Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/15
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Armenian, Italian, Russian, Turkish
Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this Armenian folk remedy which makes use of staining skin with iodine with me during this conversation.
Informant: The most ridiculous, like some of the Armenian remedies, like I can see them working, but this one makes… no sense. Like, and it’s been done to me since I was a child. Any ailment you have, whether it be a fever, whether you have a lump on your nose, whether you have warts… For some reason, they truly believe… this… does something for you. Like it chemically does something for you, even though it makes no sense. They take pure iodine, the liquid form. They stain your skin, on your chest and your back, in a hashtag. And… you leave it on you. And they keep redoing it on a twenty four hour basis. And supposedly, after you do that a number of times, your ailment is supposed to completely go away. Disclaimer: it has never worked for me.
Me: What’s the rationale behind it?
Informant: There’s none. I don’t know what it is. They just, they truly believe… I think it’s actually a remnant of a time when Armenians were Pagans. When they believed that there were, you know, demons and um… spirits and all those things. And so I think they believed that the hatch-mark in iodine would… I’m sure back then they had a different chemical, but the hatch-mark is supposed to ward away the evil things. So if there was something lingering in your body, or if there was some… ailment or problem in you, the hatch-mark would deflect it, and it would leave your body.
Me: So it’s more about the shape and not the iodine itself?
Informant: Yeah… I think the iodine is just an instrument because it stains. Iodine stains your skin really well, and it’ll stain it for a while. And that’s the point. Um… because I’m sure they… I mean, I’m sure they could have used henna just as easily. It’s just the fact that it stains your skin, and it has to be the hatch-mark shape on your front, and on your back.
Me: So then like… who would do that to you?
Informant: Um… just whoever’s taking care of you. A mother would do it. A mother… Fathers never touch their kids. You know, a father doesn’t really pay attention to the child’s upbringing, until they’re of a certain age where they can do an internship or start pursuing jobs or they’re in highschool and need life advice or whatever. But the mother’s the primary caretaker… of a child.
Me: So that holds true in Armenia?
Informant: Yeah. That’s… ’til this day. It has not changed.
This remedy is an example of a piece of folk medicine that has been passed down through families for generations. My informant does not believe the remedy works for her, though her parents continue to practice it. The remedy is used to treat a variety of ailments and is not specific to one illness.