Healing war wounds and perfuming exile: the use of vegetal, animal, and mineral products for perfumes, cosmetics, and skin healing among Sahrawi refugees of Western Sahara
OPEN Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine | 29 Dec 2012
G Volpato, P Kourková and V Zelený
BACKGROUND: Over the past decade, there has been growing interest within ethnobiology in the knowledge and practices of migrating people. Within this, scholars have given relatively less attention to displaced people and refugees: to the loss, maintenance, and adaptation of refugees' ethnobiological knowledge, and to its significance for refugees' wellbeing. This study focuses on cosmetics and remedies used to heal skin afflictions that are traditionally used by Sahrawi refugees displaced in South Western Algerian refugee camps. METHODS: The research methods included a structured survey carried out with 37 refugee households, semi-structured interviews with 77 refugees, 24 retrospective interviews with refugees and other knowledgeable informants, and a voucher specimen collection of the plants and products cited. RESULTS: We recorded the use of 55 plant species, nine animal species, and six mineral products used within the three main use categories discussed in this paper: 1) Remedies for health issues that are typical of the desert environment where the Sahrawi once lived as nomads and now live as refugees (e.g. eye afflictions); 2) Remedies for wounds that are influenced by the Sahrawi’s recent history of guerrilla warfare; and 3) Cosmetics and products used for body care, decoration and perfuming (e.g. hair care, teeth cleansing, henna use) and for aromatizing the air inside of tents and which are widely used in everyday life and social practices. CONCLUSIONS: We discuss the changes that have occurred in the patterns of use and procurement of these products with exile and sedentarization in refugee camps, and conclude that refugees are not simply passive recipients of national and international aid, but rather struggle to maintain and recover their traditional ethnobiological practices in exile. Finally, we suggest further research into the ethnobiological practices and knowledge of displaced populations.
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