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Ethnomedical Practices In a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) of Uttaranchal

by Keya Pandey

ABSTRACT The Himalayan region is famous for its rich biodiversity and also endowed with rich medicinal plant wealth. Soar valley, Pithoragarh situated in the western Himalaya is also full of medicinal plant wealth. Survey made on the medicinal and aromatic plant wealth in different locations in the valley revealed that the local community uses different species of medicinal plants for the treatment of the diseases. This paper deals with the ethnomedical practices and beliefs of the tribe Raji who lives in Pithoragarh, Champawat and Udhamsingh Nagar. The Raji are socially and economically under developed tribal community of Central Himalayan region of Uttaranchal state of India. The members of Raji tribe are on verge of extinction, they require conservation. They have good knowledge of flora and fauna. Here people are so emotionally attached to these beliefs that even after the availability of modern medicine; they could not abandon their early practice. INTRODUCTION Ethnomedicine, a sub-division of medical anthropology refers to those beliefs and practices relating to disease which are the products of indigenous cultural development; and are not explicitly derived from the conceptual framework of modern medicine.(Hughes, 1968). Etymologically speaking, the term refers to the medicines that are traditionally associated with specific ethnic groups. Thus it can also be conceived of as folk medicine or indigenous medicine etc. (Mibang and Choudhari, 2003). Ethnomedicine is defined as the vast body of knowledge which has resulted from the curiosity of anthropologists about the medical beliefs and practices of the members of traditional societies (Foster and Anderson, 1978). As anthropology became more systematic and research more sophosicated, ethnomedicine became one of the essential dimensions of culture to be investigated. Disease in some or the other form has been a fundamental problem of every society to every known society has developed methods of coping with diseases, therby creating medicines. (Caudill, 1955). Thus, even before the advent of modern medicine, people all over the world had developed culture specific beliefs and practices regarding health and diseases. It is to such beliefs and practices, which are the products of indigenous cultural development (Hughes, 1968).It may relevantly be noted here that beginning with their earliest field around some 100 years ago, anthropologists, in a routine way, have gathered data on the medical beliefs of the people to complete ethnographic records as possible.

The system of folk medicine like that of modern system has its own way of diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis is often clinical in primitive society and sometime a little bit pathological. Radiological and biophysical diagnosis are totally lacking in it. It means that the way of diagnosis is very much hypothetical and imaginary, but with firm belief in them, they hold the causes of disease as a result of their wrong doings of either present or earlier births. Treatment is directly connected with the causation of disease. As is the causation so shall be the way of treatment. There are five basic concepts of disease attributable to sorcery, breach of taboo, object intrusion, spirit intrusion and soul loss. The ecologist put forward an attractive hypothesis which viewed health as a dynamic equilibrium between man and his environment. When advantages of modern medicine are not convincingly apparent, traditional medical beliefs provide a ready frame of reference. These beliefs provide a link to other ideas and pattern of behavior. They are particularly interwoven with magic, religion and traditional social values and they serve multiple cognitive functions (Hughes 1968). People are so emotionally attached to these beliefs that even after the availability of modern medicine; they could not abandon their early practice. During the treatment different type of magico-religious activities are performed with bones, skulls, woods and stones. Besides this during the process the victim is asked to go through bathing, vapour bath, cooling and heating, firing etc. the victim is also given ashes, threads, roots, fruits, leaves and certain herbs to eat or to rub, sometimes a mixture of herbs, fruits and roots grounded on a stone and the solution is given to sip from time to time. Thus one may say the old saying that nature cures the disease while remedy cures the patient can be fully observed in the folk medicine. So, one may also say that there is a dominance of superstitions and conservations in the folk medicine. The socio-cultural studies focus upon many spheres of human life and society, and the related problems. However, the matter pertaining to sickness and the treatment process, though specific to medical science have now drawn the attention of the social scientists because of the direct relationship between health and cultural traditions. (Sarkar, 1993) Setting aside the dialogue on unifying merits of bio-medicine or ethno-medicine it can be said that ethno-medicine includes all the procedures involved and the knowledge of the people about origin of disease and the treatment. Ethno-medicine is culture specific. Therapy in ethno-medicine is vast subject which includes both magico-religious and chemical procedures. (Lieben, 1973). Traditional systems of medicine continued to meet the health needs of most rural populations of the developing world and find patronage in urban areas as well (Kurup, 1997). METHOD There were many constraints in carrying out this study and then in analyzing the data to reach inferences. During the collection of primary data, the major constraint faced was contacting the right respondents from the Rajis, as they either avoided deliberately, to be interviewed, or were in the forests and fields fetching food. Collection of primary data, particularly ethnographic, took longer time than expected earlier. Secondly, the tribe, of late probably because of acculturation and interventions, has developed an inferior

