For over two centuries, Western scholars have discussed African philosophy and culture, often in disparaging, condescending terms, and always from an alien European perspective. Many Africans now share this perspective, having been trained in the western, empirical tradition. Makinde argues that, particularly in view of the costs and failings of western style culture, Africans must now mold their own modern culture by blending useful western practices with valuable indigenous African elements. Specifically, Makinde demonstrates the potential for the development of African philosophy and even African traditional medicine.
Following the lead of a number of countries with government policies of incorporating indigenous medicine with orthodox Western medicine, Makinde argues that traditional African practices should be taken seriously, both medically and scientifically. Further, he charges African scholars with the responsibility of investigating these and other elements of traditional African culture in order to dispel their mystery and secrecy through modern research and useful publications.
Beginning with the colonial era, Western biomedicine has radically transformed African medical beliefs and practices. Conversely, in using Western biomedicine, Africans have also transformed it. The African Transformation of Western Medicine and the Dynamics of Global Cultural Exchange contends that contemporary African medical systems—no less “biomedical” than Western medicine—in fact greatly enrich and expand the notion of biomedicine, reframing it as a global cultural form deployed across global networks of cultural exchange.
The book analyzes biomedicine as a complex and dynamic sociocultural form, the conceptual premises of which make it necessarily subject to ongoing change and development as it travels the globe. David Baronov captures the complexities of this cultural exchange by using world-systems analysis in a way that places global cultural processes on equal footing with political and economic processes. In doing so, he both allows the story of Africa’s transformation of “Western” biomedicine to be told and offers new insights into the capitalist world system.
In the mysterious and pristine forests of the tropics, a wealth of ethnobotanical panaceas and shamanic knowledge promises cures for everything from cancer and AIDS to the common cold. To access such miracles, we need only to discover and protect these medicinal treasures before they succumb to the corrosive forces of the modern world. A compelling biocultural story, certainly, and a popular perspective on the lands and peoples of equatorial latitudes—but true? Only in part. In The Ethnobotany of Eden, geographer Robert A. Voeks unravels the long lianas of history and occasional strands of truth that gave rise to this irresistible jungle medicine narrative.
By exploring the interconnected worlds of anthropology, botany, and geography, Voeks shows that well-intentioned scientists and environmentalists originally crafted the jungle narrative with the primary goal of saving the world’s tropical rainforests from destruction. It was a strategy deployed to address a pressing environmental problem, one that appeared at a propitious point in history just as the Western world was taking a more globalized view of environmental issues. And yet, although supported by science and its practitioners, the story was also underpinned by a persuasive mix of myth, sentimentality, and nostalgia for a long-lost tropical Eden. Resurrecting the fascinating history of plant prospecting in the tropics, from the colonial era to the present day, The Ethnobotany of Eden rewrites with modern science the degradation narrative we’ve built up around tropical forests, revealing the entangled origins of our fables of forest cures.
Fluent Bodies examines the modernization of the indigenous healing practice, Ayurveda, in India. Combining contemporary ethnography with a study of key historical moments as glimpsed through early-twentieth-century texts, Jean M. Langford argues that as Ayurveda evolved from an eclectic set of healing practices into a sign of Indian national culture, it was reimagined as a healing force not simply for bodily disorders but for colonial and postcolonial ills. Interweaving theory with narrative, Langford explores the strategies of contemporary practitioners who reconfigure Ayurvedic knowledge through institutions and technologies such as hospitals, anatomy labs, clinical trials, and sonograms. She shows how practitioners appropriate, transform, or circumvent the knowledge practices implicit in these institutions and technologies, destabilizing such categories as medicine, culture, science, symptom, and self, even as they deploy them in clinical practice. Ultimately, this study points to the future of Ayurveda in a transnational era as a remedy not only for the wounds of colonialism but also for an imagined cultural emptiness at the heart of global modernity.
