Friday, April 4, 2014

5000 B.C.: An Egyptian hero thinks about air

Sometime around 5,000 years before the birth of Christ a man was sitting in an otherwise empty cave cutting open the body of an ox. As he set the knife upon the animal's chest he observed the chest was moving, and he cracked open the ribs and saw that the heart was still beating, although as he held it in his hands the beating stopped. The animal was dead.

After the rain stopped his brother's arrived, and helped him carry the animal back to the women and children at the shelter cave. The men rushed along because the wind was blustery, and the sky looked ominous. Our hero observed as he ran his own chest went in and out, and something cool and refreshing entered his nose and filled his chest. He felt a beating in his chest.

Upon entering the cave he and his brother unloaded the ox, and he sat on the floor trying to catch his breath. He paid attention to his breathing, enjoying the "air" that entered into him. "What is this?" he wondered, as he approached the animal once more, and finished cutting it open. He observed the blood this time. He surely saw it many times before, but now he was observing it. What was it really?

He held his baby daughter later that night as he sat around the fire, and felt her hair, her face, and her chest. He felt her chest bob in and out, in and out, in and out. He put his cheek near her mouth, and his hand upon her chest, and felt a warm, humid breeze each time her stomach moved in. He wondered what it was she was "exhaling" and "inhaling."

The next day he was in the wilderness along the Nile again, and he wondered what the blue sky was. He speculated it must be a gift of the gods, as his grandfather taught him. He did not doubt his grandfather, although he wondered if there was something more to it. Out of fear of being taunted by his fellow men, and mainly out of fear of offending the spirits, he tried to squash these thoughts. But he couldn't squash these thoughts. He wondered if he was blessed by having them, or cursed.

He told these thoughts to one person and one person only, and that was his son. He also told his son that if he ate to many figs he'd become nauseated and probably toss out his lunch. He told his son about the poppy herbs he found in the fields and how he used them one day when his mother lay dying in the back of the cave. He prepared them into a drink, and she drank of it, and she felt no pain and she died peacefully.

He told his son how he watched his mother "breathing" as she lie there in her sleep, and he saw that she stopped breathing and she was no more: she was dead. The father told his son that he wondered if breathing was essential to life, and if breathing in the air was necessary for life. He told his son he wondered if there was some form of vital substance in the air that was essential to life. When you no longer breathed you no longer inhaled this substance. The same must be true of the animals as for humans.

The son remembered the words his dad spake, and he also remembered the vow his dad forced him to make: "Never tell anyone you cannot trust with this knowledge." He thought of these words as several years later he was inside a cave, awaiting out a rainstorm, cutting open an ox. He split the cavity wide open and he observed a heart between two lungs, and he saw the liver and spleen and kidneys. He came up with names for these organs.

Yet he didn't stop there. He found that there is a series of vessels throughout the body of the ox, and when he cut one of these vessels open blood spurted out. He decided these vessels must contain the essence of life, and that perhaps this "blood" contained the air that was inhaled during breathing. He wondered if this was the gods communicating to him.

He was told to worship the Nile as the Great River, the heart of the gods. The Nile was the soul of Egyptian life, and through the channels (metu) his fellow men made through the land the gods were able to nourish the land so the crops would grow and the animals and humans could stay alive. The Egyptians learned to worship the Nile, and celebrate it as the essence of life.

Several years later the Egyptians formed several cities around the Nile River. The great-great-great--great grandson from the same family is the sage of the village: the medicine man. Yet he is more than a medicine man, as he has the ability to communicate with the gods, acting as a mediator between the gods and the people. He was a priest, the same line of priests that would eventually become the physicians. He was, in essence, the first physician, communicating directly with the god Thoth, who was the secretary of the gods.

Alone in a mud-brick house this first physician traced the vessels around the body, and he found that they went to all the parts of the body: to the arms, fingers, legs, toes, chest, head, and brain. He also found that these vessels all seemed to originate in the heart, and so he speculated that perhaps the air is the substance of life, or the words of the gods, and perhaps this air flowed through the body through channels (metu) carrying with it the words or nutrients of the gods to nourish the body, just as the black mud flowed from the Nile through the land through channels (metu) carrying with it the words and nutrients of the gods to nourish the land.

