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Abstract Detail

Historical Section

Vossen, Tessa Eveline [1], Towns, Alexandra Maria [2], Ruysschaert, Sofie [3], Quiroz, Diana Karina [4], Van Andel, Tinde [5].

Evil eye and sour poo: The African roots of Surinamese cultural bound child diseases.

Folk concepts of illness and health include cultural bound syndromes (CBS). CBS are conditions perceived as illnesses that are generally bound to certain cultural groups or geographic regions. CBS are often treated with medicinal plants. This study aimed at comparing definitions and plant use for CBS regarding child health in the context of the largest migration in recent human history: the trans-Atlantic slave trade. According to the data, African slaves in Suriname have searched for plants that resembled the medicinal herbs that they still knew from Africa.
Comparisons between definitions of four CBS (walk early, evil eye, atita and fontanels) were made, as well as comparisons between associated medicinal plant use. The researchers interviewed nearly two hundred mothers and compared the plant use in three Surinamese populations to that in Ghana, Bénin and Gabon. These are the African countries from where the Dutch shipped most slaves to Suriname.
Definitions of the four cultural bound syndromes were roughly the same on both continents. Traditional women in Suriname and in Africa both used herbal baths to let their children walk earlier and used plants for the fontanel of their baby. Mothers protected their newborns against evil eye, a disease caused by envious glances, although this CBS was more common in Suriname and only mentioned a few times in African populations. Also, on both continents mothers identified a mysterious metabolic ailment, causing babies to have sour smelling feces and diaper rash. This CBS goes by the same name in both Bénin and in the interior of Suriname: atita.
In total, 324 plant species were recorded. Detrended Component Analyses showed there was little overlap in plant use between Suriname and Africa: 15 species were used on two continents, of which seven species were used for the same CBS. However, the Surinamese and Africans did use many plants from the same families.
This research indicates that Afro-Surinamers have actively looked for similar plants to treat their CBS as they remembered from Africa. Although sometimes they could find the same species to treat their CBS, they had to reinvent the largest part of their herbal pharmacopeia by trying out new species or by using plants from known families. This suggests that ideas on health and illness are more resilient than the use of specific plant species to treat them.

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1 - Leiden University, Groenhazengracht 6D, Leiden, ZH, 2311 VT, The Netherlands
2 - Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Botany, Darwinweg 2, Leiden, 2333 CR, The Netherlands
3 - WWF Guianas, Henck Arronstraat 63, Suite E, Paramaribo, Suriname
4 - Wageningen University, Biosystematics Group, P.O. Box 647, Wageningen, 6700 AP, The Netherlands
5 - Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Botany, Darwinweg 2, Leiden, ZH, 2333 CR, The Netherlands

Traditional Medicine
Cultural Bound Syndromes
Child care
Medicinal plants
Trans-Atlantic slave trade
West Africa

Presentation Type: Poster:Posters for Sections
Session: P
Location: Hall D/The Shaw Conference Centre
Date: Monday, July 27th, 2015
Time: 5:30 PM
Number: PHS001
Abstract ID:278
Candidate for Awards:Emanuel D. Rudolph Award

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