complex; therefore during interviews the respondents did not feel comfortable to part with the actual information. It took considerably long time to take them into confidence and to establish rapport. Limitations with the secondary data were also many, the major being the non-availability. Fieldwork envisages systematic first hand noting, recording and reporting the living people and their cultures with the aim of presenting as authentic and comprehensive picture of the cultural systems as possible. As such, a proper and feasible methodology needs to be chalked out and fulfill the aims of fieldwork in its truest sense. I also tried the best in my capacity to interview various informants like men and women of various age, occupations and social positions to get the most reliable data. The techniques and methods which were used during the tenure of fieldwork are observation, interview schedule, genealogy and photography etc. The members of Raji tribe are on verge of extinction, they require conservation. They have good knowledge of flora and fauna. They also know the remedial properties of plants. The forest department can help them by supplying the forest material and this department should raise plantation for the trees which will serve as raw material.The Rajis have good knowledge of forests and its produce, and therefore, they may be associated with herb collection and cultivation programmes (Pandey, 2000, Pandey & Tiwari, 2003). RESULT AND DISCUSSION
SOURCES OF DISEASES

Diseases can be caused by both natural and supernatural means. When a comparison is made between the two it is found in the tribal societies that only a few diseases are ascribed to natural causes, the common diseases being headache, diarhoea, cold and cough (Hughes 1968) The disease causing factors which exist within the human body are called intrinsic factors like dysentery, diarhoea, stomachache, body ache, headache, cold and cough or fever, earache, toothache, arthritis, asthma, cuts and wounds, itching or other skin ailments, snakebite, urinary disorders.
Internal FactorsExternal Factors- The disease causing (pathogenic) factors which enter the human body

from outside are called extrinsic factors. Disease caused exclusively by supernatural powers like spirits and ghosts (devi ka chadna, bhoot pakadna) like measles, chickenpox, headache (severe), weak eyesight, genetic abnormality etc. It is generally observed that the concept of health and disease in a society vary according to the socio-cultural levels of the different states. The higher income groups with higher education, standard of living and better knowledge have different concepts of health and disease as compared to the predominantly illiterate lower income group which hardly had adequate concept of health and illness. Such lower socio-cultural groups consider illness and disease as a wrath of God and Goddesses or as in roots of misfortune or ill luck to enlace their existing plight.