From Popular Medicine to Medical Populism presents the history of medical practice in Costa Rica from the late colonial era—when none of the fifty thousand inhabitants had access to a titled physician, pharmacist, or midwife—to the 1940s, when the figure of the qualified medical doctor was part of everyday life for many of Costa Rica’s nearly one million citizens. It is the first book to chronicle the history of all healers, both professional and popular, in a Latin American country during the national period. Steven Palmer breaks with the view of popular and professional medicine as polar opposites—where popular medicine is seen as representative of the authentic local community and as synonymous with oral tradition and religious and magical beliefs and professional medicine as advancing neocolonial interests through the work of secular, trained academicians. Arguing that there was significant and formative overlap between these two forms of medicine, Palmer shows that the relationship between practitioners of each was marked by coexistence, complementarity, and dialogue as often as it was by rivalry. Palmer explains that while the professionalization of medical practice was intricately connected to the nation-building process, the Costa Rican state never consistently displayed an interest in suppressing the practice of popular medicine. In fact, it persistently found both tacit and explicit ways to allow untitled healers to practice. Using empirical and archival research to bring people (such as the famous healer or curandero Professor Carlos Carbell), events, and institutions (including the Rockefeller Foundation) to life, From Popular Medicine to Medical Populism demonstrates that it was through everyday acts of negotiation among agents of the state, medical professionals, and popular practitioners that the contours of Costa Rica’s modern, heterogeneous health care system were established.
Scholars in folklore and anthropology are more directly involved in various aspects of medicine—such as medical education, clinical pastoral care, and negotiation of transcultural issues—than ever before. Old models of investigation that artificially isolated "folk medicine," "complementary and alternative medicine," and "biomedicine" as mutually exclusive have proven too limited in exploring the real-life complexities of health belief systems as they observably exist and are applied by contemporary Americans. Recent research strongly suggests that individuals construct their health belief systmes from diverse sources of authority, including community and ethnic tradition, education, spiritual beliefs, personal experience, the influence of popular media, and perception of the goals and means of formal medicine. Healing Logics explores the diversity of these belief systems and how they interact—in competing, conflicting, and sometimes remarkably congruent ways. This book contains essays by leading scholars in the field and a comprehensive bibliography of folklore and medicine.
In August 2004, South Africa officially sought to legally recognize the practice of traditional healers. Largely in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and limited both by the number of practitioners and by patients’ access to treatment, biomedical practitioners looked toward the country’s traditional healers as important agents in the development of medical education and treatment. This collaboration has not been easy. The two medical cultures embrace different ideas about the body and the origin of illness, but they do share a history of commercial and ideological competition and different relations to state power. Healing Traditions: African Medicine, Cultural Exchange, and Competition in South Africa, 1820–1948 provides a long-overdue historical perspective to these interactions and an understanding that is vital for the development of medical strategies to effectively deal with South Africa’s healthcare challenges.
Between 1820 and 1948 traditional healers in Natal, South Africa, transformed themselves from politically powerful men and women who challenged colonial rule and law into successful entrepreneurs who competed for turf and patients with white biomedical doctors and pharmacists. To understand what is “traditional” about traditional medicine, Flint argues that we must consider the cultural actors and processes not commonly associated with African therapeutics: white biomedical practitioners, Indian healers, and the implementing of white rule.
Carefully crafted, well written, and powerfully argued, Flint’s analysis of the ways that indigenous medical knowledge and therapeutic practices were forged, contested, and transformed over two centuries is highly illuminating, as is her demonstration that many “traditional” practices changed over time. Her discussion of African and Indian medical encounters opens up a whole new way of thinking about the social basis of health and healing in South Africa. This important book will be core reading for classes and future scholarship on health and healing in Africa.
Herbal and Magical Medicine draws on perspectives from folklore, anthropology, psychology, medicine, and botany to describe the traditional medical beliefs and practices among Native, Anglo- and African Americans in eastern North Carolina and Virginia. In documenting the vitality of such seemingly unusual healing traditions as talking the fire out of burns, wart-curing, blood-stopping, herbal healing, and rootwork, the contributors to this volume demonstrate how the region’s folk medical systems operate in tandem with scientific biomedicine. The authors provide illuminating commentary on the major forms of naturopathic and magico-religious medicine practiced in the United States. Other essays explain the persistence of these traditions in our modern technological society and address the bases of folk medical concepts of illness and treatment and the efficacy of particular pratices. The collection suggests a model for collaborative research on traditional medicine that can be replicated in other parts of the country. An extensive bibliography reveals the scope and variety of research in the field.
