Microsoft word - the jab.doc

Published in Sociology Ethnology Bulletin of Addis Ababa University, Teoderos, a dresser at the new clinic in Turmi, Hamar, Southern Omo, told me in 1989 that his Hamar patients always wanted to be injected whatever complaint they had. This came as news to me and made me wonder why. Whenever I have resided in Hamar, people have come to me in search of foreign medicine (ferenji däsha), especially eye ointment and chloroquine. No one ever came and asked me to inject them. Correspondingly, whenever I or one of my children got sick or hurt while in Hamar, my Hamar neighbours and friends would advise me about Hamar medicines I could use and treatments I could follow. When I got ill with hepatitis, our friend Baldambe advised me to inhale the contents of a sheep's stomach and to drink the juice squeezed from its contents. When our son Theo, then a two year old, got ringworm, a woman friend of mine advised me to rub it with the burrs of yedanna, a small ground hugging plant. I was aware that my Hamar friends not only used medicines when they were ill, but also consulted a diviner and performed ritual acts. It was only when our son Dan, at the age of three, got suddenly ill with fever and diarrhea, and lost consciousness, that my friends and neighbours urged me also to consult a diviner (moara). Since I couldn't move Dan, I sent his older sister, Rosie, in stead to visit Maaginda, an elderly woman diviner living in a homestead some fifteen minutes away. The Hamar consult diviners for all sorts of problems ranging from why the rains are failing, through who should become the land priest (gùdili), to why a woman keeps having miscarriages. Anyone can try their hand at divination, but only those who get a reputation of being expert (koimo), will be known as moara. The most common form of divination practiced by men is the beating of sandals. A sandal beater (dungari kanä) is usually consulted for matters which concern men such as hunting, warfare and movement of herds. In the event of a health problem, a woman diviner (moarano) is usually consulted. Such a woman is also known as ii saaono, she who rubs the belly, because she does her divination by way of massage. She rubs the sick person with butter and through her hands finds out what agent is responsible for inflicting the malady, and what should be done to appease it. In the case of women, children and unmarried men, she rubs their belly with butter, whereas in the case of married men, she rubs their upper arm. A close blood relative can stand in for another and be massaged, but in this case their belly is not massaged but some other part of their body. Rosie, for example, was massaged on her right forearm to find out what was afflicting her little brother. The agents which are considered responsible for bringing ill health (or any other misfortune) are either living or dead people, relatives or strangers. The dead agents are the meshi (whom Ivo Strecker and I are accustomed to calling dead spirits although they could just as well be called ghosts). A dead spirit is said to let one of its descendants get ill if it is angry (wocidi) with him or her for neglecting it, and it wants to be given food, drink, goats, cattle, sorghum, or other items. It is said that if the sick person gives the offended dead spirit the things it wants, it will make the sickness go away. If a person does not get better in spite of gifts being made, then either the diviner has made a wrong divination, and/or another dead spirit is angry and wants something, or it is the barjo, fate and fortune, of the sick person. The diviner is said to be able to see if it is a person's fate to die, but she usually hides this terrible truth from the sick person. The dead spirits bring sickness and take it away when their wishes have been satisfied. They are rarely said to cause a person's death which is always said to be determined ultimately by the person's barjo. It is said that once a dead spirit has eaten and drunk all it wants, and has accumulated enough animals, it will go across the baz, big waters, and leave the living in peace. Because the dead spirits are dead, the only way to make them gifts of animals is to kill the animals for them. The dead animals then become dead spirit animals, as it were, and enter the realm of the dead. When an animal is killed for a dead spirit, the killing of the animal is called uka, jab. The reference here is to the jabbing of the knife into the animal's heart via its throat. If food or drink is demanded by a dead spirit, this is spilled on the ground in locations where the dead spirits are said to reside, for example at the hearth where the ashes of dead fires lie. Some items which are requested by the dead spirits will be given in symbolic form. For example, when a dead woman makes her daughter-in-law sick for forgetting her at harvest time, the daughter-in-law puts a few sorghum seeds in a miniature sack made from a leaf and brings it out to a place in the bush where the dead spirit will collect it. When food or drink or other items are offered to a dead spirit, these offerings are said to be jabbed, ukadidi, as if they were killed like an animal. When a diviner identifies a dead spirit as demanding a sacrifice or offering, she will say; "so and so is to be jabbed", ain ukada. It would seem that the dead spirit is jabbed by way of the gift which, whether it be an animal or food, is also said to be