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As skin-related diseases can be seen directly, they have always been more the focus of the different types of folk medicine. It has been said that people's souls suffer more than their bodies and purely psychological processes are frequently externalised in dermatology[1].

Bathing in the sea and sunbathing in moderation were recommended as a general remedy for skin diseases. In some towns, they recalled that clay (Muskiz-B) and sulphur water (Abadiano-B; Aoiz, Murchante, San Martín de Unx-N) baths were also used. Curing skin diseases is associated with blood (Agurain-A).

The most common diseases along with the remedies found by our surveys are described in the chapters on skin diseases. A single disease is often known by different names from place to place. Thus, the names and descriptions of ringworm & scabies; scabies, eczema and herpes; eczema and psoriasis; hives and psoriasis, spots and boils…. are mixed. According to Ángel Goicoetxea, skin diseases are one of the medical specialities where there are numerous synonyms for a single disease, and where the great similarity between them makes it difficult, even for a specialist, to differentiate between them[2].

Skin lesions

In general, skins lesions seem very similar to each other due to the damage, injuries and marks on the skin and that is also the case with the treatments used where they are also very much alike. It is thus seen that water, soap, oil and lard, onion and even the plant remedies were used interchangeably for wounds, burns, cuts or cracks in the skin.

Burns, erreak

Once a burn occurs, it is estimated that it progressively penetrates, cunde, into the tissue during the following nine days, after which it begins to heal[3] (Carranza-B, Telleriarte-G). The Bermeo survey (B) includes an informant from Laukiz (B) who claimed that the burns or blisters "come out" or emerge 9 days after being burnt. There was also the popular belief that burns would be cured without doing anything after nine days (Berganzo-A).

As the majority of burns have been in the home, home treatments have been used as they were/are not serious. A fast response is needed to the accident to relieve the pain and prevent water blisters or ampolas from being formed (Carranza-B).

Skin cracking. Itzebakiak

Causes and names

The skin cracks, particularly on the hands, when the skin is subjected to sharp temperature contrasts or when carrying out hard manual work. Lip cracking and lip herpes, which are a type of cold sores or injuries on the lips, appear when people have colds (Amézaga de Zuya-A).

In Allo (N), quebrazas are the cracks that form on the most exposed skin, such as hands and knees, which young men suffered from during the winter. Skin corrosion burnt by the sun were mentioned in Apodaca (A) and Muskiz (B). In Nabarniz (B), the cracks were called ebaiak; epaiak in Bedarona (B); in Elosua (G), cold cracking of the toes are called itzebaia; in Ataun (G), cracks on hands are known as itzautsiak and in Hondarribia (G), cuts in the skin of the hands caused by cold are called artasia.

Calluses, maskurrak


A corn (on the foot) is a localised thickening of the skin, along with cornification of the central part, dot or eye, which sinks inside the surrounding tissue and which is painful when pressed (Arrasate-G). It is different from a foot verruca or foot wart. In Hondarribia (G), they say that a corn is the old skin that surfaces pushed up by other younger layers. In Berganzo (A) and Berastegi (G), they say that corns are never cured and appear again after a while.

In Carranza (B), the calluses that form on the palms of the hands when working with tools are considered beneficial, as they harden the hands, make the work less painful and stop blisters appearing. In a rural area, having "soft hands” is almost nearly the same as being considered lazy. The people interviewed said that the type of blister indicates whether or not a person has the right hands for the job. If they are water blisters, the hands are perfect for manual work, but if they are blood blisters, they show that the person has soft hands, which are not right for that work.

The data collected in the surveys mainly refer to foot corns and calluses and these are mainly put down to the use of the wrong footwear and more specifically to the shoes being hard and rubbing.

  1. Ángel GOICOETXEA. Las enfermedades cutáneas en la medicina popular vasca. Bilbao: 1982, pp. 9-11.
  2. Ángel GOICOETXEA. Las enfermedades cutáneas en la medicina popular vasca. Bilbao: 1982, pp. 11-12. The same idea is also expressed in Antón ERKOREKA. Análisis de la medicina popular vasca. Bilbao: 1985, p. 205.
  3. This recalls the old myth, according to which, lightning, oneztarri, sinks down to ;the depth of seven states or levels upon falling to the earth; it slowly begins to rise one state per year until after seven years it reaches and surface and then protects the house when the lightning struck. See José Miguel de BARANDIARAN. Diccionario Ilustrado de Mitología Vasca. Bilbao: 1972.