“Gubtish”, commonly called” tish”, is like a sauna bath Eritrean women use. “Gubtish” literally means to be in a fume or smoke steam. It is a smoke bath using aromatic plants and trees.
It is believed to have a healing power, and almost all Eritrean ethnic groups are familiar with it. Depending on the weather, it is highly used in the highlands of Eritrea. At the end of spring women start to collect branches and leaves of trees for “Tish”. “Weiba” (local plant),”Gonak”(local plant) ,”Tahses” , “Awle”(Olivetree) and “Hehet” are some of the trees often used. The moisture in the plants is very important, so they must be fresh.
Christians are so careful with the gathering of the plants. Holydays like Saint Mary, birth of Christ and others are highly respected that collecting is not allowed during holidays. There is a belief that if a woman collects the trees or has “Tish” during the holidays it is certain that something bad would happen to her as a punishment. In Muslim societies Ramadan has high value and so “Gubtish” is not allowed during the Ramadan season.
Just like any other traditional practices “Gubtish” has its own procedures. The first step is making sure that the collecting day is not a holiday. After gathering tree branches, the next step is to arrange a small room near the living room which is known as “Merebae” in Tigrigna. The small room is called” Enda-Gubtish”, a place for Tish. Then with in the room they make a hole on the ground for the fire. Two or three blankets are prepared for the woman to wear in order to protect the smoke from escaping. “
Likay” ,butter, is applied on the woman’s hair.
At last the woman gets undressed and another assisting woman starts the fire, and puts the plants and tree branches on the fire. Then she places a small seat made up of wood, known as” Duka”, for the woman who is about to be in the “Tish”. The woman sit on the stool and the assisting woman covers her with the blankets one after the other. The woman starts to sweat from the smoke. A traditional drink like “Siwa” or “Tihni” is prepared to replace the water discharged from the body in the form of sweat. The process can take 45 minutes to an hour at a time. This continues for three to seven days. Most of the time “Tish” is done at night. At the end of the practice the woman moves away from the smoke and cooled for 10 to 15 minutes after that she takes her shower and feel the relief she was expecting to have.
“Gubtish” is not only about beauty . It also has important contribution in our health.it is classified within traditional medicine. It reduces arthralgia and joint pain. Some of the plants used in “Tish”(olive tree and weiba) act as muscle relaxants and some have antimicrobial property that provides protects from infection. Our skin gets enough moisture and yellowish color. Culturally it is believed that it facilitates labor for pregnant woman though it is not supported medically. It is also claimed to: reduce the discomfort, bloating and tiredness associated with menstruation, regulate irregular menstrual cycles, treat fungus infection, relieve symptoms of menopause, treat endometriosis, speed up the after-birth healing process. However it is not recommended for People with heart diseases and asthmatic problems.
Modern beauty spas seem to be undermining the importance of “Tish”. But there are still a lot of licensed people who give “Gubtish”.
Sauna, body steam, and Moroccan bath are some of the popular beauty treatments in Asmara at this time. This is only an alternative for those who cannot tolerate the smoke and heat that of “Tish’. The most important advantage of “Tish” compared to the modern body treatments, is that any woman can do it at home. There is almost no expense. Even in the licensed places the price is less than that of the sauna bath and body steam. In body steam and sauna bath nothing oily and natural is applied to the body except body scrubs. Eden beauty salon, Expo hotel, comfort zone are some of the appreciated “Gubtish” service givers.
“Gubtish” is practiced east African countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia as well. Dukhan is a ritual in which the body is smoked with a special species of woods in northern Sudan. The thing that makes Dukhan different from “Gubtish” is that it has frown upon the practice amongst men.
It is a chronicle since our society attaches their life with plants. This great gift that we receive from our ancestors should be appreciated and preserved as long as it is not a harmful tradition and has a healing power.