In this way, he speculated, the gods communicate with the land and the human body through the metu. So as one day one of these priests learns about a new method of writing down words, and so he copies these words onto paper made of papyrus, and he rolls it into a scroll. Now all priests will have this wisdom. And he makes anyone who is to be taught this wisdom to make a sacred oath to the god Ra that he will not share this wisdom with anyone. He does not know where the oath came from, but he knows it is wise to repeat it, and to consider it sacrosanct (too valuable to be interfered with).

The wisdom taught is that the god's words are the air, and the heart is the Nile, and the vessels of the body are the metu thought which the Nile speaks to the various parts of the body and land. The heart, therefore, is the essence of life. The heart is the soul. The heart is as the Nile: the center of everything. Your home is the Nile-heart of your life. Your child is the Nile-heart of your life. Bread is the gift of the gods, and it "strengthens your heart." If you have the gods with you then goodness will be with you, and you will be of "good heart." Your children are the heart and soul of your life. You share a heart with your spouse.

In this sense, he believed that as the Nile was the center of life in Egypt, the heart was the center of life in the human body. He believed that all senses communicated with the heart: the ears, the eyes, the tongue, the fingers, the toes, the nose, and so forth. Every part of the body, including all the organs, communicated witht the heart. It was the where all thought, emotions and intelligence was formed. Heart, to the Egyptians, was used in lieu of our words for mind. They'd say things like "keep your heart on the project at hand," instead of saying "keep your mind on the task at hand."

There were other organs of the body, and these were merely helpers. The substance in the head was the brain, and it controlled the flow of mucus to the nose. There is a metu between the brain and the nose, and therefore the gods spoke through this metu as well. There is also a metu that connects the vessels of the various organs of the body, including the ovaries and testicles.

Life and good health of the land and civilization is determined by the flow of black mud through the land, carried by the floods of the Nile and through the channels. If there is some sort of obstruction or problem with the flow, then there is a problem with life and health. When the water doesn't flow to Memphus, then the crops do not grow, the animals die, and people suffer and die as well. Severe drought results in severe problems with life. If drought is ongoing this means the gods are no longer speaking with the lands, and this results in death.

Likewise, Life and good health is determined by the flow of air, blood, sperm, tears, saliva, mucus, urine, nutrients, and feces through the metu of the body of animals and humans. If something happens whereby this flow is altered or obstructed, then this is when diseases happen. If the flow is obstructed in the ovaries, then diseases of the ovaries occur. If the flow is obstructed between the brain and the nose, then diseases of the respiratory tract occur, such as diseases like coughing, sneezing, wheezing, panting, or increased phlegm. If all the flow is obstructed so that a drought in the body occurs, then the gods are no longer speaking and death happens.

Yet while the metu carry the words of the gods, they can also carry bad words or poisons (wehedu). They can also carry poisons that entered the body by demons or angry gods. They can also carry poisons that entered the heart by inhaling poisons of the many evil spirits, or by the poisons that entered the body through food. Sometimes such poisons can enter the body by the evil people around you, perhaps someone you love wants you sick or dead. In either case, good substances and bad substances flow through the metu.

These poisons can cause various diseases and death, just as the good words of the gods can cause health and life. The good words can keep the flow flowing smoothly, and the bad words can cause obstruction and drought. These poisons can cause a person's breathing to become weak and labored. These poisons can cause a person to pant or gasp for air, or to cough, or to have increased phlegm. These poisons can take away life by making the heart stop beating.

Sometime around 3100 B.C. a king by the name of Menes, or maybe it was Narmer (or perhaps they were one and the same), became ruler of all of Upper and Lower Egypt, and by now there are many scribes and physicians among the priesthood, and these are the educated people among the land of Egypt. They are educated in or near the temples of the gods in Heliopolis and Memphus and various other cities. Historians now refer to Egypt at this time as one of the first civilizations, or one of the first GREAT civilizations.