jabbed. By jabbing a gift for a dead spirit a sick person jabs that dead spirit. The diviner may find out that the agent bringing sickness is not a dead spirit, but a living agent. In this case it will either be caused by a stranger with the evil eye, c'aaki, or by a senior relative who harbours anger or resentment, woci. As far as I can tell, the evil eye usually accounts for illnesses which occur suddenly and involve paralysis or unconsciousness. The person who afflicts one with the evil eye will usually be a stranger who looks at one or one's property with admiration and envy. The diviner identifies the gir, clan or moiety, of the person with the evil eye, and prescribes a ritual for cleansing the afflicted person. This ritual usually involves taking the dust of the footprint of the person suspected of the evil eye, or dust from the public path along which the stranger is thought to have passed, wrapping it up in a particular leaf and, at sundown, circling it around the head of the afflicted person together with fire, wind and water, and throwing the bundle in the direction of the If a living senior relative is found to be the cause of sickness or misfortune, he/she will have to perform a ritual to cleanse him/herself of anger. When Biirinda kept loosing her babies through miscarriage and stillbirth, the diviner found out that it was due to the anger of Baldambe, Biirinda's husband's cousin. Baldambe, Biirinda explained to me, was angry with her because she had agreed to the marriage of her husband's sister without consulting Baldambe. Baldambe had to cleanse himself of his anger by rubbing butter on his chest in an upward direction to bring the anger out of his stomach. When in 1989, I brought a BBC film director and her film crew to Hamar, we wanted, among other things to film how the Hamar make use of both traditional and modern medical treatment. I knew that the Hamar make a clear distinction between the practical and spiritual treatment of illness, and that the two operate alongside each other, complementing one another. I thought if I asked a Hamar woman about it, she would clarify this distinction in her When Biiri, a four year old boy, kept being sick, suffering from fever and strange blisters under his arms, his mother, Biirinda decided he should be massaged by a diviner. I asked if we could film the session, and also said we would take Biiri and his mother to the clinic in Turmi for treatment there. In stead of Biirinda going to Maaginda, we asked Maaginda to come to Biirinda's homestead so we could film the session there. Biirinda made coffee for Maaginda who sat on a cow-hide outside Biirinda's house. She then gave Biiri some tobacco in his left hand and some butter on a wooden spoon in his right hand. Brnd (speaking to Biiri) Give it to her (i.e. to Maaginda), give it. Take it and give it.
Now go, go down there, go a little down there. Mgnd How is Biiri?
Brnd Biiri is not well, Biiri is not well.
Mgnd What hurts him?
Brnd His body hurts
Mgnd Does it hurt a lot?
Brnd It hurts a lot. He doesn't rest at night. You should spill the tobacco (for the
dead spirits) later on when you rub (the butter on Biiri) you should spill the tobacco and then you should rub (butter) on your throat as you get up. Now what makes you so reserved? Stop being reserved. Let's drink coffee and talk. So Biirinda and Maaginda chatted for a while and after Biirinda had talked about the ringworm on Biiri's head she returned to describe his illness. Brnd In the evening when he lies down on the cowhide, he yells until the dawn. As he
yells, day dawns. Then one evening I got him to spill food (for a dead spirit), because he was grinding his teeth, I got him to spill food. When I did that, then he stopped and for two evenings he lay (i.e. slept) well. Now the night before last, and the night before that, when he was lying down, just by taking itself the fire hit him here on his side, hit him here on his arm. so what was I to do? Should I run down to (attend to) the sorghum, or what to do? Should I take him to his grandmother (Maaginda), or here to his sister's son (another masseur)?. The night before last, his older sister (cried) "Mummy, if it's like this where shall I lie (sleep)? My only mother, my only mummy, where shall I lie?" When the older sister spoke thus, "Get lost?" he said. "Biiri come over here" I said, and he came, and I placed him behind me. Then that night we slept, and yesterday we went down to the field. But just as I said "I will bring him to his grandmother" his father Then I said "Let her come (here), the grandmother should come." That was when Theoinda said her people (the film makers) should see Biiri here. So (you) came here. This is something different, his being burnt by himself. Look at that there. In his arm pit, the fire taking itself on to him, the night before the one before last, and when it happened he was scorched, scorched, scorched. It's that which makes the child's Maaginda did the massage and found out that a dead spirit, Biiri's father's older brother who had been killed by the Galaba as a child, was afflicting Biiri and should be made an offering of food and milk. In the evening Biiri spilled food and milk in the cattle kraal for his dead uncle. The next day, as planned, we travelled by Toyota to the clinic at Turmi, and Biiri was treated by the dresser while we filmed. Unlike the relaxed conversation Biirinda had with Maaginda, the conversation with the dresser was tense and short. In explaining to the dresser the blisters under Biiri's arms Biirinda said: "That's dead spirit (meshi) fire. The dead spirit, in the night when (we) lay (asleep), at the fire (it) put fire on to him, its own fire (i.e. the fire of the dead spirit), (it) put it on to him." The dresser cleaned the blisters, put on ointment and gave Biiri an injection. When we returned to Dambaiti I asked Biirinda to explain the difference between the two treatments Biiri had received. I felt sure Biirinda would explain that the two treatments were different but complementary, the dresser providing medicine, the diviner finding out what agent had brought on the affliction. I posed my questions Jean Yesterday Biiri was massaged and (he) jabbed (ukidi) his grandfather (äke, male
