BLACK SOCIAL HISTORY JOHN AUGUSTUS ABAYOMI-COLE
DISTINGUISHED MEDICAL DOCTOR AND HERBALIST
John Augustus Abayomi-Cole was a man of many skills. He was an eminent medical doctor and herbalist, a teacher, a preacher, John Augustus Abayomi-Cole a farmer, a manufacturer, and a politician.
Dr. Abayomi-Cole was born in 1848 of Sierra Leonean parents in Abeokuta, Nigeria. At an early age, he lived with his uncle, Archdeacon Robbin, who was a Sierra Leonean missionary in Nigeria. When Archdeacon Robbin returned to Freetown, he brought young Abayomi-Cole with him. In Freetown he was put under the tutelage of the great A.B.C. Sibthorpe at Hastings, and was later sent to the C.M.S. Grammar School where he completed his secondary education.
On leaving school, he taught at the Evangelical United Brethren Church School at Shenge in Sherbro country, and in his mid-twenties he left for the United States of America where he was ordained a Minister in the American Wesleyan Methodist church. He later qualified as a medical doctor and became a Fellow of the Society of Apothecaries (F.S.A.) of the United States. Shortly thereafter, he became an affiliate of the National Association of Medical Herbalists in Great Britain.
Combining his scientific training with a wealth of knowledge on the healing properties of traditional herbs, roots and leaves, Dr. Abayomi-Cole's fame soon spread to all parts of Sierra Leone, and even to neighbouring Liberia. His cures were a mixture of the orthodox and the traditional. He cured rheumatic pains, skin diseases such as "alay", nervous and eye diseases, etc. During the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, he invented a preparation of "tea-bush", "camphor", lime and spirit which saved many lives at a time when the influenza death toll was so high that people were buried in trenches in Freetown and other world capitals. One of his well-known preparations as an antidote for poison, "ekpa", is still used in Krio villages homes in the Western Area. It is also used as a remedy for various stomach disorders.
Dr. Abayomi-Cole's herbal practice became more popular and lucrative than those of medical practitioners who had studied orthodox medicine in Britain, and he became a scientific and medical adviser to Governor Sir Leslie Probyn.
At the turn of the century, malaria was the greatest scourge of West Africa, and was taking a deadly toll particularly of Europeans. Dr. Abayomi-Cole was called upon by the Colonial Government to help combat the disease. He made an effective preparation of herbs, containing as its main ingredients "broomstone" leaves and "agiri". But he found that his cured patients returned within a few weeks with the same symptoms. Through intensive medical research, he was able to establish that poor environmental sanitation was the root cause of the relapse—mosquitoes were breeding in stagnant pools of water around houses. He organised groups of voluntary workers known as "mosquito missionaries" who went from compound to compound advising people on the necessity of keeping their living areas clean. The scheme worked so well that the Colonial Government later paid the volunteers monthly.
Although he is known mainly as a medical doctor and herbalist, Dr. Abayomi-Cole also turned his attention to other pursuits. He was engaged in agriculture and, among other things, he produced and cured tobacco. He also produced brandy, sugar and soap, all of very high quality. In politics, he joined, formed or inspired the formation of pressure groups with the aim of defending and upholding the rights, dignity, and respect of his black brothers and sisters in the face of the racial arrogance and authoritarian tendencies of colonial officials.
Dr. Abayomi-Cole lived to the great age of ninety-two years, and his active and productive life in so many fields of endeavour stands as a glowing example of enterprise, imagination and versatility worthy of recognition and emulation.