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Missionary Medicine and Akan Therapeutics: Illness, Health and Healing in Southern Ghana's Basel Mission, 1828-1918

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The Basel missionaries in southern Ghana came from a strong religious healing tradition in southwest Germany that, within some circles, had reservations about the morality and efficacy of biomedicine in the nineteenth century. Along with Akan Christians, these missionaries in Ghana followed local Akan healing practices before the colonial period was formalized, contrary to a pervasive discourse condemning local religion and healing as un-Christian. Around 1885, however, a radical shift in healing practices occurred within the mission and in Germany that corresponded to both the Bacteriological Revolution and the formal colonial period. In 1885 the first medical missionary from Basel arrived in Ghana, while at the same time missionaries began supporting biomedicine exclusively. This posed a great problem for Akan Christians, who began to seek Akan healers covertly. Akan Christians argued with their European coreligionists that Akan healing was a form of culturally relative therapy, not a rival theology.

Affiliations: 1: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA;, Email:


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