relative senior to own father), and today we went to Turmi to the doctor. Now tell us, if (he) does not jab the dead spirit will (he) get better? Brnd If he does not jab the dead spirit, he won't get better. The dead spirit should be
jabbed, to do that he should spill food. "Food. what does the dead spirit say about the food?" the expert (i.e. the diviner) asks. "What is told? Spilling food, it says. Now what dead spirit is it? The grandfather (äke) is to be jabbed (ukada), the grandfather, the father's older brother, the one the enemy killed in Galaba long ago, that one. Let your grandfather be jabbed to stop it." "Eh." Now the boy, though that one (dead spirit) had been jabbed, the fire burnt, burnt, and still he (the dead spirit) excelled (basha overcome, overpower, defeat). Leaving aside the thing which spreads over his head (the ringworm), still the fire burnt, burnt. The thing which excelled now was the illness (burki, heating, fever). Now the illness was different (i.e. especially bad), and the only thing which would excel (defeat it) was the needle. "Go to the needle, together with your guests, Theoinda and Joanna and Debbie, go." They the elders spoke, and when they said this we went. "There is illness in his bones. If a simple blow was given (by the dead spirit), on account of the food he (Biiri) would get up (and get better). But now his flesh has illness, his blood down below is not good, that has made him become pure white." That's why we went to the expert down there. Now that needle has got rid of what is down there in his flesh. Those medicines (däsha) which he gave saying "swallow these", with these he will get up (recover). It's the best (bashi excellent) now, in spite of the existence of the diviner, now the needle's the best. But the diviner's ways are also Jean What is the excellence (bashino) of the (female) diviner?
Brnd The excellence of the diviner - now she excels just like your needle does. The
Hamar have no needle. You have the needle. We have her (the diviner), she's like the needle down there (in Turmi). We have her like the needle down there. The Hamar have Now should you get ill, (you) will be jabbed with the needle, (you) will give medicine, like you do it. She, she's our needle. Being a needle, she's like the medicine which is given to you. Didn't you give me medicine which cured me when I swallowed it (I gave Biirinda tapeworm medicine), it's like that. The foods which we serve out and spill (for the dead spirits), these are like your medicines. Jean Yes. But you do both (i.e. spill food for the spirits and get injected).
Brnd Yes. Now there's something which excels (i.e. a dead spirit which makes one
sick). It comes and takes hold of you, makes you ill (burco to cause illness) and as you are perishing: "Why don't you go over to the diviner?" So you go over to the diviner. She rubs, rubs you, and having rubbed you says: "Spill foods". For another she rubs, rubs and says: "Serve coffee". For another she rubs, rubs and says "Shake the Baraza branch". (The Baraza tree, Grewia mollis A.Juss., is used to provide whipping wands with which the livestock are herded. The shaking of a Baraza branch is symbolic of herding the goats for the dead spirit.) For another she rubs, rubs and says "Take wild animal shit". (For example, a woman who has trouble with having children may be told to place baboon faeces on her sleeping hide at night. The baboon symbolizes fecundity and children, and by way of a synecdoche the faeces symbolize the babies who should be born.) For another she rubs, rubs and says "Jab (uka) an animal (q'ole livestock)." Now that one (the dresser) says "That's it's medicine. Its medicine is like that. Swallow that. That's its medicine so swallow it. That's it." "Yes" "Like this, going over there, let him swallow." Like the needle-expert speaks, in the same way she always says "Spill these foods, spill this." It's by her rubbing that she excels. By her rubbing it's like by Jean You say that the dead spirits make one sick.
Brnd Yes, what we mean when we say that the dead spirits cause sickness is: "It (the dead
spirit) lies below" you say, and thinking this (it) arrives, makes you dream, doing which it gets hold of you. That's what holds you. Now that child (Biiri), recently when he lay down on the hide at night he yelled didn't he? "Yo yo yo, it won't leave me alone, yo yo." So it dragged at him. "Get up, get up!" (said the dead spirit trying to make Biiri join it in the world of the dead) and it dragged at him. As it dragged at him, he Jean Then the needle does not stop that?
Brnd Then.
Jean the needle.
Brnd stops that.
Jean The needle stops that?