He shared this knowledge with all aspiring priests. These priests were made to say an oath that his father made him say: ""Never tell anyone you cannot trust with this knowledge." The knowledge was taught through the years to all the priesthood, but only the priesthood, or anyone, for that matter, who is privileged to an education. This knowledge, herefore, as was all knowledge, esoteric: a privilege to only the few.

One of the priests, perhaps an ancestor of our hero, attributed this wisdom to the god Thoth, and he wrote a series of books that would later become known as the Hermetic Books. The first copies were written on clay tablets and placed at the temples. Once papyrus was invented these books were recopied and recopied over many years, and many physicians had their own copies and perhaps their own versions. Samples of these texts are still preserved to this day, perhaps in the tombs of one of our hero priests. Many are still at rest with their original owners.

A sample of one of these is referred to as the Ebers Papyrus, and it was discovered between the legs of a mummy. The man it is named after, Georg Ebers, thought it was a copy of the original Hermetic books, and he even believed the author was the priest-physician-architect Imhotep. Yet later experts realized the Ebers Papyrus was more like an encyclopedia, and contained copies of magical, yet mostly rational medical remedies for the various ailments of the day. It was a copy of a copy, more than likely, and the material within it was dated to be as old as the oldest empires of Egypt, perhaps as far back as 3000 or 4000 B.C.

Yet even though it wasn't an original copy, it contained recipes that were probably used by the owner it was buried with, and this owner was probably a physician. He either made the copy himself or had a scribe make it for him. Or, perhaps this book was made specifically by a scribe to be placed in the tomb of this physician for him to use in the afterlife. Although in the margins are the notes of the author, with words such as "I tried this. It works great." Some also speculate this copy was not used by a physician in practice, so much as a textbook for an instructor or student.

Along with the recipes, it also contained parts of another book called the Book on the Vessels of the Heart, and it reads as follows:
The Physician's Secret: Knowledge of the Heart's movement and Knowledge of the Heart. There are vessels (metu) from it to every limb. As to this, when any physician... or any exorcist applies the hands or his fingers to the head, to the back of the head, to the hands, to the place of the stomach, to the arms or to the feet, then he examines the heart, because all his limbs possess its vessels, that is: if (the heart) speaks out of the vessels (metu) of every limb.
The parts copied described the then known anatomy of the human body that consisted of a heart that communicated to the rest of the body through a series of vessels that acted as metu (arteries, veins, ducts, muscles, and nerves). The priest-physician was taught that by feeling the pulse he could hear the words of the gods from the heart.

By comparing this beat with his own, he was instructed, he could determine if the heart beat is slow or fast, and this would help him determine if something wrong was going on with the body. It was then his job to diagnose the problem: where is the flow obstructed? Why? What remedy would correct it, an incantation or herbal remedy or both? The answer could often be found in the book. 

On the other hand, if the heart beat was normal compared to his own, then the words of the gods had spoken: this person is healthy, or he will get better. Perhaps an incantation or a simple herbal remedy was in order to correct the ailment, or to prevent it from occurring in the future. The answer could often be found in the book.

The author of the Ebers Papyrus, the man who lived around 1600 B.C., shared with us some of the known anatomy of the day. Thanks to a 1937 interpretation by B. Ebbell, we know the Egyptians were aware of 46 vessels in the human body, and we know their basic anatomical wisdom as this:
There are 4 vessels in his nostrils, 2 give mucus and 2 give blood
There are 4 vessels in the interior of his temples which then give blood to the eyes; all diseases of the eyes arise through them, because there is an opening to the eyes.
There are 4 vessels dispersing to the head which effuse in the back of the head...
There are 4 vessels to his 2 ears together with the (ear) canal, 2 on his right side and 2 to his left side. The breath of life enters into the right ear, and the breath of death enters into the left ear...
There are 6 vessels that lead to the arms, 3 to the right and 3 to the left; they lead to his fingers.
There are 6 vessels that lead to the feet, 3 to the right and 3 to the left; they lead to his fingers.
There are 2 vessels to his testicles; it is they which give semen.
there are 2 vessels to the buttocks, 1 to (the right) buttock adn the other to (the left) buttock.
There are 4 vessels to the liver; it is they which give to it humor and air, which afterwards cause all diseases to arise in it by overfilling with blood.
There are 4 vessels to the lung and to the spleen; it is they which give humor and air to it likewise.
There are 2 vessels to the bladder; it is they which give urine.
there are 4 vessels that open to the anus (rectum?); it is they which cause humor and air to be produced for it. Now the anus opens to every vessel to the right side and to the left side in arms and legs when (it) is overfilled with excrements.
However, in another section of the Ebers Papyrus it's noted that there are 22 vessels of the human body. Some think this was because they were aware that there were different kinds of vessels, such as arteries that carried air and life to the various parts of the body, and veins that carried poisons to various parts of the body. However, this is mere speculation. Our hero had no knowledge of circulation, nor did he understand a difference between arteries, veins, ducts, tendons and nerves, and perhaps the Egyptians didn't either. They did however, as noted above, note the flow of water/blood from the Nile/heart.

