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Die Braucherei / Powwowing

This is an excerpt from an interview made in 1984 with a nonsectarian speaker of Pennsylvania Dutch from Northampton County, PA, who was born in 1897. The interview was made by Karl-Heinz Wandt as part of a larger project led by Prof. Wolfgang W. Moelleken (now retired from the University at Albany) and is part of the Moelleken Collection in the North American German Dialect Archive at the Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (consultant number MOE 092). This speaker had considerable experience with “powwowing,” Braucherei in Pennsylvania Dutch, a traditional form of folk healing applied to humans and animals. In this excerpt the consultant describes a treatment for infants who experience difficulties breathing, a condition known in Pennsylvania Dutch as aag(e)wachse sei, lit. ‘to be grown together, ‘to be “liver-grown”‘, based on the folk medical view that breathing difficulties are due to oversized organs in the chest that impede the normal functioning of the lungs. Below the transcription of this interview excerpt is an image from a classic Pennsylvania Dutch powwow manual, Der Lang(e) Verborgene Freund (The Long-Lost Friend), published for the first time in 1820 by Johann Georg Hohman. The image is of the standard German saying prescribed to treat the condition of being “liver-grown,” which is similar to the one quoted by the consultant in her interview.

This person was also a very good speaker of Dutchified English (Pennsylvania Dutch English). To hear her speaking English, go to this page.


[Was hat man getan, wenn Kinder krank waren?] Well, s’is Gottes Watt musscht yuse fer sell, du musscht mit Gottes Watt musscht schwetze[t] vun sellem. Wann die Kinner aagewachse sin, en latt Leit wisse net was es is … mir hen … des muss ich’s bissel verzehle. Mer hen en Kind in de Nochberschaft ghatt, noh is die Fraa riwwerkumme, die Gremmem, ya, die Gremmem. Noh hot sie gsaat, “Well,” meen ich, hot sie gsaat, “wann des Kind nochemol lewendich sehne witt, kumm zu uns, du kannscht sie noch sehne.” S’waar yuscht iwwer die Schtroos. Un wie ich die Schteeg nuffgange bin fer des Kind sehne, eb’s schtarrewe deet, hab ich gsaat, “Oi, du Gott,” hawwich gsaat, “des Kind is aagewachse.” “Well, was dutt mer dann?” hot die Fraa gsaat. “Ei,” hawwich gsaat, “du musscht ebber griege as brauche kann.” “Well, wer kann dann brauche?” Noh hawwich gsaat, “Ei, graad do die Schtroos drunne is en Fraa, die kann brauche fer des Kind.” Hawwich gsaat, “die hot net Pneumonia un schunscht nix,” hawwich gsaat, “die is hatt aagewachse.” Die hot so hatt gschnauft, du hoscht gmeent s’Kind deet verschticke. Noh bin ich nunner un hab selli Fraa ruffgholt un ich bin mitere nuff un die Fraa hot gebraucht fer des Kind, des war Vamiddaag. Noh hot sie gsaat, “Nau,” hot sie gsaat, “dennowet kumm ich widder.” Noh bin ich widder niwwergange, noh hot sie widder gebraucht fer des Kind. Well, owets hot’s schun uffghockt un hot schunt besser gfiehlt, des Kind. Un sie is’s dritt Mol kumme der neegschte Marrige un hot gebraucht, un in zwee Daag war des Kind aus em Bett un waar uff un is widder rumgschprunge. Nau, sell is mei Erfaahring vun de Braucherei. Un fer aagewachse, wei, wann die Kinner aawachse, noh musscht … kannschte brauche defoor, wann du weescht was zu duh. Awwer du musscht vanne am Hals schtarde un musscht iwwer die Bruscht nunnergehe. Noh musschte saage, “Gehe, aus deinen Rippen, as wie Herr Yesus [Ge]Christus gegangen ist aus seiner Krippe. Im Namen des Vaders, Gottes des Sohnes, und Gottes des Heiligen Geischtes.” Sell musschte drei Mol saage, awwer vanne iwwer die Bruscht nunner un iwwer die Rippe nunnergehe, wie dir hent zwee Hend. Noh duscht’s seem Ding uff der Buckel. Awwer, du musscht brauche un noh musscht’s drei Mol duh, so baut sechs, acht Schtund ausenanner. Sell hel(e)ft de Kinner aa, vun wege sie kenne nimmi schnaufe. Sie gehn … ich wees net, was es dutt, awwer sie gehn zamme uff de Bruscht und sie kenne yuscht nimmi schnaufe wann sie aawachse. S’is vum Faahre, un alsemol wann sie zuviel tschumpe, wann sie mol bissel greeser sin, griege(n) sie sell aa noh noch.


[What did people used to do when children were sick?] Well, you have to use the Word of God for that, you have to speak with the Word of God for that. When children are liver-grown, a lot of people don’t know what that is … we had … I have to tell you a little about this. We had a child in the neighborhood, and then a woman came over, the child’s grandmother, yes, the grandmother. Then she said, “Well,” I think she said, “if you want to see this child one more time alive, come to our place, you can still see her.” It was just across the street. And as I was going up the stairs to see this child before it died, I said, “O, dear God,” I said, “this child is liver-grown.” “Well, what can we do about that?” the woman said. “Well,” I said, “you have to get someone who can powwow.” “So who can powwow?” Then I said, “Well, right down the street here is a woman, and she can powwow for the child.” I said, “She doesn’t have pneumonia or anything else,” I said, “she’s badly liver-grown.” She breathed so hard you would have thought she would suffocate. So then I went down and got that woman and I went up with her, and the woman powwowed for the child, this was in the morning. Then she said, “Now,” she said, “I will come back this evening.” Then I came over again and then she powwowed again for the child. Well, in the evening the child was sitting up already and feeling better. And the woman came over a third time the next morning and powwowed, and in two days, the child was out of bed and was up and running around. Now that is my experience with powwowing. And to treat someone who is liver-grown, when children are liver-grown, then you have to … you can powwow if you know what to do. But you have to start in the front at the neck and have to go down over the chest. Then you have to say, “Go from your ribs as Lord Jesus Christ went from his manger. In the name of the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.” You have to say that three times, but going down in front down over the chest and over the ribs with both hands. Then you do the same thing on the back. But you have to powwow and you have to do it three times, like that about six or eight hours apart. That helps children, too, when they can’t breathe. They get … I don’t know how it works, but they get tight in the chest and just can’t breathe anymore when they are liver-grown. It comes from riding, and sometimes also when they jump too much when they’re a little bigger they can get it, too.