Brnd Yes, (it) stops. Yes (it) stops. That (needle) stops everything. It stops that one (the
dead spirit). Jabbing with the needle, and going to the expert (i.e. diviner), then he (Biiri), his flesh will become good. Then it (the dead spirit) will have taken flight (go flight in sense of fleeing from enemy). Then it has run away, gone to its own land. Jean So the doctor and the diviner. are equal?
Brnd Yes, both are equal, they're the same. Yes, the same, equal.
Jean The dead spirit.
Brnd Dead spirits all are driven away. His medicine has driven the dead spirits away.
Brnd Either she, the expert, says: "Spill food", and it (the dead spirit) flees, or otherwise
the one down there who gives medicine, uses these medicines, saying: "Do like this." This morning wasn't it medicine which he jabbed (i.e. injected)? With that it has fled Jean It's so.
Brnd Yes, I (got) medicines for the children. He gave medicine didn't he? He jabbed into
Biiri didn't he? And he rubbed his medicine all over the infection (ádjima) didn't he? Just like the things he does so Maaginda (says) "Spill food, mixing the foods and milks together, spill them." That's like what he does down there. Just like the expert down there, everything she does is like what he does. Although I expressed agreement with Biirinda, I was in fact quite puzzled by her answers. What had I expected? I thought Biirinda would have said the dresser deals with the symptoms of illness while the diviner deals with the invisible agents who bring the affliction. I thought this because the Hamar make a clear distinction between däsha, medicine, on the one side, and uka, sacrifice, on the other. I thought she would say that the dresser's medicines counteract the symptoms of illness, while the sacrifices and offerings (or cleansing rituals) prescribed by the diviner appease the dead spirit (or evil eye) which brings the illness in the first place. I thought she would say it is necessary to appease a dead spirit, because otherwise, even if the symptoms are treated with medicine, the dead spirit would continue to afflict the person with illness until its demands were met. (Alternatively, in the case of the evil eye, that the effects of the evil eye would persist unless a cleansing ritual were performed.) Biirinda did not make this distinction, but said in stead that the dresser's treatment was just the same as that of the diviner. The dresser prescribes medicines just like the diviner prescribes offerings. When Biiri was injected, she said, the dead spirit fled back to its own country. But the offering of food and milk which Maaginda prescribed was what the dead spirit had demanded, how about the injection? Unfortunately I did not ask Biirinda this at the time and can only speculate on her answer. The reason why Biirinda is able to equate the treatment of the diviner with that of the dresser is, I believe, to be found in the notion of uka, jab. Dead spirits are said to afflict the living with sickness in order to get the living to make them gifts, or because they want the living to join their ranks (for example when a woman friend of mine died she was said to have caused her surviving baby to die because she wanted her to join her). To make a gift of an animal to a dead spirit it is necessary to kill it. To kill the animal it is jabbed with a knife into the heart. Offerings of food and drink are also said to be jabbed. The dead spirit itself is, furthermore, said to be jabbed when it receives sacrifices or offerings. Since the world of the dead is the inverse of the living it is logical that when a dead spirit is jabbed it's like when a living person is given a boost of life. What for the living is a sacrifice, is for the dead a gain, so when a dead spirit has been jabbed this means it has gained something. According to Biirinda's account, when a dead spirit visits you it takes hold of you by entering your dreams. It is as though the dead spirit enters your person. In Biirinda's view, when the dresser gave Biiri a jab (injection) he jabbed the dead spirit which had taken hold of him and made him ill. The dead spirit was jabbed just as it would have been had an animal been sacrificed, or an offering of food been made to it. In all the years when I have handed out chloroquine and eye ointment in Hamar, no one ever suggested that what I was doing was equivalent to what the diviner does, no one suggested that my medicine would drive the dead spirits away. The difference between me and the dresser would seem to lie in the syringe needle. The jab, as an injection is also known in colloquial English, brings about a synthesis between the two forms of treatment which otherwise remain distinct, that's to say medical treatment and spiritual treatment. The jab not only puts medicine in the body to counteract the symptoms of the illness, but also gets rid of the dead spirit which has taken hold of the body and is inflicting the illness. It gets rid of the spirit by jabbing it, which is the same as making a sacrifice to it. I guess it was for this reason that Biirinda said the needle was the best treatment. This logic would also explain why the Hamar always want to be injected when they come to the clinic, and are very upset when they only get given tablets or ointment. Since the ritual treatment for illness caused by the evil eye does not involve sacrifice to a dead spirit, but involves a cleansing ritual in stead, I would expect in such a case that no one would go to the clinic to get an jab. In the view of one Hamar woman at least, the superiority of modern medical treatment lies in the fact that it combines both medical and spiritual treatment in one act, namely the jab.



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