23 October 2011

Till their eyes are almost staring out of their heads

From a biography of 18th century English explorer Samuel Hearne (1745-92), who travelled extensively in the vast northern regions around Hudson's Bay, a discussion of Hearne's record of the medical traditions of the Dene Indians (First People):

The Dene had conjurors of their own, highly skilled men who reminded Hearne of magicians and 'jugglers' (sleight-of-hand artists) he had seen working the streets of London. To treat injuries, Dene conjurors would blow, spit and suck on the wound, or else chant over it unintelligibly. 

'For some inward complaints, such as griping in the intestines, difficulty in making water, etc., it is very common to see those jugglers blowing into the anus, or into the parts adjacent, till their eyes are almost staring out of their heads; and this operation is performed indifferently on all, without regard to either age or sex. The accumulation of so large a quantity of wind is at times apt to occasion some extraordinary emotions, which are not easily suppressed by a sick person; and as there is no vent for it but by the channel through which it was conveyed thither, it sometimes occasions an odd scene between the doctor and his patient; which I once wantonly called an engagement, but for which I was afterwards exceedingly sorry, as it highly offended several of the Indians; particularly the juggler and the sick person, both of whom were men I much esteemed, and, except in that moment of levity, it had ever been no less my inclination than my interest to show them every respect that my situation would admit... Being naturally not very delicate, they frequently continue their windy process so long, that I have more than once seen the doctor quit his patient with a face and breast in a very disagreeable condition. However laughable this may appear to an European, custom makes it very indecent, in their opinion, to turn any thing of the kind to ridicule'.

- Samuel Hearne, quoted in Ken McGoogan, Ancient Mariner, London, 2004.

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