De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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The people surveyed did not usually differentiate between the different bones, muscles or joints that make up the human body as they do not distinguish them as anatomic units. Consequently, they do not usually have names for them.

Generic terms such as carne [flesh] in Spanish or haragiak in Basque (Bermeo-B) to describe human muscle. In Bermeo, they use this term in contrast to okelea, meat, which is used to refer to animal meat for human consumption.

In that same town of Bizkaia, some popular terms were only found when referring to bones. Hazurrak is the term used for them. The bone marrow is called hazurreko una; the skull, kalaberea or karabelea; and the spine, lepoko bizkerra, bizkarreko hazurra, bizkazurra, errosarioa and espiñazoa.

Bone fractures

Fractures, usually traumatic in origin, have been treated by healthcare staff of late. Even so, folk remedies were reported to set the bones and people often resorted to skilled healers in that regard.

The majority of the remedies refer to the splinting of the broken bone. Yet some treatments prior to that operation were described and, in some cases, they seem to be the only ones, in other words, the injury was not then splinted.

Bonesetters, hezur-konpontzaileak

Bonesetters who, as the name indicates, set broken bones and cure dislocations and were common figures in the majority of the areas studied. Each population or each district had its own from whom the injured from the surrounding area would seek help. Some of them were so famous that the patients travelled considerable distances. It should also be noted that healers belonged to families carrying on the tradition and some of them gained experience by setting the animal bones before moving on to people.

Sprains, zaintiratuak, and dislocations, bihurdurak

Popular parlance does not make a clear difference between sprains, strains or twists, on the one hand, and luxation or dislocation, on the other hand. In fact, several of those terms have entered in popular speech of late as people have heard them used by healthcare workers and in the media.

Remedies for twists

In Agurain (A), a decoction made out of walnut leaves is prepared to treat twists and contusions. After boiling the leaves in the water, the injured part of the body is put in this liquid, which should be as hot as possible, and kept them for approximately a quarter of an hour.

In Goizueta (N), heat had to be applied on the injured area in the case of twists, biurritzea. Cornflour was heated in a pan until it was golden and it was then placed in a bag that was placed on the twisted limb. Meanwhile another bag was prepared to replace the first one when it got cold.

Appendix: zantiratua

Zantiratua is a popular practice made up of three components; an empirical one consisting of rubbing oil with their fingers in the injured area; another magical one which involved symbolising the union of the strain by means of stitching a cloth, and a third religious one that refers to the prayers said during the treatment and the signs of the crosses made over the injury.

It is mainly applied to wrist and ankle sprains; and sometimes to stiff necks. It seems to be a practice in Bizkaia to judge from the places where it was reported. Some of the centres of this custom were precisely the towns of Gernika, Ajangiz, Maruri, Gerrikaiz and Bedia[1]. This practice is called zantiretua / zantiritua in Abadiano, Bermeo, Busturia, Durango, Gorozika (B) and zanatena in Lemoiz (B).

The word zain in Basque has the meaning of nerve, vein or root and has literally come to mean stretching of the nerve or the vein, an idea that is reflected by some of the treatments, as the phrases and acts that were performed before the patient reflected that concept regarding the pathology of the injury[2].

Other references were made in that regard, such as the fact that it was carried out by women. In the different communities where it was reported, they also referred to the use of a plant called zanbedarra (literally tendon herb). In reality, it is at least two species belonging to the Plantago genus, which is characterised for having lanceolate leaves on the back of which the nervures can be clearly seen and which run parallel to the base of the apex. Both its name and its curative application may come from that similarity between its nerves and the veins and tendons in human limbs.

According to Barriola, if a person experienced muscular pain due to violent exercise or any other reasons, the healer would diagnose a strain, zaintiratua, or the tearing of the tendon insertions, zanetena. It would seem logical to think that tear could be repaired with a few stitches to join the separate parts. Given that this operation was impossible to perform directly on the tendon or muscle, thanks to sympathetic magic, the stitches just had to be made on any fabric placed on the injury Thus, the zaintiratua was cured by making stitches with a needle and a piece of unknotted thread, which would go backward and forwards through a piece of canvas, but better a sock, and not only for a leg or foot, but even for a stiff neck, while the healer said:

Zain tiratu zain urratu
zaña bere tokian sartu.
(Tendon stretched/ tendon torn/ the tendon enters in its place).

The operation would end with an Our Father, Hail Mary or the Creed being said, depending on the place, and covering the limb with the same cloth, after rubbing, or with lovage leaves, zainbedarra, soaked in oil. In the case of a stiff neck, the needle going through the canvas managed to undo the knot that had formed, rather than “sewing” the strain[3].

  1. Jose Miguel de BARANDIARAN. Mitología vasca. Madrid: 1960, p. 44.
  2. Angel GOIKOETXEA. Capítulos de la medicina popular vasca. Salamanca: 1983, p. 104.
  3. Ignacio Mª BARRIOLA. La medicina popular en el País Vasco. San Sebastián: 1952, pp. 85-86