"Tuareg medicine women"


medicine women


"tinesmegelen as "women sorcerers, like the Hausa bokaye" (bokaye, sing. boka, ... Hausa for a healer who does ... healing ... with perfumes, plants, and herbs, and sometimes includes mediumship)"


"there are 99 ilaten herbal remedies on Mt. Bagzan in the Ai:r region"


"medicine women (tinesmegelen in the Niger Ai:r dialect of Tamajaq and tinesefren in the Malian dialect)"


"A medicine woman who has special mediumistic powers is called tamanai or tamaswad. Herbal medicine women who have acquired this additional divination skill are somewhat rare, and they must receive this from tutelary spirits in a calling, after an illness."


"A tanesmegel is a curer who uses tree bark to cure".


"I diagnose the illness with the aid of my finger (adade). ...

One touches the stomach in order to be certain of [the patient’s] health. It is the root. ... It is the stomach that protects all that the body contains."


"I treat amerdio (body bloating) and tuksi (... "hot" illnesses) with tree barks. ... Tuksi ("hot illness") ... enlarges the ... anus ... . {haimerrhoids?}

Tessmut ("cold" illness) is a sickness that prevents one from sitting still. ... Tazufnine (indigestion) sometimes attacks the knees. {arthritis?} ...

It is azera that can make one crazy, even marabouts cannot cure it. ...

I also treat the respiratory illness okuf. It medicine is a root of the tachilchit tree, and bark from the aza and, also, amizou (Mitragyna inermes) trees. ...


The moon causes another illness, afa, when its rays project on people. When a person is attacked by afa, he/she shivers."


"An unlucky day to travel is the last Wednesday of the month".


["tende n goumaten spirit possession ritual" for new mother :] "This lasted from approximately midnight or 1 a.m. until 3 a.m. ... Around sundown, one of [her] sisters and a smith man assembled the tende drum ... . During the ritual, they each played this instrument by turns; another (the oldest) sister played the asakalabo calabash. ... Many of these songs referred metaphorically to tree branches swaying in the wind; indeed, this is the name of one of the drum patterns associated with possession ... . [The new mother] responded to the songs ... by ... performing an elaborate head dance, called asul : this involves moving the head and shoulders ... from side to side ... until there is a collapse upon the ground. The latter motion is interpreted ... as becoming free of the afflicting spirits. ... [The new mother] danced with abandon, twirling a sword borrowed from her father over her head and


behind her shoulders. Yet she remained seated, as is usual, and silent except for her hand gestures, which are used to indicate ... drum patterns associated with particular spirits." {cf. Jaunsari Pahari woman’s dancing (HS, p. 196) to free herself from cheradha (souls of infants – HS, p. 195) which cause epilepsy}


"Alafaze is a condition caused when one ... is stamped on by an animal or a person. Tuksi (hot illnesses) are caused by food that contains too much oil ... . Ezziz is caused when you wash and you walk on hot earth ... . ... Anoughou ... is caused by a change in diet from food you are accustomed to, or if you change the time of eating."


"One ... illness, called karambaza, is a special stomach ailment believed transmitted by smith/artisans who ... activate ... a malevolent force called tezma because nobles have not paid them for their work ... . ... One basic divination ritual many medicine women use to diagnose karambaza is to rotate a pot over the fire, at the same time pronouncing the names of the foods or other items possibly craved by the smith ...; when the pot stops rotating, this indicates what angered the smith/artisan."


"Many herbal medicine women ... used combined touch and scent in divination/diagnosis, called edes or "touch" ... . ... The person learns massage ... to cure tarzak and aghitiss."


"herbalists cannot treat women during the healers’ menstrual periods.

... female patients cannot have sexual relations with their husbands during treatment."


"I cook the head of a sacrificed animal ... . ... When the patient takes the medicine, they eat the head, also."


While doing a curative massage, "the herbalist touches the ground "in order to take the disease out of both patient and healer, and to throw away or take away disease; the ground absorbs the disease.""


"The head (eghef) is considered the place where spirits reside once they have entered the liver (tessa) and stomach (tedis). ... The liver (tessa) is considered the seat of sentiments such as angler and love, and it is the place where non-Qur>anic spirits often enter; these require the tende n goumaten spirit possession ritual ... . The soul (iman {Spanish for ‘magnet’}, also denoting life and breath), is believed to leave the body during sleep and walk about. Upon death, the soul may be contacted through dreams or through offerings to graves. The heart (ewel) is connected to sentiments such as generosity and compassion".


"There is also a relation between the Kel Essuf spirits ... and the black color : certain women protect themselves with ... antimony (kohl) applications on the face."


"Tagurmat was an ancient woman who led Tuareg ancestors ... . She had ... girl twin founders/cultural heroines : they were called Aaneghale and Chite."


