Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

In search of traditional healing

More and more people are turning to traditional megabarati therapy instead of modern chiropractic healing, writes Rasha Sadek

In search of traditional healing
In search of traditional healing
Al-Ahram Weekly

Ibrahim Saleh sees a chiropractor twice a week as part of a three-month programme for what many people suffer from nowadays, lower and upper back and neck pain as a result of wrong posture, unhealthy computer-related habits and stress. However, Saleh’s sister Sara decided to see a traditional medical practitioner, known as megabarati.  

Despite suffering from similar ailments, Ibrahim and Sara took two different roads. While Ibrahim’s therapy extended for three months, Sara took to a megabarati for only two sessions to achieve the same results as her brother. Why did Sara decide to follow the not-so-trodden route of traditional medicine instead of modern science?

“I believe in the power of traditional and alternative medicine to heal numerous ailments. It even sometimes succeeds where modern science fails,” she answers.

“’Belief’ is a crucial word in the treatment of my patients,” says megabarati practitioner Gamal Rabie. Haj Gamal, as he prefers to be called, is one of the best-known megabaratis in Egypt, with a history of treating cases that faced a deadlock with orthopaedists. While he specialises in treating broken bones, torn ligaments and neurological problems, his main playing field is the spinal cord and vertebrae and the effects their injury can have on the different parts of the body, especially the joints.

Haj Gamal was born in 1947 to a father who was also a megabarati. “I come from a long line of megabaratis who have practised this profession. The science of megabarati can be traced back to the Pharaohs,” Haj Gamal told Al-Ahram Weekly. “I had been learning the secrets of the profession from my father since I was 10. But I started practising on my own at the age of 17.”

The Weekly learnt about Haj Gamal through the friend of a friend, and some members of staff decided to pay a visit, curious to know whether megabarati could cure their ailments. 

Haj Gamal’s practice is located in Giza. The building, his own, is only a couple of storeys high, and the practice is located on the ground floor. A spacious waiting room with chairs leads to a smaller room where Haj Gamal sits on a carpet on the floor before he scans the patients to decide which one he is going to start on first. He always prefers to investigate the most difficult cases before moving onto others. 

“I can tell from the way a patient walks exactly what is wrong even before I touch him,” he says.

Using an unorthodox tool, a 20cm stick made from beechwood, Haj Gamal presses against a patient’s back to correct the location of the cartilage in the spine, the reason for many of the ailments that afflict patients, he says. 

In the case of Rania Al-Fayoumi, complaining as a result of sitting at a computer with the wrong posture, Haj Gamal asks her to lie on the floor face down while he sits next to her on a pillow. He begins applying pressure to different parts of her back, neck and shoulders, at times with his hands, at others with the stick. 

He asks her to take a deep breath and snap, he has cracked her lumbar, thoracic and cervical vertebrae and the vertebrae in her neck. The popping sounds coming from Al-Fayoumi’s back and neck, the sounds of the release of the vertebrae, are oddly satisfying.

“I feel like a mountain has been lifted off my shoulders,” she sighs. 

Haj Gamal applies the same technique on this reporter, and she nods in agreement. 

Amal Abdel-Rahman approaches Haj Gamal, hoping he is going to relieve her of years of pain in her knees, spinal cord and neck. Haj Gamal sensitively touches parts of her back. “I can’t treat you. Your case is beyond me,” he says, to the shock of everyone in the room. 

Haj Gamal says he does not “work on cases with stiffened muscles or rheumatoid arthritis. I also don’t treat osteoarthritis in the knees, especially in overweight patients because they will likely suffer from it again in 15 days.” He won’t touch a body part where surgery had been performed either, “because I might unknowingly cause a haemorrhage,” he says.

The fruit of decades of experience, Haj Gamal has countless stories to tell. “One day I was sitting in this room and in came a group of people carrying a man who had fallen from the third floor of a building. He was alive, but his bones were almost in shards,” he recounts, before adding “but I treated him, and later on he was able to run around like a horse.”

What was the most difficult case he has encountered during his years of practice? He answers that “it has to be the case of Merna,” described in the column opposite. 

The stick Haj Gamal uses in the treatment of his patients is a source of wonder for all. Before using it he splashes water on the body part that he is going to apply pressure to with the stick. The explanation for this could not be simpler. 

“Over the years, my fingers have grown weaker. When I was younger, I never used the stick, but nowadays my hands swell up if I keep applying pressure with my fingers. The water acts as a lube for the stick,” he tells the Weekly. 

“I see hundreds of patients every week, starting every day at 9am. Most of them are poor and can’t afford to pay. I don’t charge those who can’t pay,” he says. Haj Gamal is known in the Bashteel village where he resides for his philanthropy. Besides helping to build a number of mosques in the area, he has also started a dialysis unit for poorer people who suffer from kidney failure.

Haj Gamal says he has treated many celebrities in Egypt and abroad. The walls of his small room are filled with pictures taken with famous Egyptian actors and notes of gratitude sent to him from former patients in Arab countries. 

“They all come to my practice. I never go to a patient,” he says. “I have received offers of huge amounts of money to travel to treat wealthy patients, but I have turned them all down. I have also been offered luxurious clinics in European countries, but I have always refused,” he adds.

This megabarati also says he has supervised the training of more than 500 other practitioners from around the world. For him, “this is proof that the job of megabarati is recognised globally and that traditional medicine has earned a prestigious place among the modern sciences.” 

But the students Haj Gamal is most proud of are his two sons whom he has been training since their teenage years and who have vowed to take on the same profession as their father.

Orthopaedist Ashraf Abdel-Azim says that while both a traditional megabarati and an orthopaedist are experienced in the mechanics of human anatomy, the former learned by observation while the latter went to medical school and learned through trial and error. 

“There are many cases a megabarati can treat without the need for a surgical intervention by an orthopaedist,” Abdel-Azim says. “Megabaratis have vast experience in torn ligaments and tendons. The way they treat these injuries is much better than that used by orthopaedists, though there are also other types of injury that the megabaratis cannot heal.” 

Megabaratis are talented, and they have a great sense of human anatomy. I have witnessed them at work, and I can testify to their skill. Thirty years ago I received a patient who had visited many orthopaedic practitioners before me and was not sure that the treatment was yielding any positive results. He asked me to take him to a megabarati. Later, the patient was cured.”

Haj Gamal passed away after this article was written. His elder son Ahmed is now carrying on the practice. 

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