There was another book copied in the Ebers Papyrus, or at least parts of it. It is from here where we get many of our recipes for remedies. The book is called The Collection on the Expelling of the Wehedu. Wehedu is the Egyptian word that refers to the material that makes pus, or, in other words, poisons. The book offers remedies to get the poisons out of the body and fix the damage. One remedy for asthma-like symptoms, according to Ebbell anyway, consisted of using a primitive inhaler device:
Thou shalt fetch 7 stones and heat them by the fire, thou shalt take one therof and place (a little) of these remedies on it and cover it with a new vessel whose bottom is perforated and place a stalk of a reed in this hole; thou shalt put thy mouth to this stalk, so that thou inhalest the smoke of it. Likewise wit all stones. Thereafter thou shalt eat something fat, of fat meat or oil."
This might have been the remedy for cough, wheezing, gasping, or increased phlegm. To the modern reader this may seem rational, considering the inhalation of herbs allowed for the medicine to be applied where the injury occurs: in the respiratory tract; in the lungs. Yet this remedy more than likely was used for other purposes, perhaps to blow herbal remedies over the royal anus, or the anus of any sick person.

The Egyptians were infatuated with the flow of this metu, and they were also infatuated with the mouth and nose where the air and food and poisons entered, they were also concerned with the anus where it all exited. One common remedy of the Egyptians was regular purging (vomiting) or enemas (bowel movement), because they believed most poisons entered the body from the foods that were eaten, and such remedies cleansed the system, allowing for continued and prolonged flow of the good words through the metu of the body.

It was a normal routine for Egyptians, regardless of class, to purge themselves for three consecutive days each month, according to Herodotus, the great Greek Historian (484-425 B.C.). Another Greek historian, Diodorus (90-30 B.C.), said they sometimes purged themselves "every day and sometimes at intervals of three or four days."

This was the knowledge that lasted for over 3,000 years while the Egyptians ruled, and this knowledge was protected by laws that forbade the dissection of the human body, even by physicians trying to understand why diseases happened. Neither priest nor priest-physician disobeyed these laws, because they knew they were the wishes of the gods, who were omniscient.

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Thales and Miletos, and later Hippocrates, entered the schools at Heliopolis and they were taught the wisdom of the Egyptian books. They shared this knowledge with their fellow Greek men and women, and such wisdom was advanced slightly and shared with the rest of the western world.

This knowledge was later shared with Rome by physicians like Asclepiades. When Rome collapse, this knowledge made it's way to Persia where the Arabs preserved it for Europe, when knowledge was once again appreciated by men in the west. Andreas Vesalias learned this wisdom, and in 1543 he wrote the first ever accurate book of anatomy, and from this medicine was advanced even further.

Yet the idea that disease was a concept caused by the absorption of poisons carried by the vessels of the body into the intestines is an idea that was believed even as recent as the beginning of the 18th century. The Egyptians believed almost from their early days that diseases were caused by some kind of imbalance in the body, perhaps due to some poison or Wehedu. The Greeks likewise believed this, although they referred to it as an imbalance of the four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. It was taught at the Asclepion Temples in Greece, by Hippocrates, by Galen, and by various other physicians.