THE TRIBE RAJI

The Raji are socially and economically under developed tribal community of Central Himalayan region of Uttaranchal state of India. They are one among the seventy-two primitive tribal groups of India, who live in an extremely under-developed stage. Raji is one of the five scheduled tribes who have declared for the first time in June1967 vide SC and ST list modification 1967 and it was declared as PTG (primitive tribal group) by Govt. of India in 1975. They are also described as Van Rawats (king of forest), Van Raji (royal people of forest) or Van Manush (wild man or man of forest), who claim themselves to be Rajputs and the original inhabitants of Central Himalayas. Three to four decades earlier the Rajis were completely nomadic and pursuing a life of hunter-gatherer, taking shelter in caves or temporary huts. The Rajis are multilingual. They speak a language which belongs to the Himalayan group of the Tibeto-Burman family of languages. However, they communicate with other neighbouring community with Indo-Aryan language, Kumauni and Hindi. They use the Devanagiri script. Their average stature is 159.42 cms, which is the upper limit of the short type and their head shape is long (Singh, 1994). They are believed to be the descendents of Kirats who ruled over this area in prehistoric times (Pande, 1991). The Rajis are also considered as a living link between Kirats of somewhat Tibetan physique and the Khasas of equally pronounced Aryan form and habits (Atkinson, 1981). The Rajis are confined to Pithoragarh and Champawat districts and they have been reported from the nine villages i.e. Kimkhola, ganagaon, Bhaktirwa, Chipaltara, Altadi, Jamtadi, Kutachaurani, Madanpuri. These villages are scattered and dotted in a vast area of 200 kms. Their habitations are generally at the altitude ranging from 2000 to 5000 above sea level. Their settlements are in accordance with hilly nature and are away from the main habitation because they prefer to live aloof from other communities. Now they are also reported from Udham Singh Nagar. There has been no unanimity among the reports presented by the government and the private agencies or individuals about the total population of the Rajis. A substantial number of their relatives also live in the bordering Nepal. The Rajis social life is also marked by the individualistic pattern and has no stratification into class or caste and no centralized tribal authority is vested in the hands of any individual or body. The long wandering habit and short settled life style have not been fully successful to inspire in developing an organized community. Economic, marital, primitive mindset and cultural belief are some of the factors responsible for a substantial number of Rajis who still follow nomadic life style. The Rajis speak dialect of their own which they call jungali bhasha (language of the forest). There were many constraints in carrying out this study and then in analyzing the data to reach inferences. During the collection of primary data, the major constraint faced was contacting the right respondents from the Rajis, as they either avoided deliberately, to be interviewed, or were in the forests and fields fetching food. Collection of primary data, particularly ethnographic, took longer time than expected earlier. Secondly, the tribe, of

late probably because of acculturation and interventions, has developed an inferior complex; therefore during interviews the respondents did not feel comfortable to part with the actual information. It took considerably long time to take them into confidence and to establish rapport. Limitations with the secondary data were also many, the major being the non-availability. Fieldwork envisages systematic first hand noting, recording and reporting the living people and their cultures with the aim of presenting as authentic and comprehensive picture of the cultural systems as possible. As such, a proper and feasible methodology needs to be chalked out and fulfill the aims of fieldwork in its truest sense. I also tried the best in my capacity to interview various informants like men and women of various age, occupations and social positions to get the most reliable data. The techniques and methods which were used during the tenure of fieldwork are observation, interview schedule, genealogy and photography etc. The members of Raji tribe are on verge of extinction, they require conservation. They have good knowledge of flora and fauna. They also know the remedial properties of plants. The forest department can help them by supplying the forest material and this department should raise plantation for the trees which will serve as raw material.The Rajis have good knowledge of forests and its produce, and therefore, they may be associated with herb collection and cultivation programmes (Pandey, 2000, Pandey & Tiwari, 2003).
RAJIS CONCEPT OF ETHNO-MEDICINE

I In Pithoragarh, ethno medicine has an enduring and indispensable part in the social life of the Raji tribe. We have made an attempt here to discuss how much the traditional means of healing has an influence over the modern medical system which is of course a late entry. The paper brings about the various medical systems available in their village, their integration and the changes which have taken place in the set of medical beliefs and practices as a consequence of changes occurring in the social system as a whole. The definition of illness according to them is any sort of disorder in the body making a person incapable of performing normal activities. Any deformities visible in the body or abrasion, boils, bone fracture, complications in delivery are listed as health disorders. The diseases are classified according to their causes which are discussed in the paper later. Herbal medicine is the part of the medicinal institution in societies where the medical importance of plants is recognized. The treatment here is obviously done through the administration of herbs on the body. Vague ideas about herbs which have curative effects are known to almost every Raji tribal. This knowledge has been gain either from ones own family or from the village elders. The local treatments are administered by the local medicine man. Besides, the supernatural reasons, the lifestyle of the Rajis which is in the form of poor sanitary habits, lack of cleanliness and unhygienic conditions are responsible for prevalence of disease among them. Though they are aware that the germs and dirt can cause illness, they are careless about basic things and thus do not bother

