Re : Soil eating tribes ?

Jonathan Woodall (
13 Nov 1995 18:51:46 GMT (John Shimeld) writes:
>Does anyone have information on cultures or tribes
>that eat soil as part of their diet?
>This question was asked of us by an elementary school
>student and left us speechless. Is there a gap in our
>knowledge? :-)
>John Shimeld
Indeed several ethnic groups from Africa, Indonesia, Melanesia and the
Amazon basin do eat soil, a practice called "geophagy". The soils are
mostly clays, especially "fatty" ones.

There can be several reasons for doing so.
The first one is to complement a lacking diet with mineral salts present
in the soil.
Another is to (temporarily) suppress the hunger in case of severe
Geophagy can also be a medical practice, f.i. in parts of Sumatra, pregnant
women are advised to eat certain clay in order to facilitate birth and to
strenghten the baby.
In other cases, geophagy is linked to oath-taking as when two plaintiffs
eat soil from a disputed land.

References to geophagy is dispersed in monographies on the various
groups concerned. I only know of one publication dedicated to the
subject :
Arnell B. & S. Lagercrantz, Geophagical Customs, Upsalla (Studia
Ethnographica Upsallenssis 17), 1958
which however does not cover the Americas.

Christophe Evers, Brussels (Belgium)