Drug Therapy in Traditional Western Samoan and Polynesian Medicine

Drug Histories
Drug Therapy in Traditional Western Samoan and Polynesian Medicine

In our last episode we looked at Traditional Australian Aboriginal Drug Therapy. In this episode we move to Polynesia and look at Drug Therapy in Traditional Western Samoan and Polynesian Medicine.

We start off with an article by Seeseei and others, published on the 9th of November 2021, in the Proceedings of the National Acedemy of Sciences of the United States of America, in which they discuss a study that has shown that the leaves of the Samoan tree, matalafi, are as good at relieving inflammation as ibuprofen[1]. As discussed by Bob Yirka of the Medical Express[2],

“For hundreds of years, natives of Samoa have been using the leaves of the matalafi tree to treat a wide variety of inflammation related ailments, including injuries, wounds, and elephantiasis. It was not until recently that modern science took notice and began to look at the leaves, as well. …. After discovering that material in the plant leaves reduced inflation, they compared its efficacy against one of the most popular drugs used to treat inflammation—ibuprofen. They found that the leaves were equally effective in treating inflammation.

The researchers suggest more work is required to further isolate the chemicals in the leaves that reduce inflammation and to make sure that their use does not result in unintended negative side effects. Of particular interest is determining whether the chemicals in the leaves can be mass produced in a factory, and if so, whether the resulting therapeutic has fewer side effects than ibuprofen.”

In 1974, American Samoa benefited from a comprehensive study of indigenous medicine carried out by the Office of Comprehensive Health Planning, Department of Medical Services, American Samoa Government. The study resulted in a publication by Charles R. McCuddin, Director, Office of Comprehensive Health Planning, entitled, “Samoan Medicinal Plants and Their Usage.” A second edition, revised and updated in 2001, is available from the University of Hawaii as a PDF download[3].  The publication gives some useful insights on medicine and drug therapy among the Samoan Polynesian communities. It gives useful background information on Samoan medicine. We find out that little is known about indigenous Samoan medicine before contact with Europeans. We therefore make references about long-standing practices among Samoans based on observations at first contact and ongoing practices to this day.

cottages in the middle of beach
Photo by Julius Silver on Pexels.com

[1] Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni et al, Functional genomics and metabolomics advance the ethnobotany of the Samoan traditional medicine “matalafi”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021).  DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2100880118

[2] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-11-traditional-samoan-medicine-effective-ibuprofen.html

[3] https://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/adap/publications/adap_pubs/1993-1.pdf;  accessed 27 February 2022.  

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