Food and Folk Cures – I of III (The Beja Nomads of Egypt & Sudan)

Here is a training-learning exercise that is both useful and also fun to do, because it is participatory (‘interactive’) – while also generating information about how groups structure cause-prevention-cure relationships with regard to their health – and in the three cases to be discussed, how food or drink is related.

In this little exercise, I have taken a physical symptom (or illness) in three societies, and looked at the relationship among (1) what is thought to cause the problem,  (2) how the problem could be avoided in the first place,  and (3) commonly used folk cures once you have it.

As well, I am interested in learning about the relationship of food to these variables  – and in using the results of the exercises to generate discussions with the participants.

This is certainly not intended to provide exhaustive results, to suggest  strictly causal relationships, or to generate quantitative answers.  It is just  one of many approaches that I’ve found useful in exploring and understanding how groups or societies understand and explain themselves and their problems to themselves and to others,  and leads to other questions and areas of exploration.

In these three blogs I am looking at:

1.  The Beja nomads of Egypt-Sudan – Bodily weakness

2.  The Nile Valley (Egypt)                  – Common cold

3.  The USA                                               – Hiccups

1.  The Beja nomads of Egypt-Sudan – bodily weakness

In two earlier blogs I talked about the Beja and related tribes of SE Egypt and NE Sudan.  Their’s is an unremittingly harsh climate, fluctuating between extremes of heat and cold evenings.  Long marches between wells with their livestock have contributed to a spartan life in which liquids are carefully guarded and drunk only with need – except for tea, which is the social drink – specially for arriving guests.

An Ababdi family with their palm-leaf 'tent' - which is the common dwelling during the months of frequent camp movements.  The Ababdi are considered to belong to the Beja grouping, though Ababdi I've worked with generally don't agree.

An Ababdi family with their tent woven of palm-leaves - which is the common dwelling during the months of frequent camp movements. The Ababdi are considered to belong to the Beja grouping, though Ababdi I've worked with generally don't agree. Source: Zbigniew

Tents have changed little over the last 100 or so years - they are well-adapted to frequent moves and a harsh (hot) climate

Tents have changed little over the last 100 or so years - they are well-adapted to frequent moves and a harsh (hot) climate. This picture is late 19th. Century. Source: LC

Given the conditions in which these people live, it is not surprising that bodily weakness is a frequent complaint.   Here are the causes, preventative measures, and remedies that Beja recommend for weakness, as part of their folk cure repertoire:

Beja-Weakness Causes & Cures

Injections, called  hugn, were the preferred cure.  These were hypodermic injections given by traditional healers  – primarily just water – and were commonly used in conjunction with herbal drinks and sometimes Qur’anic charms.  As explained in a prior blog, it was not possible to treat most people by prescribing tablets unless these were also accompanied by an injection.  And taking of blood for examination was possible only when we also provided unlimited supplies of a fruit drink that was thought to help replace the blood loss.

Understanding the relationships among presumed cause, prevention and cure helped in our work to develop appropriate medical plans, and also to work with the Ministry of Health in promoting training for traditional healers.  It also provided useful information on the kinds of foods and drinks commonly associated with conditions of ‘weakness’.

The Egyptian and American folk categories I will take up in separate blogs.

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About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Cuisine, Egypt-Recent, Humanitarian Assistance, Middle East, Pastoralism, Research & Development and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Food and Folk Cures – I of III (The Beja Nomads of Egypt & Sudan)

  1. Pingback: The Day Sadat was Assassinated « Dianabuja's Blog

  2. Pingback: Green Mint Tea and Beduin Carpets at Mersa Matruh, Egypt « Dianabuja's Blog

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