Some poison, they believed, caused an increase or decrease in any one of these, causing an imbalance, and thus disease. The remedy, therefore, was to do something to recreate the balance. The remedy may be something as simple as allowing nature to take its course, or something more invasive as having the patient eat an excessive amount of figs to toss up the poisons, or a purging, or enema. It could also involve the process of bleeding the patient, and all these remedies were utilized even up to modern times. In some places of the world, the primitive world, these remedies are still utilized.

Yet it all began with our hero, a man who will never be known to history. He is a man without a face, a man without a name, a man without a known burial site, a man with no attribution, not even a random marker. Yet while others thank the Egyptians, or the Greeks, or the Romans for medicine, we know now that the man we must thank is our hero, the first man to think about air.   

  1. Evzen, Strouhal, "Life of the Ancient Egyptians," 1992, Translated by Deryck Viney, London, England, University of Oklahoma Press, page 245
  2. Sigerist, Henry E., "A History of Medicine: Primitive and Archaic Medicine," 1951, New York, Oxford University Press, pages 325, 349-52
  3. Prioreschi, Plinio, "A History of Medicine: Primitive and Ancient Medicine," 1995 (1999 reprint), Omaha, NE, Horatius Press, page 310-5
  4. Ebbell, B, translator, "The Papyrus Ebers: the greatest Egyptian document," 1937, Copenhagen, Levin and Munksguard, page 144, 114, 96, 97, 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

10,000 B.C.-1492: Natives of North America

Map of cultural ares of North America at the time of the
European invasion (from Wikepedia)
So what was it like to live with asthma in the early Americas?  To answer this question we must first understand the people who lived in the Americas.

Many of the tribes and families that migrated across Beringia stayed in North America.  Some continued to hunt and gather as individual tribes and families, and some of these tribes and families banded together to form larger tribes. They must have been at peace with their way of life, and had no reason to change unless nature, or enemy tribes, forced change.

As with other primitive societies, they worshiped the land, and believed health sickness, peace and strife, were the result of the many spirits that lived among them.  For the most part they were at peace, spending their time as hunters and gatherers, and as worshipers of the many spirits.  Some would ultimately become farmers.   

No one knows exactly when the various tribal nations were formed, although some estimated times are given when possible.  That said, here are some of the tribes of North America: 

Natives of North America
Clovis People:  13,500-13000 B.C.
Fluted spear tips (spear tips chipped into shape by stone tools) were found amid Bison bones in Clovis, New Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s, hence the name of the spear tip and the people.  These people are believed to be among one of the first cultures to develop in North America.  “Clovis people” is a generic name for the paleo-indians who came across the Bering Land Bridge and populated the Americas.  They were basically nomads, although from time to time they returned to places they found to be well stocked with vegetation and animals.  There were people who came before them, although some consider them parents many future native American cultures.
Eskimo (Inuit): 10:000 B.C. to current

There are hundreds of other tribal nations of the Subarctic Regions of North America, most of which speak Algonquin or Athapascan languages. Some of these are: Ojibwa, Chippewa, Cree, Innu, Kaska, Yellow Knives, Han, Chipewyan, Ahtna, Oji Cree, Anishinini, Tagish, Tlo Cho, Lower Tanana, Upper Tanana, Southern Tutchone, Northern Tutchone, etc. Click here for more
These are people indigenous to Siberia, Alaska, Greenland, and Canada.  They are considered among the last of the paleo-indians to cross Beringia.  They refer to themselves as the Inuit, or “the people.” Most of them came across over the ice on sleds led by dogs, and they lived in igloos and pit house. (Encyclopedia Britannica) They were fishermen and hunters, hunting reindeer, musk ox, seal, walrus, and whale.  Because they were known to eat both cooked and raw meat, they were called the Eskimo by the English, which is Algonquin for “eaters of raw meat.” The British often used Algonquin when referring to Native Americans, mainly because they were the first Native Americans they came into contact with. (Hakim, page 24, 25, 28)
Cliff Dwellers (Anasazi): 1100-1400 A.D.

