From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Popular Medicine in Vasconia is the result of ethnographic research done by a number of Etniker Euskalerria groups under the direction of Ander Manterola. This latest volume is the sixth contribution to the Ethnographical Atlas designed and commenced by José Miguel de Barandiaran. Volumes published to date are Home Food (1990, republished in 1999), Children’s Games (1993), Funeral Rites (1995), Rites from Birth to Marriage (1998) and Cattle and Sheep Farming (2000).

Like the other contributions planned for the Ethnographical Atlas, all six books published to date take a detailed look at different aspects of life in Vasconia. The work as a whole is designed to study traditional culture as recorded in the 20th century and the changes affecting it in that period.

Fieldwork was carried out in Vasconia, a region of Western Europe straddling the French and Spanish Pyrenees between the river Adour to the north and the Ebro to the south. Two administrations in the area are part of the Spanish state system (the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country and the neighbouring Charter Community of Navarra) and the other is part of the French Pyrénées Atlantiques département. Measuring some 20,531 square kilometres, Vasconia has a population of 2,900,728 (the 1999 census for French Vasconia and the 2001 census for Spanish Vasconia).

In all, fieldwork covered fifty-eight towns and villages in the Spanish provinces of Álava, Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa and Navarra, and the areas of Bas-Navarre, Lapurdi and Zuberoa on the northern side of the Pyrenees. The main criterion governing the choice of places to be surveyed was the regional diversity of the target territory and the kind of zones (rural, urban and coastal) to be found there. The ethnographical survey comes from the Guide for an ethnographical survey (Chap. 2. Domestic Group Customs) published by Barandiaran in 1974 and corresponds specifically to the questions referring to Illness and Medicine (questions 46 to 170).

Prepared and written up at the Ethnography Department of the Labayru Institute, the volume is based on the information obtained from the fieldwork. The material collected is ordered and displayed in accordance with the conception people have of the human body, their interpretations of illnesses and disorders and the general importance given to health and sickness.

The analysis of popular reactions to disease and illness begins with the head, continues with the skin, internal organs and arms and legs. Disorders and anomalies of the reproductive cycle, children’s ailments and popular medicine are dealt with separately.

Popular Medicine in Vasconia’s opening chapters explain the way people understood the body and its environment and the symptoms and the general remedies applied when high temperatures and fever indicated that something was wrong. Also dealt with are transpiration and massages as the initial remedy for aching joints and muscles and respiratory problems. Space is also given to folk medicine, alternative medicines to allopathy, resorted to above all in fractures and dislocations, and the medicines kept at home.

Head, teeth, eyes and ears and the problems affecting them figure in the first four chapters of the work. Three long chapters deal with disorders of the skin, which undoubtedly has the most known remedies of any branch of popular medicine. The first of these deals with lesions and irritations, the second with infections and contagious diseases and the last with skin marks and blemishes, the hair and nails.

Blood is the subject of a single chapter; others dealing with the internal organs are structured around respiratory diseases, the stomach and intestines, the liver, kidneys and other viscera. Of the two chapters on bones and rheumatic illnesses, one deals with lumbago, the other with fractures and dislocations. The sections on lesions are divided into wounds, haemorrhages and the extraction of thorns, animal and insect bites and, finally, frostbite, sunstroke, drowning and lightning. The chapter on reproduction deals with menstruation, problems affecting breast-feeding mothers, sterility, fertility and the menopause. A further two chapters are devoted to children’s ailments. The work ends with a couple of chapters on popular beliefs about the causes of some illnesses and their specific treatments, and on health and popular religion, prompted by a study of the customs relating to hermitages and sanctuaries believed to protect the health of pilgrims and cure certain diseases.

Like the previous volumes in the series, this book includes an introduction explaining the project and the methodology used, plus information about the natural and human environment, geographical data of the places surveyed, references, together with a thematic and analytical index.