Cultural histories of kumiss: tuberculosis, heritage, and national health in post-Soviet Kazakhstan

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Abstract

In the 19th century, European doctors began to credit kumiss (fermented mare’s milk) for the apparent absence of tuberculosis among the nomads of the Eurasian steppe. As European and American medical journals published articles on the ‘kumiss cure’ and Russian doctors opened kumiss sanatoria, praise for the drink’s curative powers was wound together with romanticized images of the nomadic pastoralists whose creation it was. In Soviet and now in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, kumiss came to hold the double status of medicine and of national heritage. Yet if in the 19th century, the steppe was notable for the absence of tuberculosis, in the late 20th century, it is notable for its presence: Kazakhstan, like many post-Soviet countries, is currently the site of an epidemic of drug-resistant tuberculosis. Discussions of the epidemic now tangle together concerns over the physical health of the population with concern over the cultural health of the body politic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)493-510
Number of pages18
JournalCentral Asian Survey
Volume36
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Kumiss, tuberculosis, folk medicine, alternative medicine, national heritage, Kazakhstan

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