Early Pueblo Indians
They are given their name by the large dwellings they built into the cliffs of the Rio Grande, along the Colorado river, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. They also lived in pit houses and pueblos, which were large, rectangular adobe houses made of clay, rock and straw. Some Pueblos had many rooms. They lived off the animals of the area (rabbit, deer, elk, etc.), and crops they planted along the river valleys below their cliff-homes.
Mound Builders:  3,400 B.C. to 1500s

Many mounds were built over a thousand years prior to the great pyramids of Egypt. 
They lived in cities with formal governments east of the Mississippi.  They made and collected gorgeous artistic ornaments, and even had their own businesses.  They also built mounds by carrying baskets of dirt.  The mounds were used as burial sites for the dead, and for temples to worship the spirits.  Some were used as palaces for the leaders of the tribes.  They were traders, collecting artifacts from other tribes from all over the Americas.  They created relay systems as trading routes. They were hunters and gatherers. 
Pueblo Indians
They basically live in the same regions as the Cliff Dwellers, after the cliff dwellers have moved on.  They lived in small villages with homes made of mud-brick, sticks and brush.  Many live around the Rio Grande, in rectangular houses made of sun-dried clay that were called adobe. The roof of one house is the front yard of another house built behind it on the hill or mountainside. To get inside they climb ladders and go through a hole in the roof.  They use rivers to irrigate land to grow crops that they rely on to survive. (Hakim, page 32)
Northwest tribes:

Kwakiuti, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Notka, Chinook, Makah, Haida, Okanagon, Spokane, Quinsault, Kalapuya, Kalispel, Shuswap
They lived in the states of Washington and Oregon.  There was enough food that they had no need to farm (creatures from the ocean, game that roamed the land, fish in the ocean and rivers, berries and plants amid the trees).  They made wooden canoes, houses, and totem poles.  They gathered in circles at night and beat drums, rattled beads, chanted songs, told stories of ancestors, and prayed.  Along with having celebrations, they also owned land and collected material possessions. The went to war only to collect slaves.  Their society was divided among nobles, commoners, and slaves. 
Plains Indians:

Comanche, Sioux, Omaha, Arapaho, Kansa, Iowa, Missouri, Cree, Osae, Cheyenne, Wichita, Crow, Ojibwa, Blackfoot, Mandan

They lived in the center of America from Canada to Texas and from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi, mostly in the open lands where there are few forests and no mountains.  The people are nomads, moving to where the food is (such as following Buffalo herds).  They hunted animals, and tried farming (although it was difficult).  They carry tepees and set them up wherever they are staying.  Sometimes they move daily, sometimes they stay in one spot if the crops are growing well. 
Woodland Indians:
Algonquin Indians:  They spoke a similar language, along the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and in the forests along the coastline. These are the Indians the Europeans first came into contact with, which is why many other Indian terms are based on Algonquin languages, including the term “Iroquois.” They were hunters and gatherers who did some farming. They live mostly in wigwams that can be easily built as they relocate to where the game is. Although in cold weather they built long houses. They are among the most common Native American tribes of North America, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Iroquois Indians:  They all spoke a similar language. Five tribes of the eastern woodlands created a League of Indian Nations (Iroquois Confederacy) that formed councils and lived in peace. Each tribe had its own laws, although in times of war they banned together. All council decisions were made unanimously. They mainly lived in long houses, and therefore they called themselves Haudenosaunee, or “people of the long houses.” They were farmers who did some hunting and gathering, moving their villages every few years to grow crops on new land, allowing the old to rest.. They league consisted of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca, although there were many other tribes.. The league later added a sixth tribe: the Tuscarora. joined in 1722.
These are the indigenous people who lived in the Eastern Woodlands amid the vast (and very large) trees between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River, and the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico.  The men hunted beaver, deer, raccoon, possum and bear with knives and bow and arrows. They also made canoes that they used to set up nets and fish for salmon, sturgeon, trout, smelt, etc. The women staid home and grew crops of corn, beans, squash and pumpkins.  They also pick wild nuts and grapes.   Some are the ancestors of the great mound builders. The forests are thick, so the Indians have to clear fields by scraping off the bark of trees (girdling) and waiting for them to die, before chopping them down with their axes.  They wear weather appropriate and simple clothes, usually made of animal hide and leather, and they decorate their bodies with tattoos, paint, feathers and jewelry. They make homes out of tree limbs called wigwams that could easily be constructed for quick shelter. Some built long houses out of mud and clay that were lived in for longer periods of time. There were hundreds of thousands of tribes across this region, which you can view here.

