Disputas: MA Mesele Terecha Kebede

MA Mesele Terecha Kebede ved Institutt for helse og samfunn vil forsvare sin avhandling for graden ph.d: «Society Unhealed: Leprosy and Identity in 20th Century Ethiopia».

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Se prøveforelesning.


  • Førsteopponent: Assistant Professor John Manton, Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Andreopponent: Professor Michael Worboys, Centre for History of Science, technology and Medicine, University of Manchester
  • Komiteleder: Professor emeritus Stein A. Evensen, Institutt for klinisk medisin, Universitetet i Oslo

Leder av disputas

Professor emeritus Per Hjortdahl, Institutt for helse og samfunn, Universitetet i Oslo


Professor Christoph Gradmann, Institutt for helse og samfunn, Universitetet i Oslo


During the 20th Century, the social image of the Ethiopian leprosy-affected person reduced from the grace of holiness to the shame of a public health danger instructing the very title of this dissertation: “Society Unhealed!” After centuries of self-isolation from the rest world, the 20th century unfolded with the introductions of Western knowledge, ideas, and practices, catching Ethiopians with growing mixed feelings of hopes, uncertainties and disdain. At the heart of these mixed feelings laid the survival of the political independence of the country amidst major European colonial powers and the need of sustaining that political independence. Since informed Ethiopian rulers and their Western educated progressive supporters found the Western modernization to have been the only means to ensure the long-standing survival of the political independence of the country, the notion of leprosy as a contagious disease and ‘lepers’ as a public health danger became one of the earliest Western idea and practice to take a foothold in Ethiopian society. Started as a joint venture of the missionary groups’ interest of evangelization and the progressive Ethiopians’ programs of hygienic modernization, the contagious conception of leprosy and its related social socio-medical constructions were further transformed and consolidated in the post-1941 period as a trilateral-mission of evangelization, hygienic modernism and humanitarian leprosy control initiatives. Nonetheless, from the very divisive nature of the Ethiopian modernization, either in transforming the pre-existing Ethiopian popular ideas and practices of leprosy or in embracing indigenous Ethiopian institutions, the modern contagious ideas and practices of leprosy encountered major contradictions from the pre-existing Ethiopian popular conceptions and related socio-medical constructions. Apart from such a major drawback, however, the 20th century saw major changes around the disease of leprosy. It was a century in which the healing practices of the disease transferred from the hands of superstitious healers, witch doctors and herbalists into the hands of trained medical practitioners; its remedies transformed from different superstitious healings and herbal therapies, first into chaulmoogra oil injections, and then into the DDS mono-drug  and multi-drug chemotherapies; its care work to the victims transformed from individual-oriented sporadic almsgivings first into the hands missionary superintended leprosaria, and then into the state-missions-humanitarian organizations trilaterally ran agricultural rehabilitations. Even, the causative agent of the disease, M. Leprae, was scientifically reduced to an object of study at the laboratory of the AHRI.

The dissertation has primarily been proposed to investigate challenges, constraints and achievements of the Ethiopian modern leprosy prophylaxes thereby demonstrating how the socio-medical constructions of leprosy-affected communities changed with or persisted in the changing grand Ethiopian/global socio-cultural, political, and above all, medical contexts during the 20th  century. Identifying two distinct communities whose overall social identities have been defined by the hereditary and contagious causative conceptions of leprosy, it traces changes in the patterns of conceptual and related socio-medical responses concerning leprosy and leprosy-affected persons in modern Ethiopian society. Beyond the immediate spheres of medicine, therapeutics and institutional evolutions of leprosaria, it examines larger thematic contexts that directly or indirectly influenced the modern history of leprosy/leprosy-affected persons in Ethiopia. As such, it deals with themes as the socio-religious meanings/virtues/roles of leprosy/leprosy-affected persons in Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity including almsgivings and the spiritual roles of leprosy-affected persons, aspects of Ethiopian modernization and the roles/underlying motives of actors involved in it including missionary groups, Ethiopian progressive reformist intellectuals, the Ethiopian state and traditionalists, and major political changes and their challenges. It analyzes the role of modern medicine in negotiating those converging, at times conflicting, rival interest groups that involved in Ethiopian modern leprosy prophylactic interventions. The dissertation required over a decade extensive research work involving archives, oral sources, and other published and unpublished primary and secondary sources.

The study subjects two communities whose overall social constructions were defined by the disease of leprosy. These were the Hamina song-mendicant itinerant and emergent enclave leprous settler communities. Being the Ethiopian version of the European Romani/Gypsy itinerant communities, the Hamina practiced itinerant song-mendicancy and other rituals to heal themselves from the spirit of a hereditary leprosy coming down from a legendary leper ancestor. Their socio-medical construction represent the age-old Orthodox Christian socio-religious-medical fabrics of leprosy. On the other hand, enclave leprous settler communities were the results of modern leprosy prophylactic interventions with contagious association since the turn of the 20th century. In the process of analyzing the socio-medical histories of those two separate leprosy-affected communities, the study identifies three main actors with three different underlying motives, i.e. indigenous socio-religious institutions with a motive of preserving the age-old traditional constructions (‘saving the tradition’), missionary groups with evangelization (‘saving the soul’) and Ethiopian progressive elites (later the state) with hygienic modernist nation building (‘saving the image of the nation’). The dissertation is organized into three main parts and ten chapters. It also furnished with illustrations, standard front- and back- matter components, and a chapter of epilogue. The finding of the study underscores, still leprosy constituted major social problems in Ethiopia, hence requiring meaningful social interventions as much as the medical ones over the last century. The study will be a contribution to socio-medical history. It will benefit scholars from different disciplines and future researchers on the history of the disease. Social workers, policymakers, public health practitioners, governmental and non-governmental organizations operating in Ethiopia may therefore utilize the findings for public benefits.

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Publisert 26. apr. 2017 15:25 - Sist endret 27. apr. 2017 08:42