Contributors. Karen Baldwin, Richard Blaustein, Linda Camino, Edward M. Croom Jr., David Hufford, James W. Kirland, Peter Lichstein, Holly F. Mathews, Robert Sammons, C. W. Sullivan III
What do most career women do after a successful run on Madison Avenue? Catherine Finerty watched her friends settle into the country-club life. She opted instead for Mexico.
When the 60-year-old widow loaded up her car and headed south, what she found at the end of the road was far from what she expected. Finerty settled into a comfortable house just outside of Guadalajara and, although not a Catholic, she soon immersed herself in Franciscan volunteer work. It wasn't long before she found herself visiting small settlements hidden in the tropical mountains of western Mexico, and it was in Jesús María—so isolated that one could only get there by mule or small plane—that she found her new calling: the village nurse.
With its bugs and heat, no phones or running water, the tiny town was hardly a place to enjoy one's retirement years, but Finerty was quickly charmed by the community of Cora Indians and mestizos. Armed with modest supplies, a couple of textbooks, and common sense, she found herself delivering first aid, advising on public health, and administering injections. And in a place where people still believed in the power of shamans, providing health care sometimes required giving in to the magical belief that a hypodermic needle could cure anything.
Finerty's account of her eight years in Jesús María is both a compelling story of nursing under adverse conditions and a loving portrait of a people and their ways. She shares the joys and sorrows of this isolated world: religious festivals and rites of passage; the tragedy of illness and death in a place where people still rely on one another as much as medicine; a flash flood that causes such havoc that even less-than-pious village men attend Mass daily. And she introduces a cast of characters not unlike those in a novel: Padre Domingo and his airborne medical practice; the local bishop, who frowns on Finerty's slacks; Chela, a mestiza from whom she rents her modest two-room house (complete with scorpions); and the young Cora Indian woman Chuy, from whom she gains insight into her new neighbors.
Blending memoir and travel writing, In a Village Far from Home takes readers deep into the Sierra Madre to reveal its true treasure: the soul of a people.
People have always been attracted to foods rich in calories, fat, and protein; yet the biblical admonition that meat be eaten “with bitter herbs” suggests that unpalatable plants play an important role in our diet. So-called primitive peoples show a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of how their bodies interact with plant chemicals, which may allow us to rediscover the origins of diet by retracing the paths of biology and culture.
The domestication of the potato serves as the focus of Timothy Johns’s interdisciplinary study, which forges a bold synthesis of ethnobotany and chemical ecology. The Aymara of highland Bolivia have long used varieties of potato containing potentially toxic levels of glycoalkaloids, and Johns proposes that such plants can be eaten without harm owing to human genetic modification and cultural manipulation. Drawing on additional fieldwork in Africa, he considers the evolution of the human use of plants, the ways in which humans obtain foods from among the myriad poisonous and unpalatable plants in the environment, and the consequences of this history for understanding the basis of the human diet. A natural corollary to his investigation is the origin of medicine, since the properties of plants that make them unpalatable and toxic are the same properties that make them useful pharmacologically.
As our species has adapted to the use of plants, plants have become an essential part of our internal ecology. Recovering the ancient wisdom regarding our interaction with the environment preserves a fundamental part of our human heritage.
Originally published in hardcover as With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It: Chemical Ecology and the Origins of Human Diet and Medicine
Kofi Dᴐnkᴐ was a blacksmith and farmer, as well as an important healer, intellectual, spiritual leader, settler of disputes, and custodian of shared values for his Ghanaian community. In Our Own Way in This Part of the World Kwasi Konadu centers Dᴐnkᴐ's life story and experiences in a communography of Dᴐnkᴐ's community and nation from the late nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth, which were shaped by historical forces from colonial Ghana's cocoa boom to decolonization and political and religious parochialism. Although Dᴐnkᴐ touched the lives of thousands of citizens and patients, neither he nor they appear in national or international archives covering the region. Yet his memory persists in his intellectual and healing legacy, and the story of his community offers a non-national, decolonized example of social organization structured around spiritual forces that serves as a powerful reminder of the importance for scholars to take their cues from the lived experiences and ideas of the people they study.
