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This first chapter seeks to answer the initial questions raised by the Etniker survey, in the section on diseases and medicines. The aim was to sound out the people's attitude by means of the interpretation that they give to certain body features or the impact that the environment, food and clothing has on health. Reference was also made to the folk knowledge about the symptoms of the illness, the causes of it, the signs indicating convalescence and the ways to keep healthy.

The results obtained are not exactly the ones sought when the survey was drawn up; in recent decades, people have significantly changed their past perception of the human body, as well as about health and illness. Even so, data can still be collected on a former culture that is gradually being taken over by the empiricism that characterises the current attitude.

The body

The folk knowledge about the human body, obviously, comes from its observation. Yet, this examination is by definition superficial and anything under the skin is difficult to access. This problem was overcome to some extent by palpation, by means of which the bone setters obtained valuable information. Another source of knowledge, by analogy, was the slaughtering of domesticated animals, particularly pigs. Much of the lay knowledge about anatomy, about internal organs and their layout, is the result of observing when the slaughtered animals were gutted and jointed.

Temperament, jenioak, izakerak

In the locations surveyed, temperament is divided into two main groups, calm and nervous. In Donoztiri (BN), the first category is a temperate person, who is serene and fair, and used to be described as “odol ezkia dik horrek” (that one has temperate blood); the other is a person who is easily irritated, who was described as "kexua dek hori” (that one is restless).

Environmental influence

A popular belief is that our environment influences our state of heath. Importance is given to weather and the influence of the summer heat and winter cold is obvious, but wind also has an impact. The effect of the seasonal changes and the moon on health is also taken into account.


The people surveyed mentioned the influence that weather events have on health. They thus praised the benevolence of the rain, snow and ice in winter. They referred to the harm caused by excess humidity and believe that the northerly wind, ipar-haizea, is healthier than the sultry weather with a southerly wind.

The changing of the seasons and phases of the moon

The changing of the seasons, particularly at the start of spring and autumn, are believed to have a certain impact on health. They are said to be related to gastric problems, particularly ulcers, and to colds. The arrival of spring is also related to the exacerbation of skin diseases. Yet this changing of the seasons, according to the people surveyed, is mainly linked to blood and all the associated diseases.

Clothing. Jantzi osasungarriak eta kaltegarriak

The people surveyed believe that clothes woven using natural products are healthier than those made of synthetic fibres.

Special mention should be made of the great esteem for flax in the past because the garments made out of this plant fibre stopped the body experiencing sharp changes in temperature (Zerain-G).

Name of the illnesses

The people surveyed told us that in the early decades of the 20th century and even later, village people in general identified illnesses as pains, miñak, and as afflictions, gaitzak.

When the affliction was inside the body and severe, it was called colic. There were kidney and liver colic and the colic known as miserere[1], which included several types of stomach afflictions, all of which were serious and included bowel obstruction.

Epidemics. Izurriak

When a contagious disease turned into an epidemic in a specific location or region, its impact on the social life was extraordinary. Some of those epidemics that occurred eighty or hundred years ago still live on in local residents’ memory. Two of them are particularly remembered by the people surveyed: the cholera epidemic in 1885 and the 1918 flu epidemic.

Quarantine and insolating the ill

Isolating the ill was the general and urgent remedy for contagious diseases and to stop them for spreading. In the cases of epidemic or plague, the sick were isolated in Lazarettos or hospitals; in other cases, the ill person was kept in quarantine at home.

Contemporary transitions

Among the transitions seen in domestic healthcare during the 20th century, the people surveyed highlighted as the most significant the increase in standard of living as the result of improving hygiene conditions, the medical culture being disseminated to all households thanks to the media and access to the services that public healthcare offers.

Food and household hygiene

The running water pipelines and the sewer systems introduced in all the towns and villages of the territory surveyed have helped to improve hygiene thanks to the installation of hot water, toilets and bathrooms as the most significant progress in everyday life to prevent many diseases. Furthermore, the installation of electricity in rural areas has led to the proliferation of washing machines, fridges and other household appliances that provide greater wellbeing that benefits health. Heating is another positive factor that helps prevent people from getting sick.

Social Security System

Healthcare and medical treatment has markedly progressed with the spread of the Social Security System. Some places that only had one or two general practitioners now have a supramunicipal outpatient centre with different specialities: paediatrics, clinical tests, rehabilitation, etc. Admissions to hospitals and clinics and particularly hospital births are now commonplace. New specialist areas, such as masseurs and hygienists, have appeared and have replaced the traditional healing practices. It is now usually to go to the medical centre for any health problem.

Preventive medicine

Preventive medicine is also flourishing and they are many people who try to keep healthy so as not to get sick.

Workers have annually medical check-ups in many companies.

Older people regularly go to have their blood pressure taken and their cholesterol levels to be measured. They also take part in the annual flu vaccination campaigns as winter approaches and women take part in breast cancer prevention campaigns, run by the public health service. Children are vaccinated as recommend by the paediatrician and are taken to the relevant specialist as soon as any injury or malformation is noticed.

  1. This name reflected its fulminating nature; in fact, Miserere (Have mercy) is the first word of Psalm 50 which was sang during the burial, i.e., as the corpse was carried into to the church.