"The grandparent (kaka) of medicine is the Kel Agatan (clan)."


"medicine for ezziz (predominantly a woman’s illness, from sitting on hot mats or sand ...) : this consists of ... dried elephant droppings or rabbit droppings, and crow’s eggs, crushed and mixed together. The patient ... puts this medicine in the fire, and then approaches the fire."


"Kel Essuf Spirits of the Wild who attacked her liver ( the seat of strong sentiments, especially love) and head, requiring the tende n goumaten exorcism"


"there is among the Tuareg the anthropomorphic {anthroposentient} idea 9most likely from pre-Islamic cosmology and mythology) that certain trees can participate in conversations).

... a widowed or divorced woman who was obliged to undergo three months of ida (sometimes called al ladat) or seclusion from men could circumvent this rule by making an offering to a tree, begging it to release her from this restriction and allow her to remarry sooner. Medicine women suspend the clothing of sick patients in trees in order to ... take away their illnesses."


"trees in some tales give directions to brothers searching for a lost sister or vice versa, to a sister searching for lost brothers."


"The fruit of the atanin tree in the Alawa region is used for leatherwork tanning".

"Anemelu denotes both a literal twin and, in its plural form, can refer to pairs of brothers married to pairs of sisters. Tanemelout or tanimilet is the feminine term for a sister-in-law in these unions".


"In pre-Islamic Tuareg cosmology, the ground ... is associated with Waddawa, the Old Woman (of the Earth) present during childbirth as the earth opens up and threatens the woman giving birth."


"The agar tree is said to shelter spirits. ... its ashes and smoke protect from spirits, and its leaves are used for medicine women to cure an illness of the brain and respiratory system called okouf."


"Tuareg believe that iman, soul or life, leaves the body and wanders in sleep as in death and during travel.

... the tadan tree is feared; it is believed to shelter spirits; but its fruit is eaten. The ebizguin tree’s cool leaves are chewed or inhaled as a medicine for those azni ... illnesses, colds, and sore throats. ....

In local belief, love has nineteen switches that beat the one in love.

The aza is a tree with thorns and inedible fruit; the abaka tree, also, has thorns, but yields good fruit".

"A person who has been bitten by a rabid animal should climb the agar tree, which must then be chopped down, causing the


spirit to leave ... . The afagag (Acacia raddiana) tree forms large, nest-like clumps believed to hide spirits, and ... people should avoid sleeping beneath it. The tiboraq (Balanites aegyptiaca) is also believed at times to shelter spirits. ... All three trees described above ... have a tufted, hirsute appearance".


"For each tree, one offers a different prayer ... . While gathering medicines, before pulling leaves and/or bark off each plant, [the nedicne woman] prayed. She knelt before each tree – here the obdeg, tadeine, and gamji trees – and said a different prayer. ... She ... spat to convey al baraka on some leaves and barks before placing them in her medicine bag."


"rotating medicine constitutes giving alms."


"it was the evil mouth or eye. ... This togerchet symptom is located in the body between the bladder (tezague) and the belly button (taboutout)."


"exorcism specialists who preside over that musical spirit possession ceremony called tende n goumaten, featuring drumming and singing believes to "please" and placate certain non-Qur>anic spirits alternatively called goumaten or Kel Essuf, which afflict predominantly, though not exclusively, women."


"a medicine woman spits on the medicine in her hand when she administers them in order for her blessing power to be transmitted."


"Medicine women ... gather medicines outside in the wild (essuf) near stone ruins (ibedni) of ancestral spirits. Before they leave to gather, they must circle millet and sugar three times over the heads of their maternal nieces and nephews."


"Alafaz, sorcery (eghaghawe or echaghel) is located in the stomach. Tuksi hot illness is soft. Tessmut cold illness is like seeds or grain to the touch."


"The use of dreams (targat) is to tell the difference between good and bad".


"the husband had purchased magic from a spirit in Nigeria to make him become rich but had neglected to sacrifice the necessary chicken weekly, and so the spirit, it was believed, had caused several children to die."

"the tutelary spirits of non-Qur>anic diviners respond to them only after they offer them alms of perfume or animals."


"A diviner has relations with spirits (the Kel Essuf ...). Spirits are like a husband; with a contract, the woman does things for them, for example, she slaughters an animal."


"Another woman, ... famous throughout the region, ... began her divination after she had a serious illness for a long time, lying down without speaking, eating, or drinking. ... One day, people saw her install her covers, she told them, "You must bring me a sheep and slaughter it for alms." They slaughtered the sheep, and she said, "Now I am cured," and she began the work of divination (asawad). Each thing she told them, they saw it was true.


"Kel Essuf enter places once full of people and now empty."


"here are vast spaces, dotted with wells ...into which children (and also many non-Tuareg visitors unfamiliar with the environment) sometimes fall."