about cleanliness. Moreover, they would rather attribute their discomforts and sufferings to paranormal wickedness than to their own doings. The Rajis are not very health conscious and they do not care much for preventive measures. Even they are sick they do not stop working or moving on the hills. Only in the acute stage of their illness they sought help of the medicine man or the local nearby allopathic doctor. The people in general know about the remedies for physical complaints and minor injuries. Among Rajis if a person falls ill, the common practice is to consult the local healer known as ojha who use herbal medicines. His services can be sought by any person or by the whole village. His post is hereditary and after his death his sons take over the work. For this he charges a nominal amount of Rs. 10 to Rs. 50 or so depending on the herbal medicines he uses in the treatment. After due check up he decides upon the appropriate herbs or prepared medicines. But all the Rajis more or less knows certain remedial measures for minor sufferings. His frequent movement in the hills and the forest trained him to pick up basic knowledge of certain medical herbs and roots. II Rajis consider all the pleasures as gifts and mercy from their deities while hardship and disease are considered as punishment to them by their deities. The natural calamities are attributed as wrath of the deities as the result of not performing religious duty properly. For this kind of wraths or diseases they do not take any medical treatment but they try to appease their deities. Sometimes if a person is influenced by some evil spirit he consults khas ojha (medicine man) of the village who invokes the spirits to cure the person. What is spiritually caused must be treated spiritually is their belief in seeking magicoreligious treatment. Traditional healers help is sought for treating diseases who tries to drive away the disease by magical enchantment and other magico-religious treatment which includes sacrifices of fowls and propitiation of a particular deity. Thus the knowledge of magico-religious treatment backed by the medicinal values of the herbs are the essential feature of the traditional healer. The spirits who cause various ailments and death could be many in number and variety. But generally the inhabitants know the places and whereabouts of the evil spirits and timing of their movements. They are appeased by the villagers from time to time through sacrifice of animals like goat etc if they are in much ferocity, and fowl if less. The special offering to devi (diety) consists of goats whereas the demon and the ghosts are propitiated by a sacrifice of owls. These offerings are made on the top of the hills or under some large tree. After the offering is made, the meat is consumed by the worshippers. The Rajis are said to have their own peculiar gods, but they also worship those of the Hindus and like the people of Kumaun and indeed of the entire Himalaya, attribute great power to the local deities, spirits, goblins and defied persons. It has also been reported

that the name of one of their favorite object of worship is khudai (an object of stone for worshipping) a name that has no connection with the Muslim name for god. (Atkinson, 1882). The Rajis have a number of deities of their own like Churmul, Malaynath, Ganainath, Kholiya, Khudai, Mallikarjun, Ghatola etc. which are individually associated with specific clan as family deity. The deity which is most feared is Jalpari (a kind of deity). This is said to be dangerous for all as she can perform any evil at any time. Therefore, they worship their lords and gods to protect them from this deity. Except this deity there are many other deities of forest who perform some evil tasks. Lack of education and acute poverty combined with isolation has made the way the Rajis are today. Though the government has done the needful by placing Primary Health Centers, where the health workers try their best to educate men and women alike on the basic concepts of hygiene, cleanliness, proper diet consisting of nutritious food, there is still a long way to go. Some adjoining villages have mid wives who help them during their deliveries. Red Cross Society is also providing adequate facilities to the tribals but due to the lack of proper communication facility, roads and other agents of development, the tribe has to depend on the indigenous plants and medicines for which they have developed their interest as compared to Allopathic and other medicines of the modern times.
PREVELANT DISEASES

