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The Ethnomedical System of the Siddis of Gujarat, India: The dynamics of healing in an African diaspora community

Solanki, Seema (2020) The Ethnomedical System of the Siddis of Gujarat, India: The dynamics of healing in an African diaspora community. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (KAR id:80351)

Language: English

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The Siddis, a tribe of African descent in Gujarat, have been part of India for more than six centuries. This study was conducted in three different villages (Jambur, Sasan Gir and Sirvan) located on the periphery of the Gir Sanctuary and National Park in Gujarat, India. The research shows how medical pluralism in India (especially, Ayurveda and biomedicine) has shaped Siddi ethnomedicine. The thesis also compares ethnographic and ethnobotanical data from India to the published literature on traditional medicinal practices (use of plants, ritual healing acts, role of music and dance) of African diaspora peoples in the Americas. The research reveals that the healing system of Siddis brings together their ethnobotanical medicine (dava), which is similar to that of the neighboring Maldhari tribe and spiritual medicine (dua), which resonates with their African heritage. A total of 149 plant species, their uses, and methods of preparation have been documented in the Siddi herbal pharmacopoeia. The thesis also discusses the role of diet and the concept of 'Fo-Med' (Food as medicine), reasons behind a gradual shift toward preferences for Ayurvedic and pharmaceutical medicines, humoral theory of 'hot and cold' and the core of the healing system of this African diaspora population, i.e. woman and child healthcare. Siddi healing is a medical representation of cultural syncretism and is also at the interface of medicine and religion. The study discusses the important role of Siddi ancestral saints and the diasporic history of Siddis to contextualise the spiritual aspects of Siddi healing. The reinvention of many Siddis as spiritual guides, and the emergence of some Siddi mausoleums as important healing centers for the people from all religions and socioeconomic strata have helped Siddis to create space and identity for themselves in India through their healing art. The role ofmusic, including dancing and drumming (referred as dhamaal) in the healing system of Siddis is also discussed. With a main focus on Nagarchipir's dargah 'mausoleum' at Jambur village, where drumming is performed daily, I describe the role of dua in ritual healing of ailments, which Siddis consider as the "domain of the transcendental". The two main areas of focus of Siddi healing, i.e., reproductive/maternal and child healthcare reflect both the strength and concern of the Siddi healthcare system (dava + dua) and they also exemplify the dynamic presence of medical pluralism and its subsequent role in Siddi healthcare. The analysis includes a comparison of the theories of causation of female reproductive healthcare problems, and related therapeutic remedies between the African diaspora people in Americas and the Siddis. The main findings show that like women in Africa or from African diaspora, Siddi women in Gujarat also emphasise a lot on vaginal health and its tightness. However, Siddi women rely more on ingestion technique i.e. use of golis "vaginal balls" which are mainly made of plants than on vaginal steams and herbal baths that are more common in African women or African diaspora women in other parts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Waldstein, Anna
Thesis advisor: Puri, Rajindra
Uncontrolled keywords: Ethnomedicine, African Diaspora, Siddi, Medical Anthropology, Health
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2020 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 13 May 2022 11:33 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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