Interview with a Grandmother
For this interview accomplishment, I had a conversation with my grandmother who is eighty eight years old. In accordance with her answers, her mother and father were born in Gonaives, Haiti, and her grandparents are coming from a rural community. She has 3 brothers and 2 sisters. My grandmother was grown up in an urban setting. Her parents grew up in Haiti. My grandmother was 64 years old when she moved to the United States, and her parents had already died up to that moment and never had an opportunity to come to the USA. When my grandmother was growing up, she lived with her grandparents, sisters, and brothers. She maintained the contacts with her entire family including aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, brothers, sisters, and her own children. However, most of her not very close relatives such as aunts, uncles, and cousins lived far from her home; they visited each other on a monthly basis. My grandmother’s original name was not changed. Her religious preferences are Protestant (Baptist), and her spouse had the same ones. Her spouse also had the same ethnic backgrounds as hers. My grandmother went to the public school. When she became adult, she lived in the neighborhood where her neighbors were of the same ethical, religious, and cultural backgrounds. My grandmother belongs to the religious institution. She describes herself as an active member and visits her church more than once a week. She also practices her religion at home praying, reading Bible, and celebrating religious holidays. My grandmother cooks traditional dishes of her ethnical background such as legumes, soup, and grits. She participates in ethnic activities such as holiday celebrations. She celebrates Christmas, Haiti Independence Day, Flag Day, and Easter. Most of her friends have the same religious background. Besides English, my grandmother speaks her native Creole language. She prefers to use this language in her usual communication. However, she cannot read her native language.
As it can be seen from the interview, my grandmother is not deeply committed to autochthonic Haitian traditions as she is very deeply committed to Christianity, and original Haitian traditions seem to her heathen and, therefore, sinful. She has not many examples from her own or her neighbors’ experience which could be used in describing folk Haitian medicine as my grandmother was living in the surrounding of the people who share her religious and cultural commitment. Therefore, she would rather prefer to rely on traditional medicine. However, she has some information received from her relatives who lived in the other locations where Haitian traditions are still followed. Thus, she could tell me something about the peculiarities of Haitian folk medicine.
One of the most significant parts of Haitian folk medicine is leaf-doctoring or herbal cures. Due to the fact that till the recent moment, Haitians had very restricted access to the advanced modern medicine, they used to rely on leaf-doctoring. Herbal curing plays a very significant role in the treatment of their diseases and maintaining their health. People gather herbs and use them in order to heal different diseases. Even though the Haitians are aware that modern medicine exists and is accessible for everyone, the old herbal beliefs still remain. Moreover, these beliefs are tightly connected with Voodoo magic.
The protection of health, in accordance with Haitian traditions, is connected with taking special potions made from herbs. For this purpose, many herbs are used. For example, tobacco is considered in Haiti not only as the indicator of status, but the preventive measure for many diseases. Chewing tobacco may protect from teeth spoiling, and taking snuff protects from headaches. However, there are also such strange practices like the prevention of vomiting. Haitians believe that vomiting may be prevented if to tie a big iron key around the neck or, for example, future pregnancies can be prevented if to burry the placenta face down. In order to protect their health, Haitians also wear special protective amulets.
Illnesses are cured in Haiti by the means of using different techniques. Traditionally, the empirical methods of treatment are applied. They include dietary recommendations (herbal teas or infusions, or regulation of hot/cold imbalance); massages (as the rule, accompanied by burnt alcohol or hot oil) for the dislocated bones or displaced inner organs be returned to their proper locations; compresses, poultices and baths made of herbs and other components for wounds and inflammations; laxatives and enemas are used for different purposes especially for treating “dirty blood.” Medications mostly are produced by using herbal mixtures and powders of leaves, bark, and roots from Haitian flora. Voodoo techniques are also used, but they are directed to healing the patient on the spiritual level. However, voodoo practices are also very popular.
The way Haitians maintain their health is similar to traditional methods. They pay much attention to full-fledged nutrition, hygiene, and physical activeness. They are also deeply committed to herbal potions which serve for health maintenance. Therefore, the Haitians prefer to use untraditional although modern medicine which is known by them and accessible for everyone. However, if there is something wrong with their health, they would rather prefer to go to the forests in order to gather the appropriate herbs than visit a doctor. This is more inherent to people from rural communities; instead, people who live in urban settings tend to use the modern medicine nowadays, especially those who are deeply committed to Christian religion.