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Accepted Paper:

The Gut, the Body and the Microbes: Fermentation in herbal healing traditions of Assam, India  
Salla Sariola (University of Helsinki)

Paper short abstract:

This talk analyses understandings of the gut in Assamese herbal healing tradition, and how fermented products are used to control body heat. The gut is seen to regulate body heat, which is a starting point to wellbeing. The analysis places the body, gut and microbes in broader ecological contexts.

Paper long abstract:

When entering a house in the rural countryside of Assam, one of the states in the northeast of India, one of the first things one sees is a large plastic jar of lemons fermenting outside by the front door. These lemons are part of the local herbal healing system, bonkhoudi, where foraged and fermented plants are used for maintaining health. Fermented products such as lemons as well as rice beer have a particular role in the local healing system by cooling the body and curing specific ailments. The focus of this presentation is the understanding of the body in this healing tradition, and the specific illnesses for which the fermented products are used as remedies.

I will discuss the notion of body heat, which is a starting point to all other conditions, as well as ensures overall wellbeing. Body heat originates from gut health: balanced body temperature is regulated from the gut. Irregularities in body heat are caused by factors external to the body – weather and its changes, and food consumed.

Based on seven months of ethnographic fieldwork on fermentation, foraging and microbes, I will describe how fermented products were situated in the local healing system: how infection was understood on the one hand and how immunity and good bacteria for maintaining health were understood on the other. This analysis provides an important contribution to the anthropological writings on the body, gut as well as microbes by placing these in their broader ecological contexts.

Panel P233
Oh my gut: anthropological pathways to the cultural, affective, medical and multispecies entanglements of the gut
  Session 2