"Certain persons are believed to have a pact or contract with some Kel Essuf who aid them. Such persons, sometimes called "friends of the Kel Essuf" ..., almost always have several spirits with them, speak to these spirits in their special language, and execute mystical actions with their aid. They can help other humans by giving them advice against illness, or they can find things or predict future events by sending their Kel essuf spirits who travel very rapidly. The concept of essuf, which denotes "the wild," and extension, sometimes, also "solitude" or "nostalgia," is used, not solely in public spirit possession ritual contexts, but also in mediumistic divination ... . ... There exist special methods of contacting the Kel Essuf through the following rules :

one must be clean, because Kel essuf detest dirt;

one must sacrifice a sheep or goat every seven days ...; ... and

one must not marry without authorization of one’s spirits".


"Some medicine women ... may ... call on spirits in private dreams, but ... the tutelary spirits of sleeping non-Qur>anic diviners respond to them only after they offer them alms of perfume or animals. The tutelary spirit is believed to mount the diviner." {This belief that the possessed medium in mounted and ridden by the possessing-spirit is also found in vodun and in tantra.}


When an unmarried woman "had a love affair ... and gave birth out of wedlock ... the child was kept hidden from view." Such unwed mother "later went insane" (due to shame).

HS = Krishnakali Majumdar : "Healing through the Spirits". In :- Winkelman & Peek (Eds.) : Divination and Healing. U of AZ Pr, 2004. pp. 183-206

pp. 126-128 tale of sister (Telilan ‘guinea-hen’) seeking her 7 lost brethren



explanation (pp. 128-9)


Already having 7 sons, woman gave birth to a daughter. "When she gave birth, she beat the acanzam (drums played by smiths to announce a birth) and gave the women’s (ululating) cry.


months since that sister’s 7 brethren had wandered past a tree




p. 128 nature of that tree




"eaten by camels"




"whose fruits are eaten"




"with bent thorns"




"whose leaves and fruit called ebalaqan are eaten"




"tree with thorns, whose gum is eaten; ... on the mountains"




"with which the mortar is made, also the mortar drum in the possession exorcism ritual."


The 7 brethren gave their sister in marriage to a long-fingernailed devil for retrieving their bucket from a well.



That spirit’s external "soul is inside the horn of a moufflon that has a single horn." (It consisted of "hair".)


"The crow came, she was taken away by some crows who placed her in their nest."

p. 129 "The crow steals eggs from other animals and brings them back to his nest".


The brother "with the two tufts of hair" brought camels for his sister Telilan.

p. 129 "Red camels are less preferred than white ones, but more preferred than black camels".

pp. 157-161 what marabout-s say about themselves and about medicine-women




"According to [a marabout] who specializes in alekhustara, a type of divination done in dreams while sleeping, ... My patients tend mostly to have one of three types of ailments : togerchet or imi n dunet evil eye or mouth, eljenan spirits, or echaghawe sorcery. ...

Medicine women who divine (tchimaswaden) use non-Qur>anic (Kel Essuf) spirits in their work ... . Each healer uses their own systems or logic : divination (seeing or looking, asawad), stars (itran) {cf. <ibri^ mythic person /YITRAN/, who may be aequated with Vaidik god /INDRA/}. ... . Medicine women ... can diagnose spirits, evil eye or mouth, and sorcery ... . ...


During dreams, you compare good and evil; you choose the truth and the good road."


According to another marabout, "Albourouj is itran with a board (wooden tablet). Everyone who sees me, I must do albourouj in order to know his/her star. ...


In addition to this, I also treat evil eye or mouth (togerchet), it is with this forearm-measure cloth (coude) that I identify it. ... [But] only men, no women, do itran divination. ...


When I do itran, when I begin the treatment, I make an offering. I slaughter a goat or sheep given by the patient ... . ... If he does not make the offering, the marabout catches the illness. ...

A tamaswad (medicine woman specializing in dream divination) has relations with spirits. Someone who has relations with the spirits, when one calls them, they reply."


According to yet another marabout, "Each star (etri) has a different cure. ... additional divination/diagnoses and treatments of marabouts ... include Igazen, a method of divination in the sand done by marabouts; such a specialist is called amegazo. Imegazen (pl.) are sand-diviner specialists, apart from other marabouts ... . ... Ghuneb refers to the horoscope-based process of divination. ... Each person has a star that represents the sun, wood, animal, water, fire, etc., that contains a person’s future and character, according to which day of the week he/she was born on."

p. 157 "In marabout treatment, a patient may drink the vegetal ink used to write verses on a prayer board" {this is Daoist}.

p. 158 "There is the local belief that each person has a star, which constitutes the path to a cure." {cf. Nus.ayri^ personal star}

Susan J. Rasmussen : Those Who Touch. Northern IL U Pr, DeKalb, 2006.