Although most Moroccans rely to some extent on traditional medicine, the practice of frigg to treat paediatric ailments by elderly women traditional healers known as ferraggat, has not yet been documented. We describe the role of these specialist healers, document the medicinal plants they use, and evaluate how and why their practice is changing.
Ethnomedicinal and ethnobotanical data were collected using semi-structured interviews and observations of medical encounters. Information was collected from traditional healers, namely ferraggat, patients, herbalists and public health professionals. Patients' and healers' narratives about traditional medicine were analysed and medicinal plant lists were compiled from healers and herbalists. Plants used were collected, vouchered and deposited in herbaria.
Ferragat remain a key health resource to treat infant ailments in the rural High Atlas, because mothers believe only they can treat what are perceived to be illnesses with a supernatural cause. Ferragat possess baraka, or the gift of healing, and treat mainly three folk ailments, taqait, taumist and iqdi, which present symptoms similar to those of ear infections, tonsillitis and gastroenteritis. Seventy plant species were used to treat these ailments, but the emphasis on plants may be a recent substitute for treatments that used primarily wool and blood. This change in materia medica is a shift in the objects of cultural meaningfulness in response to the increasing influence of orthodox Islam and state-sponsored modernisation, including public healthcare and schooling.
Religious and other sociocultural changes are impacting the ways in which ferraggat practice. Treatments based on no-longer accepted symbolic elements have been readily abandoned and substituted by licit remedies, namely medicinal plants, which play a legitimisation role for the practice of frigg. However, beliefs in supernatural ailment aetiologies, as well as lack or difficult access to biomedical alternatives, still underlie the need for specialist traditional healers.