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The Doctor Lukman - a brief lesson plan
by Michael Berman

Man had hardly appeared in the world, before he began to think how not to die of hunger, how to get warm on a bitterly cold day and how to find medicine against illness. The more people there were, the more illness appeared.

So, around that time, there also appeared a doctor by the name of Lukman. He conceived the idea of relieving the suffering of people, of finding a remedy for illness. Lukman searched for various medicinal herbs and roots in the fields, in the ravines, along banks of rivers and streams, and in mountain pastures. For the healing of wounds he found akhurbgits (plantain), for the treatment of Siberian ulcers, ashkhardan (a medicinal root), for the relief of malaria, adjakva (a winter multi-flowered plant), and he discovered the medicinal properties of a great many other herbs. With flowers, with leaves, with roots he cured people of all kinds of ailments. There was only one that he did not know about: how to cure a toothache.

On one occasion a snake crawled to him and began to beg him, “I frequently have terrible headaches, cure me!” Lukman agreed to help him, but at the same time he asked whether he knew a remedy for toothache. “If it is not possible to soothe the tooth with medicine, then it is necessary to pull it out, since there is nothing worse than this suffering”, answered then snake.

“Yes, I understand”, said Lukman, “but the trouble is that I do not know with what and how one ought to pull the teeth”.

“You can pull a tooth with something similar to my head, with a contraption that would be able to open and close”.

“That is good advice. In gratitude for it I will instruct you of the most sure remedy for a headache. As soon as you have a headache, lie down on a highway, rolling yourself into a ball, pressing your head to the ground and closing your eyes. Simply lie motionless, trying to sleep, not paying attention to anything. After about an hour the headache will pass completely.”

“Thank you friend”, said the snake, and it crawled into the bushes, in order to instruct all the snakes of the remedy for headaches.

This is why snakes, even today, after rolling themselves into a ball, settle themselves in the middle of the road; and people, creeping up to them, kill them.

On one occasion, Lukman, after pelting rain, wanted to get across a river which was a swollen torrent. The narrow little bridge, thrown across it, was slippery, since the water was coming up through the cracks from below. Lukman slipped and fell into the river. With difficulty he managed to clamber out on to dry ground. Most of the medicines, which he was carrying with him, were lost, and only a few items were deposited by the current on to the bank. Lukman gathered up the surviving medicines, and with them he cures people even to this day.

The story was taken from Bgazhba, Kh.S. (1985) Abkhazian Tales, Translated from the Russian, with new Introduction by D.G. Hunt. (Russian edition published by Alashara Publishing House, Sukhumi). The collection can be found in the University College of London library, and it was donated to the library by the translator.

Notes for Teachers

Pre-listening: Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why illnesses exist? Once upon a time there was a cure for every known illness but unfortunately many of them got lost. How did this come about? In groups write a story to explain how this happened.

While-listening: Then listen to the original version of the story that your teacher will read you to find out what the one cure was that the Doctor Lukman was unable to find until the snake came to his aid:

Pause after the words “As soon as you have a headache” and ask the learners to predict what comes next.

Post-listening: What alternative remedies do you know of for some of the everyday illnesses and complaints that people suffer from? Working in small groups, make a list of them. Then make sentences about them using the structure IS (or ARE) BELIEVED/ CLAIMED/SAID/SUPPOSED/ THOUGHT/ TO BE. For example: Guarana from the Amazon is said to give you an energy boost and drinking camomile tea is claimed to be a good cure for a hangover.   


Michael Berman BA, MPhil, PhD (Alternative Medicines) works as a teacher and a writer. Publications include A Multiple Intelligences Road to an ELT Classroom and The Power of Metaphor for Crown House, and The Nature of Shamanism and the Shamanic Story for Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Shamanic Journeys through Daghestan and Shamanic Journeys through the Caucasus are both due to be published in paperback by O-Books in 2009. Michael has been involved in teaching and teacher training for over thirty years, has given presentations at Conferences in more than twenty countries, and hopes to have the opportunity to visit many more yet. For more information, please visit

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