Folk Medicine, Pneumonia

UB: I think as a person who helped to heal in my community, um, she also seemed to know something about um, and I, I don’t want to call it acupuncture, but she knew that, that uh, there were certain that went on with the foot, um, that if you, if you, did certain things with the foot you would also cure other things. And this was before acupuncture and before mapping of the foot and all this other kind of stuff that went on.

N: mhm

UB: and what had happened was that when I was almost 2 years old, I had pneumonia, and, uh, my mother managed to get me to the hospital, which sent me home because they wouldn’t give me penicillin. There was none available and the prognosis was that I was gonna die. And my mother was very upset about that, and so when Mom Mae came, Mom Mae said that, to my mother, my mother told me about this many times, Mom Mae said you should turn his feet to the fire. This was her way of, of, addressing the congestion in the lungs and the nasal and everything else because I was barely breathing, that’s what my mother said and so, that’s what she did. They opened the stove, the gas stove, and my mother said that Mom Mea sat with her all night, of course prayed, and held my feet to the fire even though I tried to resist it, and she said the fever broke I started coughing all of this phlem and everything and cleared my lungs and everything and so then I survived this.

N: interesting

UB: So in my neighborhood, um when people became ill, um they would always call for Mom Mae, her name was Mae Springfield, was her full name


Folk medicine is a staple in culture, ancient and modern, and is a basis of much modern medicine. Thus use of folk medicine is seen by some to be a source of magic, often being practiced by a select chosen few such as shaman, witch doctors and medicine men, for example. This bit of folklore was given to me by an informant, now in his late 70s, who experienced it first hand, and was then retold it as he grew up. He remembers it because of all the help this woman, Mom Mae, brought to his community. Mom Mae was not a trained doctor, but someone who was able to learn these things, probably through oral tradition, a show of her West African heritage that had survived through the atrocities of slavery. While I would be skeptical in the beginning, it would be because of a general lack of understanding and the societal idea that folk medicine is to be considered not “real medicine”, though, these recalls seem to say otherwise. The retelling of these stories also turns Mom Mae into a sort of a local legend, giving her status while she was alive, and mystifying her among the generations afterwards.