The ‘trementinarias’ were not witches, but great connoisseurs of nature

These women who got to know the nature of the Catalan Pyrenees stood out during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century for their extensive knowledge of local herbs and their medicinal properties. Now, a professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid reveals how they developed their craft, challenging the traditional female roles of their time.

the one of turpentine It was a trade, mainly female, which existed in the Catalan Pyrenees from the 19th century until the arrival of industrialization in rural areas, and which allowed these women to become the economic engine of their families and of the regions they inhabited.

In an article published in History of Knowledge MagazineProfessor Elisa Garrido Moreno, from the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), proposes a review of what these women’s individual experiences with the natural world contributed to knowledge, female autonomy and even to the maintenance of the ecosystem in which they lived.

Based on the hypothesis that all knowledge is “situated” —partial and context-dependent—, the author proposes a reflection on the turkeys as a case study to understand the role of knowledge outside, in this case, of rural women in the natural environment, whose voices have not been well represented in the construction of knowledge about nature and its resources.

The work starts from a documentation process carried out, above all, from the ethnographic study published by Joan Frigolé Gifts that anaven pel món (2005) and the documentary collection of Museum of Trementinarios (Lleida) that preserves the oral and material memory of these women.

Recreation of a Trementinaire’s kitchen at the Museum of Trementinaires and clothing from one of them. /marta.uoc

The turpentine trade

It was an itinerant trade. In the hot months, the most necessary species for the preparation of their formulas were collected, cataloged and stored. Precisely the name by which they were known (turpentine) comes from the essence of turpentine, a remedy for which they were especially sought after.

After the harvest and with the arrival of the cold, they left the family nucleus, leaving the men to take care of the family at home, to make long trips in order to sell their products and supply their customers with the medicines they were going to buy.necessita during the winter.

These trips could last for months, which highlights the challenge to gender roles that this implied for the traditional functioning of the family, at a time when it was not frequent to see women traveling alone, much less doing business and exercising their own trade.

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The article highlights this fact and also reveals a series of technologies and practices developed by them. For example, the bags they used to transport and dry herbs were made from bed linen woven from old pillow covers.

For the collection of mushrooms and mushrooms, they also developed a particular method, drying them and stringing them like necklaces. Turpentine oil used to be carried in metal canisters exclusively strapped to the body during long journeys.

Oral transmission from connoisseurs of nature

The knowledge of trementinaires they were transmitted orally, between grandmothers, mothers and daughters, and were kept as a family secret. Precisely for this reason, these women were left out of the history of knowledge, as it is extremely difficult to find written references to their contributions.

Thanks to her extensive knowledge of natural resources, generally inaccessible to women of her time, trementinaires They managed to develop a trade that came to supply the medical needs of many of the families that lived in the surroundings of the valley and in the nearby cities.

Sometimes they were called “witches” in the places they visited, an unfair accusation that was based on mistaken questions about the morals and prejudices of the feminine ideal of the time.

The study also reflects on this. “Witch” and scientific knowledge are often confused when it comes to women’s history. These are stereotypes that must be overcome. In case of trementinairestheir expert knowledge included identifying a multitude of species, where to find them, how to conserve them, when to collect them, and how to apply them.

Their knowledge of their natural environment was not just a matter of knowledge, but a way of survival; extremely current knowledge, given the environmental situation that has been caused, in part, by the progressive separation between human beings and nature.

Reference:

Garrido Moreno, E. 2022. “Trementinaires: gender, gathering and subsistence in the Pyrenees. History of Knowledge Magazine2022.

Source: UAM

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