Healing Through the Ages: Traditional Medical Practices

The Traditional Healthcare House at Al Shindagha Museum, celebrates the role traditional healers and medical innovators have played in the UAE, Arabian Gulf, and wider Islamic society. 

Coffee CupsAl Shindagha Museum

During the first half of the 20th century, before the arrival of modern medicine, the people of south-east Arabia were reliant on herbalists, known as Attareen for plant remedies and traditional healers, known as Mutabbib, for treating physical ailments.

Makhbana (Vacuum Cup)Al Shindagha Museum

Through their ingenuity and resourcefulness, the people of Dubai discovered natural treatments to ailments, infections, and diseases in coastal, mountainous and desert regions. These discoveries enabled communities to survive and remain healthy.

Medical Box with Surgical ToolsAl Shindagha Museum

This wisdom is passed down in the form of stories, sayings, songs and proverbs. Written texts, including medical manuals and collections of poetry, also provide valuable insights into the history of medicine.

Metal ContainerAl Shindagha Museum

Discover some of the fascinating practices, tools and equipment used by traditional healers in Dubai:

Wooden Medicine BoxAl Shindagha Museum

Wooden Medicine Box
This box with various compartments housing varying sizes of glass bottles, was used to store medicines.

Placed within the box are glass bottles of varying sizes.

A leather pouch and a metal box with brass scale weights used to weigh the medicine, are also placed within the box.

Herbalism is the world’s oldest form of healthcare. It has been practiced in the Arabian Gulf since ancient times. Herbalists, known as Attareen, have an intimate knowledge of local and regional plants; their expertise has traditionally been passed on from one generation to the next.

Metal ContainerAl Shindagha Museum

Metal Container
A small decorated metallic container used to store crushed herbs.

Many plants used for medicinal purposes grow in the United Arab Emirates. Others are imported from neighbouring countries including Oman, Iran, India, the island of Socotra, and East Africa.

Remedies developed by traditional healers have proved effective in treating a range of health problems and are still used today.

ScissorsAl Shindagha Museum

A pair of scissors used by traditional healers to cut materials like plasters gauze etc. used for treatments.

Earthen PotAl Shindagha Museum

Earthen Pot
Earthen clay pots such as these were used by medical practitioners to sterilize medicinal tools and heat herbal mixtures.

Goat's HornsAl Shindagha Museum

Hijama (wet cupping) and Takhbeen (dry cupping), commonly practiced by the Mutabbib (physical ailments healer) involves the placement of suction cups on a patient’s back to create a vacuum to suck up blood which was believed to purify and regenerate the circulatory system. It is still practiced in different parts of the world today.

Goat Horns
Goat horns were widely used in the traditional Hijama (wet cupping) practice.

The cups were made of goat's horns with a valve mechanism in them to create a partial vacuum by sucking the air out.

Makhbana (Vacuum Cup)Al Shindagha Museum

Known as the Makhbana, clay cups such as these were heated and used to perform a dry cupping treatment called Takhbeen, on body parts of those suffering from painful blocked arteries.

These hot cups create a vacuum, drawing blood to the surface of the skin, thus relieving pain and discomfort.

Coffee CupsAl Shindagha Museum

Ceramic cups were also used for the dry cupping treatment Takhbeen.

Healers use the same technique of heating the cups to relieve body parts with painful blocked arteries.

Maysam (Cauterising Rods)Al Shindagha Museum

Kayy, or cauterisation, was a pre-modern medical treatment using red-hot metal rods to disinfect and seal wounds or treat illness by application to pressure points.

Known as the Maysam, these metal rods were used for the traditional practice of Kayy.

Medical Box with Surgical ToolsAl Shindagha Museum

Medical Box with Surgical Tools
A metal medical box with a set of metallic surgical tools used traditionally by medical practitioners in the region.

OphthalmoscopeAl Shindagha Museum

In addition to traditional medical practices, modern medicine made its way into the bags of local healers and practitioners to include a variety of tools such as these on display at Al Shindagha Museum.

OtoscopeAl Shindagha Museum

An Otoscope used for examining the ear.

OtoscopeAl Shindagha Museum

A Klinostik handheld Otoscope.

OphthalmoscopeAl Shindagha Museum

A Hamblin handheld Ophthalmoscope equipped with a set rotating disc of lenses to permit the doctor’s observation of the eye at varying depths and magnifications.

The people of Dubai still practise traditional medicine, and use it to complement modern healthcare practices.

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