Herbal bathing: an analysis of variation in plant use among Saramaccan and Aucan Maroons in Suriname | Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine | Full Text

Since ancient times, people have believed that bathing in a spring, sea or river leads to physical and mental purification, thereby improving one’s health. The ancient Greeks thought that certain natural springs or tidal pools were blessed by the gods and bathing in them would help cure diseases [1]. In Christian baptism, the pouring of water is considered a symbol of transition and renewal in which a person makes the transition from physiological birth to social birth [2]. Early descriptions (AD 297) of Japanese culture refer to ritual baths after funerals for cleansing and purification [3]. Bathing can have many different meanings across cultures, from an individual act concerned with cleanliness and hygiene, to social acts related to rituals of purification and separation, or as a form of therapeutic practice [2].

Ethnobotanical studies have reported on bathing as a form of medicinal treatment in many cultures worldwide, such as Africa [4,5], Asia [6,7,8], Europe [9], South America [10,11] and the Caribbean [12,13,14]. Herbal baths appear to benefit not only physical health but also mental well-being in people. However, human motivations for including certain plant species in certain types of herbal baths and regional differences in herbal ingredients remain largely understudied.

Herbal baths form a large part of the traditional medicinal practices of the Maroons, descendants of escaped African slaves who fought for their freedom and settled in the tropical rainforest of Suriname [14, 15]. Their ancestors came from different parts of Africa and came from numerous ethnic and linguistic groups [16]. Between 1658 and 1825, slave traders brought Africans from many different regions and ethnic groups of West and Central Africa to Suriname, such as the Slave Coast (eastern Ghana to Benin), the Loango region (southern Gabon to northern Angola), the Gold Coast (Ghana) and the Windward Coast (Ivory Coast). , Liberia and Sierra Leone) [17, 18]. Due to their different geographical origins, cultures and languages, the Surinamese slaves formed a heterogeneous group [18]. They brought their own cultural heritage of values, knowledge and beliefs to the New World, where they became a new community and began to share a culture of their own making [16]. As no names or origins of the slaves were registered upon arrival, the connection of the Surinamese Maroons to their African heritage remains difficult [19].

Today there are six Maroon ethnic groups in Suriname (Fig. 1) with one estimated population of 127,000, which is 23% of the country’s total population [20]. The Saramaccaner (58,000 inhabitants) and the Aucaner (56,000 inhabitants) form the largest groups. Historically, these groups have not maintained extensive social contact with one another, having settled between different major rivers separated by dense rainforest [21, 22]. They have lived in quite isolation for centuries, leading to the development of their own cultures with their own distinct languages ​​(Saramaccan and Aucan), dietary habits and traditions[23].

Chestnuts are known for their traditions Contains a blend of herbal ingredients. Plant species used in Saramaccan and Aucan Maroon herbal baths have been the subject of recent ethnobotanical studies [12, 15, 25, 26]. Even Maroons who immigrated to the Netherlands after Suriname gained independence in 1975 claimed that herbal baths were essential to their well-being and part of their cultural identity [27]. The variation of herbal baths and their botanical ingredients between and within their different Maroon groups has not been studied in detail. Because most of the studies have been conducted in a single Maroon community and little data exists for the smaller Maroon groups, it is not clear how representative these studies are for Surinamese Maroons in general.

In this study we have Plants compared use in six commonly used herbal baths documented in the Saramaccan and/or Aucan Maroons: adult strength baths [14, 28, 29], baby strength [13, 14, 26, 28], skin conditions [ 14, 28, 29], respiratory diseases [14, 28, 29], mental illnesses [14, 15, 28, 29, 30] and genital steam baths [12, 14, 28]. In these studies, the baths were mainly described for a specific Maroon community, but no comparison was made between different Maroon groups.

The ancestors of the Saramaccan and Aucan Maroons escaped from various plantations, the English either or Dutch belonged to Masters (Aukaner) or Portuguese Jews (Saramakkaner) in different periods. The Saramaccan community developed around 1690-1710, followed by the Aucan community after 1712 [31, 32]. Their geographic separation and limited contact likely led to different ethnobotanical practices.To examine these differences, our research focused on four main questions: (1) How are the six herbal baths prepared and by whom? (2) What types of plants are used in these herbal baths? (3) How do these plant species differ between and within the Aucan and Saramaccan maroons? (4) Is the similarity in use of plants related to herbal bath type, ethnic group, or geographic location?

We hypothesized that Aucan and Saramaccan Maroons use different plant species for the same species used by herbal baths. We expected that spiritual baths in particular would show little similarity in plant species based on the symbolic meaning of most herbal ingredients being related to specific maroon culture histories rather than pharmacological content [15,25]. However, we also hypothesized that botanicals used in genital steam baths would show a greater resemblance based on the selection of botanicals containing specific active ingredients favored in these baths, such as: B. tannins and essential oils [12, 25]. We expected that differences in plant species would be determined by bath type (application) and by ethnicity (cultural preference). Eventually, we expected to find the most overlap in genital bathing plant species within the Saramaccan community.

The outcome of this research will contribute to and may provide a foundation for the overall knowledge of traditional health care practices among the Aucan and Saramaccan chestnuts for further evaluation of the medical effectiveness of baths and the therapeutic potential of medicinal plants in general. Analyzing the variations in the traditional medicinal knowledge of the Maroons will not only contribute to a better understanding of their cultures and their strong relationship with nature, but will also verify how representative the plant use documented in a given village is for the entire ethnic group. Our results will clarify whether plant use is uniform or variable within an ethnic group.


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