In the medicine system of Rajis a different kind of classification or concept prevails which classifies diseases into different categories. Here an attempt has been made to explore the indigenous system of Rajis. To elicit this Rajis have classified into three categories on the basis of their knowledge of disease and illness. They have placed different diseases and illnesses under on sub-head which are in particular to their own culture. Deity linked diseases Genetic abnormality (sar bada, muhkata) Boils (phuria) Chicken pox/Miseals (devi ka aana) Weak eyesight (bhoot chadna) Sudden bleeding with cough (khoon phekna) Leprosy (kodh) High fever (bushaar) Severe headache (saro dard) Severe headache with red eyes (lalimaa) Cold and cough (khansi) Cut and wounds (chot aur khoon nikalna) Dysentery and diarhoea (paani aana) Ear ache (kaan pakna)

Spirit linked diseases

Body-linked diseases

Stomach ache (peit dard) Eye ailments (aankh dukhna) Tooth ache (daant pirana) Asthama (saans phoolna) Urinary disorders i.e. painful urination (peeshaab mein dard) Internal injuries i.e. bleeding from the nose (nakseer phootna)

Tribals were aware of only the above mentioned diseases and problems. Enquiring again and again it was not possible me to know more about the prevalent diseases. It seems that the tribals are not aware of other diseases especially in those areas where adequate facilities are very far off. When the patient becomes unconscious or they feel to take him/her to the hospital then only they run for it else they try their best to cure them with their indigenous medicines or shamanism. Some diseases and their cure by the tribals through their indigenous medicines are as follows:

Disease
Headache

Vernacular Herbs Used Remedial Measures Name


Sardard Shyarhee, dalta, khajima
Resin of shyarhee is applied on forehead to get relief from it. The other medicine is dalta. To relieve headache the seed oil of dalta is used in massage. Root juice of khajima is also rubbed on forehead The oil of mahua seed is applied over the entire body. The beer of the mahua is applied over the body to get relief from pain. Besides, the above mentioned medicines like resin of shyarhee, seed oil of dalta and root juice of khajima are generally used. Root juice of binait is given in the treatment of cough and asthma. Seed water with warm water is given in cold. The patient is also advised to take cold water. If the child is suffering from acute cough then the intestine of saura is rubbed on the stone and is given in it. As soon as an individual meets a cut, she or he moves a little away to urinate over the cut. The soft leaves of plants available nearby are plucked and crushed in hands to get juice. The juice is dropped over the cut. A paste is prepared from the bulbs of mana on cuts. The poultice is applied on it. Resin of shyarhee is applied on cuts and some other folk medicine for cuts are also used like the leaf juice of dhonjan, which is externally applied. In case of burning, the tribals prepare part of leaves, flowers, seeds etc. to apply over the affected part of the body. The paste of nirbusi is rubbed on the affected part. They also apply the wood paste on burns.

Bodyache

Badandard

Mahua

Cold Cough

&

Khansi sardi

aur

Binait

Cuts Wounds

&

Katna chot

aur

Mana, shyarhee, dhonjun

Burns

jalna

Nirbusi

Itching & other Skin Ailments

Khujli

Mothya, angyan, lampatya

To remove itching and other skin ailments they have their indigenous medicines. Poultice of leaves of mothya is applied on various skin ailments. Young shoots and leaves of angyan are made into paste which is applied with mustard oil in various skin ailments. Leaf part of lampatya is applied to itching and eczema. Ash from leaves and roots is applied externally on sores and various skin ailments. They believe that it is due to severe cold, heat or sun stroke. Buds and flowers of kamoichan are cooked and given in the treatment of dysentery and diarhoea. The fruit paste of timul is given with salt in acute dysentery. Seed powder with warm water is given in fever and dysentery. The patient suffering from stomachache is treated by giving him aqueous paste of entire kamoichan plant. The fruit paste of timul is given with salt in stomachache. Root decoction of pyaljar is given in stomachache The Raji tribals serve the patients of fever by the seed powder of aonlya along with the warm water. Seed water of katharhowle is given in fever and jaundice. In the case of earache leaf juice of bhwinlu is given to cure it. Leaf juice of chamoree is given for any sort of ear ailments. For the toothache katharhowle is smoked with tobacco. Fruit paste is filled in decaying cavities of tooth. Oil from the seeds of churya is massaged in sciatica pain. Root paste of daiya is applied on swollen joints. Young shots and leaves of seero are thoroughly washed, boiled and cooked as vegetable and is recommended for arthritis. They also use the extract of animal in the treatment of joint pains. The leg of kankar if rubbed on a stone the colour of it will change into yellow and this is rubbed on the affected area. to cure asthma they use plant herbs as well as the animal extracts. In the plant herbs they use the root juice of binait in acute asthma. If the acute asthma is to be treated then the hairs of rabbit (mushnaula) is burned and the smoke of it helps in curing the problem. The infection in eye region is cured through different folk medicine. They usually apply root juice of kirmori and leaf juice of chamoree is used for eye ailments. For the urinary disorders they use the available folk medicines. Extraction of entire plant of puneru is given in urinary disorders. There are other medicines too which includes like fresh roots of binait is chewed in painful urination and young shoots and leaves of sheroo are thoroughly washed, boiled and cooked as vegetable, they are specially recommended for urinogenital disorders. To cure the area of snake bite the acorns paste of banj is applied and it works as an antidote. For the internal injuries they prefer to use their own medicines. For this they use root paste of keenga with milk in the treatment. The leaf juice of dhonyan is given in the

