Medicinal root, Sierra Leone

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It’s all about a specimen of medicinal wood which, last week, was selected by Museum volunteers for a handling table at the hospital in Manchester.  It started off as a mystery – just something i pulled out of the drawer – but has been a fascinating tale of where it came from and how it came to the museum.  Here are the notes for volunteers.

Bangba for kidney trouble. (EM536152)

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This was a bit of a mystery specimen as initially we didn’t know much other than what was written on the label, although this is common in museum stores.  Since then I have found out about the collector.   The label tells us 5 things.

  1. Bangba.  The box contains some lengths of wood – branches from a tree or shrub.  I don’t know what the name of the tree is that this wood comes from.  Bangba must be a common name for this wood in Sierra Leone.  It would probably have been used by healer (once known as a witch doctor) who would use traditional healing.
  2. The label tells us it is “for kidney trouble”.  We will have to guess how they would have used this specimen – to cure or ease symptoms?  The wood might have been chewed raw, or boiled and chewed, or crushed in a pestle and mortar to make a paste. They might have eaten the paste or spread it on their body! It might have been burned and the aroma inhaled.
  3. The date: 11/2/04 would be 11th Feb 1904.  It’s not likely to be 1804 because we have so few specimens that old and so many collected around 1904 (and the writing is the right style for that period).  It’s definately not 2004 as I’ve been working at the museum since before then!  It is important that collectors write the date in full on each item to prevent any confusion in years to come.  The date on a specimen is usually the date it was collected – that is, picked (in the case of a plant).
  4. Sierra Leone is the country in Africa that this specimen comes from.  It’s on the west coast of Africa.  We have about 30 other specimens of root, all collected in Sierra Leone by Ridyard: Igie Atah for toothache, Bubi water for piles, Ojo Ologbo for yellow fever or how about  Shacoo root for animal passion!
  5. “Coll.” stands for collected by.  The collector was Arnold Ridyard, a Liverpool merchant, who travelled the coast of West Africa from Sierra Leone to Angola accepting donations from, and making purchases from, local Africans in the different countries visited.  The World Museum Liverpool website says this about him: Between 1895 and 1916 Arnold Ridyard, a Chief Engineer with the Elder Dempster shipping line, transported over 2000 artefacts from West and Central Africa to the museum.  Many of Ridyard’s objects are at World Museum Liverpool.

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There is an entry in the botany register for this group of specimens. They seem to have been purchased from a Mr Entwistle by Ridyard, who then presented them to the museum in 1904.  (This means the date on the label was the date of donation, not the date of collecting).  There is also an entry in the Report of the Manchester Museum Committee 1904-1905: “Arnold Ridyard.- specimens of medicinal roots from Sierra Leone.” So – no longer a mystery! (Although I don’t think they are all roots.)

The wood is robust and can be handled, but visitors should wash their hands afterwards.  The box, especially the glass lid is quite delicate.  The card edges of the lid can sometimes bend and tear.

Contact the museum to find out where the handling table will be, and the dates.

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