Long House
So you can see there were hundreds of thousands of tribal nations scattered around North America, some stretching across to more than one region.

There were also hundreds of thousands of languages (as you can see by this map), so you can see how this might cause some confusion when it came to cross tribal communications.

If you had a remedy for dyspnea, for example, you might not be able to share it with the other tribes, even other tribes around you.  So, although some tribes were able to create methods of communicating, and sharing ideas, talents, and even medicine, most did not.  So as new ideas were rarely shared in North America prior to the Spanish, French and British invasions, and this prevented the advancement of medicine, let alone any other civilized art.

I have barely scratched the surface in describing these great people, and I have not listed them all here. I simply want you to have an understanding of some of the societies of North America so you can get a feel for what it would be like to live among them.

Chances are if you were sick, it was the result of the unhappiness of the many great spirits, and to heal you must find a medicine man, a Shaman.  He or she has great wisdom and will heal you, or at least provide you words, or even a remedy, that will provide you with comfort.

Algonquin Village
Who knows what would have happened to the various cultures that existed in North America had the Spanish, British and French not have invaded the lands, forcing them to adjust to European way of life. Would they have ultimately formed huge civilizations like the Sumerians, Egyptians, Oltec and Maya.  We will probably never know.

What we do know is that the various tribal nations of North America had access to an array of herbs and berries, many of which were experimented with over many centuries.  Over time they learned that some of these could be prepared in various concoctions that could be used to treat the various ailments that plagued the Native Americans.

Among these "drugs" was a paralytic that was coated on the tips of spears called curare. Others drugs were used to create ointments to heal wounds.  Others were used to create potions that would cure the various internal ailments.

It's important to note for the sake of our asthma history some medicine was inhaled by stuffing it into pipes and inhaling the smoke. Yet while inhaling was a remedy for many ailments, it was rarely a remedy for asthma.

Still, the potential was there, if only the North American Indians were made aware that a medicine, and method, they already possessed was a remedy for an ailment that must have plagued an Indian from time to time.  

Although, for the sake of argument, many experts presume asthma was so rare among the North American Indians that there was no urgency to find a remedy for it.  

Regardless, most primitive societies believed diseases, asthma or otherwise, were caused by the spirits, and therefore mankind had no control over them.  It is for this reason that the main emphasis was on prevention over cure.  

Like the Egyptians and Hebrews so many years before their time, the Americans, therefore, were concerned with cleanliness, perceiving this to be the best method of preventing disease.  

As later Europeans and American Colonists came interacted with native American Indians, they were quite impressed with their cleanliness.  They observed the Indians washing daily in a river, or lake, or stream.

Upon investigation they learned this was because the Indians believed diseases were a result of a disharmony of the soul, and one of the means of maintaining an orderly soul was a daily washing.  (2, page 253-254)

John D. Hunter, in is 1823 book "Memoirs of a Captivity Among the Indians of North America," was one such person to have observed the Indians cleansing in the river:
Shes-ka-ne-shu. — Washing in the river. Bathing.—This, though perhaps not strictly speaking a cure for their diseases, is a very good preventive. It is much practised, constitutes one of their greatest pleasures, and, I am persuaded, contributes very much to strengthen the body and invigorate the constitution. Men, women, and children, from early infancy, are in the daily habit of bathing, during the warm months; and not unfrequently after cold weather has set in. (2, page 403)
North American Indians practiced year round bathing?  Could you imagine bathing in Lake Michigan in the middle of the winter?  Brrrrrrr

Would this have prevented, let alone cured, your asthma? Probably not.  Chances are, however, that simply believing it would may have eased your mind enough to take the edge off.

  1. Hakim, Joy, "A History of U.S.: 
  2. Vogel, Virgil J, "American Indian Medicine," 1970, London, university of Oklahoma Press, pages 22-35, 252