…I have had no official training in healthcare; however, my mother was a midwife and herbalist, and I learned much from her during my homeschool years on the Tennessee farm…
I lived and worked among the Kumboi people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea during 1997-1998. I was the first white person they had ever seen. They affectionately named me “mbiny kuloi ai yande,” the albino daughter. I spent most of my time there alone except for a couple of visits from my younger brother, “mba kuloi,” the albino boy. I was there to teach literacy and compile a translation of the New Testament in their language, but healthcare inevitably took up some of my time. I have had no official training in healthcare; however, my mother was a midwife and herbalist, and I learned much from her during my homeschool years on the Tennessee farm.
The main health problems in those mountains were infections of all sorts, from skin boils and abscessed wounds to lung conditions like pneumonia–and of course, malaria. Rather than destroy their precariously built immune systems with antibiotics, I planted a huge garlic garden and explored the uses of that smelly herb. The village ladies were enthusiastic. We tried everything from garlic poultices on external infections and internal doses for parasites (we also used pumpkin seeds for that), to enemas (what a job explaining the civilized reasoning behind enemas!) for pretty much everything. They were instructed how to use a clove in the ear for ear infections, hot-garlic chest poultices for lung infections, a few drops of diluted garlic water on an infected umbilical cord and a warm washcloth saturated with diluted garlic water on the baby’s belly. Mothers were taught the benefits of using garlic poultices on general infections, and how the ingesting of garlic by mothers could help prevent any afterbirth infections due to prolapsed uterus, etc.
I cannot give garlic all the credit for the success we had; I’m certain that God, as usual, was working miracles for some of the cases we faced that we might not otherwise have had either the skill or knowledge to treat properly. But the most encouraging thing about the use of garlic in rural conditions is that, when I left that village, I did not take my medical care with me; it remained there in a little aromatic patch in the middle of those thatched huts and has continued to heal a multitude of diseases.
Kumboi Birth Traditions
Among the highland Kumboi people in Papua New Guinea, a woman in labor must leave the village and go to a banana patch some distance from the village. A sister will accompany her and build a crude shelter to keep them out of the rain. The baby is born on banana leaves and kept outside the village with the mother for about two weeks, or until the cord has dried up and the mother’s bleeding has stopped. There are many taboos that go along with this primitive ritual: foods the mother may not eat, gardens she may not enter for at least three months, and people she may not talk to.
Birthing in the banana patch is mainly for the purpose of keeping the mess outside of the village, and it also serves to give the baby a better chance to avoid infections from the chickens and pigs that run around the village. As soon as the baby is born, the midwife/sister takes it to a cold mountain stream and washes it in the frigid water. Together with the high altitude and the mothers’ lack of understanding about the need for warm clothing for infants, babies are often subjected to cold and are much more susceptible to sickness, leading to premature death in far too many cases. If the child lives as long as two years, it is finally given a name, because the chances of long-term survival are now much greater.
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Rebekah Joy Anast