Diarrhea& Dysentery

Paani aana

Kamochin, timul

Stomach ache

Peit dard

Kamochin, timul, pyaljar

Fever

Bushaar

Aaonlya, katharhowle Bhwinlu, chamoree Katharhowle Churya, daiya, seeru

Ear Ache Tooth Ache Arthritis

Kaan pakna Daant pirana Pair totna

Asthama

Saans pholna

Binait

Eye Ailments

Aank dukhna

Kirmori, chamoree Puneru, binait, sheero,

Urinary Disorders

Peshab aana

Snakebite Internal Injuries

Saanp dasna Moch aana

Banj Keenga, dhonyan

treatment of internal injuries.

CONCLUSION The study is important as it gives emic perspective associated with health care system in the indigenous medical healing practices of the primitive tribes. These primitive tribes live in the remote and inaccessible areas where modern medical facilities are not available. In the absence of such facilities they use their folk medicines for getting recovered from particular ailment. As the indigenous medicines are easily available and cheaper along with the community medicine men or healer, who come from the same background and wins the confidence of the patients, the ethnic group prefers folk mode of medical care to modern allopathic system of health care. It has been observed that there is a great difficulty in persuading the tribal people to avail modern medical treatment because they have firm, rigid and well developed system of primitive medicine. Though the efficacy of modern medicine or allopathic system of treatment is accepted by the tribal, but due to the limited paying capacity and cultural value which rise to conflicts between traditional and modern healing processes, they hesitate to response for the allopathic system of treatment. The tribal folk response for modern medicine at quite late stage of illness when their folk medicines fail to cure the disorder, as they are unaware of the scientific causation of the disease which they rarely accept. Modern medical practitioners fail to give psychological satisfaction to these people. There is an urgent need to do the clinical and pharmalogical tests on tribal reputed medicinal herbs along with their cultivation in rural and tribal areas, before these valuable plants may get lost in due course owing to deforestation and spread of industrialization. Young and educated members of the tribal communities should be encouraged to cultivate the herbs and also be trained in the preparation of the medicine scientifically. It may be concluded that success of any health care development programmes depends on various factors. The factors which need sharper focus for successful implementation of the programmes are identification and selection of beneficiaries based on their felt needs and preparation of appropriate projects according to their diverse geographic and cultural conditions, understanding of availability of the local resources and needs, adequate well trained staff and awareness among the Raji people. It could be worthwhile to state that besides progressive measures of economic and social development, the role of health providers is the most important factor in improving health status of the Raji tribal in particular and other tribal communities in general. And on other side the modern Medicare services are not only very expensive, but also have their alarming side effects. In search of the real alternative we need to remember that the mother of all indigenous medicines is the tribal medicine practiced by communities living in close harmony with the eco-system. There is thus an urgent need for

documentation of not only the herbal medicines but also the tribal health practices in totality.

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