlantic coasts of Africa, which I note in my book They Came Before Columbus, originated largely, according to Malloy, beyond the coast, particularly on the Niger and in the neighborhood of Jenne and Timbucktoo, which were major cities in the Mali and Songhay empires.
When Mali and Songhay feel and Timbucktoo was destroyed, the trade routes leading to the interior of Africa lost much of their importance. The Niger, it tributaries, and the Senegambia region no longer enjoyed the vast volumes of traffic and intercourse. As a result "there was a stagnation in innovative boat building." Before this technology deteriorated, some travellers reported glimpses of the varied types of craft used on African rivers and seacoasts.
The journey across the Sahara is twice as long and twice as hazardous as a journey acorss the open Atlantic.
Several plants in the Sudanic agricultural complext -- the bottle gourd, a species of jackbean and of yam, a stain of cultivated cotton -- have been discovered in pre-Columbian strata in Middle and South America. The three main currents off the coast of Africa which such everything that remains afloat from Africa to America, can explain an unmanned drift voyage before Columbus of the bottle gourd. The other plants, however, could have come to this continent without the help of man. This has been clearly established by botanists. They would have either submerged below and eventually sank or, if held up by driftwood, would have been unable to preserve their potency during a long drift.
The potential for plant diffusion, whether by accident or design, lay well within the range of African navigational science. But what of the science that produced the plants themselves? Science magazine reported in 1979 the discovery by Fred Wendorf of agricultural sites near the Nile going back more than 10,000 years before the dynasties of Egypt. There, Africans were cultivating and harvesting barley and wheat. But not only were the Africans the first in crop science but also the first in the domestication of cattle. These are the keystone elements necessary for the development of civilzations. University of Massachusetts anthropologist, Dr. Charles Nelson, announced to the New York Times in 1980 that his team had unearthed evidence in the Kenya highlands that Africans had been domesticating cattle 15,000 years ago. Dr. Nelson said that the finding led them to conclude that pre-Iron Age Africans in that area had a relatively sophisticated society and could have spread their mores, living modes, and philosophy, eventually reaching the fertile crescent of the Euphrates River Valley.
African plant medicine was more developed than any in the world before the disruption of its cultures. In spite of the tremendous knowledge that was lost and the fact that African medicine today does not reflect the best of what the earlier doctors knew, the fragments that survive still tell us quite a lot. Dr. Charles Finch of the Morehouse School of Medicine, writing in the Journal of African Civilizations, sketches in the background to African traditional medicine, not just its plant science but its psychotherapy, its approach to the diagnosis of diseases, its very early knowledge of anaesthetics, anitsceptics, vaccination, and the advanced surgical techniques in use among African doctors.
African herbal medicine is extremely impressive. No one has yet done a comprehensive study of it but even the little that has been done so far reveals that several Western medicines were known to Africans before the Europeans discovered them. The Africans had their own aspirin. The Bantu-speaking peoples use the bark of Salix capensis to treat musculoskeletal pains and this family of plants yields salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. In Mali they had one of the most effective cures for diarrhea, using kaolin, the active incredient in the American brand Kaopectate. Nigerian doctors have developed an herbal preparation to treat skin infections which rivals the best in the modern world. It was subjected to tests by Western-trained doctors in 1969 and found to have powerful bacteriocidal activity against gram-positive bacteria, the very organisms that cause skin infections.
Surgery also seems to be an area in which African doctors "attained a level of skill comparable with, and in some respects superior to, that of Western surgeons up unto the 20th century. Finch cites traction methods for fractured limbs among the Mano of Liberia, inducing partial collapse of the lung to treat pleuricy among the Masai, removing a bullet by the use of stiff elephant hars in the congo, and the almost miraculous replacement of the intestines into an abdominal cavity ripped open by an elephant in Nigeria. These are just a few of the operations witnessed by Westerners and reported upon.
The most impressive of these is a Caesarean operation performed by Banyoro surgeons in East Africa. It was witnessed and sketched by Dr. Felkin in 1879, at a time when operations were rare in Europe. The skilll demonstrated in this operation startled readers of the Edinburgh Medical Journal where it was reported. The Africans were not only found to be using antisceptic surgery, which Lister pioneered two years earlier than this event, and the universal application of his methods were still years away. Not only did the African show an understanding of the sophisticated concepts of anaesthesia and antiscepsis, says Dr. Finch, but he demonstrated advanced surgical technique, especially in his cautious use of the cautery iron, which without great skill can cause serious tissue damage.
As one commentator has said: "This was a skillled long-practiced surgical team at work conducting a well-tired and familiar operation with smooth efficiency and unhurried skill.....Lister's team in London could hardly have performed with greater smoothness."