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This chapter considers one of the most common symptoms of many diseases and illnesses - fever - and the measures used to counter it. At the same time, the data collected in the surveyed locations regarding other types of fever other than an ordinary temperature and the remedies used are set out. The methods used to cause sweating, considered to be so important in folklore, are also described. There is also a section on the methods, procedures and articles used to apply poultices and rubs, and the most common illnesses for which they were used.

Fever or temperature, sukarra

The data collected mainly attribute a fever to an infection in the human body. In Moreda, Valdegovía (A); Tiebas, Sangüesa and Viana (N), they said that a fever comes when there is something wrong in the body and it is not functioning properly. An identical answer was given in the surveys in Abadiano, Amorebieta-Etxano, Durango (B); Astigarraga and Beasain (G), where they said that a fever, sukarra, is a sign of the ups and downs of the body and is indicative that something is wrong, the first symptom of some illnesses or that something is not working properly in the body.


There are different words in Basque to refer to a fever and to its different types. Our surveys found that the most common names are sukarra in Gipuzkoa, Navarra and Iparralde and kalentura in Bizkaia and the Álava and Gipuzkoa areas of the Bizkaia dialect.

Fever-related illnesses

Whether someone had a fever, sukarra, commonly called a temperature, kalentura in Basque, was calculated in the past by putting the palm of the hand or the cheek against the forehead. A thermometer placed in the armpit then began to be used to measure the body temperature. As not every house had one, a thermometer, like other items, would be borrowed from a neighbour who did have one. Nowadays, every home has one.

Remedies for ordinary or flu-like temperatures

In the past, and sometimes still today, different mechanisms were used to make the patients sweat, including inhaling, vapours and applying poultices to lower the sick person’s temperature. In some places, the patient’s body was rubbed with white spirits, vinegar and nettles were applied to the body or they were given herbal teas made from different plants. Sick people were generally kept in bed to make them sweat, with blankets and hot-water bottles to keep them warm, and they would also be made to wrap up and drink hot milk. When the patient “broke into a sweat”, the clothes were changed so they did not get wet.

Remedies against Malta fevers and typhoid fever

The information on Bedarona (B) was taken as an example for this section. If a member of the family fell ill with typhoid fever, great care was taken to make sure that the neighbours were not infected. The sick person's clothes could not be washed in the river and their faeces had to be buried and covered with lime. If the patient recovered, all their clothes, furniture, belongings, etc were taken to the estufa in the local main town, Ea. It was a room with sulphurous gases, a disinfection facility that was located 200 m from the town. The healer from the neighbouring town of Ispaster would go to the homes of the typhus patients at night, when their relatives asked for her services.


There are many afflictions that require people to sweat or they improve if they are made to. Sweating will be described as yet another one of the remedies applied to the patient in the following chapters. General reference is made here to its suitability and its wide application for the diseases as established in our surveys and the reasons on which the people surveyed base this view. Vapours and inhaling, steam baths and the pharmaceutical remedies used today to sweat should be added to the methods listed in this section.

Illnesses where sweating is used

The Ribera Alta (A) information has been taken as the reference for this section. The belief in the curative virtues of sweating and heat was so entrenched in that village that when someone was in bed with a fever, they would not even drink a drop of water while they had a temperature. The most allowed would be to wet the lips of the patient with a little water if the thirst proved to be unbearable.

Measures to make people sweat

In the majority of places surveyed, the remedies were often not applied in isolation, but were accumulative. Thus, for example, to make the patient sweat, they could be successively given rubs or have baths, inhale eucalyptus vapours, drink hot milk with hot or spirits and rest under a pile of blankets on a bed heated by a gadget providing warmth.

Rubs, igurzketak

Rubs are massages that are applied on the sick area of the body where they were required. The part in question is rubbed using the hands applying more or less pressure as required. The person applies the rub by moving their hands backwards and forwards or round and round. The rub is applied using hands smeared with the liquid or ointment required. There are times when a cloth, brush or plants are used.

Illnesses where rubs are used

In the majority of places, the lay term used is "give a rub”. In Nabarniz (B), there is an equivalent in Basque, bañoa emon, and the rubs are used to make the patient or part of their body “get hot”, make it easier to sweat and improve blood circulation.

The cases or illnesses where the surveys indicated that rubs were used to relieve the condition are grouped together as follows: pains in joints, back pain, rheumatism, lumbago, stiff neck; colds, chills, flu, fever; knocks, bumps, sprains, cramps and pulled muscles.