HG: “I remember one time, I came home from school and in the living room, I see my grandmother on her back while this random stranger is there. And he has these cups, it’s fire-cupping. It’s a pretty common thing, but at the time I did not know what was going on. The thing with fire-cupping is that you light a fire in the cup and then you immediately pat it on the person’s back and you let it sit there and then you take it off. I think it’s supposed to do some balancing, some sucking out something.”
The informant is a 20-year-old Chinese-American college student from Baltimore, Maryland. They lived with their grandparents in China for a period when they were around six, which is when they saw her doing fire-cupping. HG does not think that their grandmother “goes and sees a doctor in the Western sense,” and described how she tends to her body using traditional Chinese medicine. “She’ll always have a lot of herbs or whatever that are supposed to help you with this, or this, or this. You eat it rather than taking pills or something,” they said.
Fire-cupping has recently become a popular practice for treating pain in Western countries, but when HG first saw their grandmother doing it, they did not understand what it was. The process involves lighting a fire inside a cup to create suction and then placing the cup onto a person’s skin for a few minutes. The process often leaves bruises on a person’s skin. HG recalled that their grandmother told them that fire-cupping did not hurt.
Though practices such as fire-cupping and using herbal remedies could strike people who are used to Western medicine as strange, I understand why their long history of use, natural composition, and transparent impacts make them trustworthy in the eyes of people who use them.With fire-cupping, like many forms of traditional medicine, the person undergoing treatment knows exactly what is happening to their body. Unlike many Western medicinal practices, the effects of fire-cupping on the body are direct and immediately sensory. One feels the cups on their back and sees the marks they leave behind. This may be more comforting than ingesting factory-produced pill comprised of unknown chemicals and waiting to see if and how the body responds.
I think that a major reason why people trust traditional medicine is that it has been given credibility through generations of practice. People trust the wisdom and practices of their ancestors. Thus, it can be used not only to alleviate ailments, but also as a mode of connecting with one’s familial or cultural past.
As the main text of this piece describes, my informant learned this cure from a friend whose Grandfather was a Paiute Indian. Although he lived in a rural area between Cloverdale and Boonville, California, the man probably brought his knowledge of the treatment from somewhere in the Great Basin area that the Paiutes inhabited before genocide was committed upon them by white settlers.
This remedy was introduced to my informant by a childhood friend of hers who, upon seeing the wart on her thumb, asked to show her how to treat it.
“So I had a wart on my bone of my thumb knuckle, and it would go away– I would get like the wart remover at the store, and I’d put it on and it would go away but it would come back. And my friend G who’s grandfather was Paiute Indian had these fish bones that he had saved when he was alive for just this process. Um–He had stored this fish-bone-jar in his pantry and he was long past but the fish was caught at the creek on their property and I believe it was a steelhead. And–uhhh–she told me that her grandfather told her if you take these fish bones and you put them in your wart, going in one side and coming out the other side in as many different angles as you could, the wart would fall off and never return. And so I did that and it looked like I had a little porcupine on my thumb and I had to put a Bandaid over it so it didn’t catch on things, but it eventually fell off with the fishbone spikes and it never came back!”
Because this treatment worked for my informant, it’s a perfect example of the effectiveness of folk medicine. While many people of Western society disregard the potential benefits of folk medicine, much of it promises value. Even though modern medicine is thought to be much more precise and successful than its folk counterpart, many folk remedies have undergone hundreds or thousands of years of trial and error. This has allowed their tradition-bearers to understand which natural compounds are good for use in medicine along with their specific applications, and which are not. Illustrating the idea I’ve just presented is the fact that many cures which we consider to be modern medicine are compounds synthesized from plants that are commonly used in folk medicine.
Ginger tea for headaches
Informant: TF was born and raised in Villa Park, California. His father works in commercial real estate and his mother working as a manager for Choc Hospital. He has one older brother, a twin sister, and one younger brother. TF is half Lebanese and strongly connected to his Lebanese background. He is a first year student at USC. The informant heard this type of medicine from his mother who learned it from her mother who used this kind of medicine all the time when she was a child.
Where did you get this information?
“From my mom and she got it from her mom and so on.”
So how do you prepare it, and how does it work?
“So ginger is traditionally used to treat headaches. You’ll want to mix half a teaspoon ginger powder into a glass of water and drink. Or pour 1 cup of hot water over 1 teaspoon of freshly ground ginger. Let it cool slightly and then drink it. Simple as that. Ginger is particularly effective against migraine, and also helps control the nausea that often accompanies migraine.”
Does this folk medicine mean anything to you?
“It does, my family has been using this recipe for generation. It became a traditional cure for headaches in my family.”
It’s interesting how even with today’s medicine folk medicine is still used. This is proof of that. The recipe so simple and healthier than taking a pill. At the end of the day it’s cool to know that my informants family has been using the same recipe for headaches like his ancestors before him.