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Aboriginal beliefs about the “Causes of Illness”

Throughout Australia, Aborigines believed that serious illness and death were caused by spirits or persons practising sorcery. Even trivial ailments, or accidents such as falling from a tree, were often attributed to malevolence. Aboriginal culture was too rich in meaning to allow the possibility of accidental injury and death, and when someone succumbed to misfortune, a man versed in magic was called in to identify the culprit.m2040863These spiritual doctors were men (rarely women) of great wisdom and stature with immense power. Trained from an early age by their elders and initiated into the deepest of tribal secrets, they were the supreme authorities on spiritual matters. They could visit the skies, witness events from afar, and fight with serpents. Only they could pronounce the cause of serious illness or death, and only they, by performing sacred rites, could effect a cure. The healing of trivial non-spiritual complaints, using herbs and other remedies, was practiced by all Aborigines, although older women were usually the experts. To ensure success, plants and magic were often prescribed side-by-side.

Plants were prepared as remedies in a number of ways. Leafy branches were often placed over a fire while the patient squatted on top and inhaled the steam. Sprigs of aromatic leaves might be crushed and inhaled, inserted into the nasal septum, or prepared into a pillow on which the patient slept. To make an infusion, leaves or bark were crushed and soaked in water (sometimes for a very long time), which was then drunk, or washed over the body. Ointment was prepared by mixing crushed leaves with animal fat. Other external treatment included rubbing down the patient with crushed seed paste, fruit pulp or animal oil, or dripping milky say or a gummy solution over them. Most plant medicines were externally applied.

Medicine plants were always common plants. Aborigines carried no medicine kits and had to have remedies that grew at hand when needed. If a preferred herb was unavailable, there was usually a local substitute

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