People of the Water is an ethnographic analysis of the cultural practices of the Uru-Chipayans—how they have maintained their culture and how they have changed. The Chipayans are an Andean people whose culture predates the time of the Incas (c. AD 1400), but they were almost wiped out by 1940, when only around 400 remained. Yet their population has quadrupled in the last 60 years. Joseph Bastien has spent decades living with and studying the Chipayans, and here for the first time he discusses the dynamics between traditional, social, and religious practices and the impending forces of modernity upon them. With the support of more than 100 illustrations he documents how, in spite of challenges, the Chipayans maintain ecological sustainability through an ecosystem approach that is holistic and symbolically embedded in rituals and customs.
Chipayans have a resilient and innovative culture, maintaining dress, language, hairstyle, rituals, and behavior while also re-creating their culture from a dialectic between themselves and the world around them. Bastien provides the reader with a series of experienced observations and intimate details of a group of people who strive to maintain their ancient traditions while adapting to modern society. This ethnographic study offers insightful, surprising, and thoughtful conclusions applicable to interpreting the world around us.
Patrisia Gonzales addresses "Red Medicine" as a system of healing that includes birthing practices, dreaming, and purification rites to re-establish personal and social equilibrium. The book explores Indigenous medicine across North America, with a special emphasis on how Indigenous knowledge has endured and persisted among peoples with a legacy to Mexico. Gonzales combines her lived experience in Red Medicine as an herbalist and traditional birth attendant with in-depth research into oral traditions, storytelling, and the meanings of symbols to uncover how Indigenous knowledge endures over time. And she shows how this knowledge is now being reclaimed by Chicanos, Mexican Americans and Mexican Indigenous peoples.
For Gonzales, a central guiding force in Red Medicine is the principal of regeneration as it is manifested in Spiderwoman. Dating to Pre-Columbian times, the Mesoamerican Weaver/Spiderwoman—the guardian of birth, medicine, and purification rites such as the Nahua sweat bath—exemplifies the interconnected process of rebalancing that transpires throughout life in mental, spiritual and physical manifestations. Gonzales also explains how dreaming is a form of diagnosing in traditional Indigenous medicine and how Indigenous concepts of the body provide insight into healing various kinds of trauma.
Gonzales links pre-Columbian thought to contemporary healing practices by examining ancient symbols and their relation to current curative knowledges among Indigenous peoples. Red Medicine suggests that Indigenous healing systems can usefully point contemporary people back to ancestral teachings and help them reconnect to the dynamics of the natural world.
Menstruation, seen alternately as something negative—a "curse" or a failed conception—or as a positive part of the reproductive process to be celebrated as evidence of fertility, has long been a universal concern. How women interpret and react to menstruation and its absence reflects their individual needs both historically as well as in the contemporary cultural, social, economic, and political context in which they live. This unique volume considers what is known of women's options and practices used to regulate menstruation—practices used to control the periodicity, quantity, color, and even consistency of menses—in different places and times, while revealing the ambiguity that those practices present.
Originating from an Internet conference held in February 1998, this volume contains fourteen papers that have been revised and updated to cover everything from the impact of the birth control pill to contemporary views on reproduction to the pharmacological properties of various herbal substances, reflecting the historical, contemporary, and anthropological perspectives of this timely and complex issue.
Sasaks, a people of the Indonesian archipelago, cope with one of the country's worst health records by employing various medical traditions, including their own secret ethnomedical knowledge. But anxiety, in the presence and absence of illness, profoundly shapes the ways Sasaks use healing and knowledge. Hay addresses complex questions regarding cultural models, agency, and other relationships to conclude that the ethnomedical knowledge they use to cope with their illnesses ironically inhibits improvements in their health care.
M. Cameron Hay is a NSF Advance Fellow and an Assistant Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Center for Culture and Health.
Ritual Medical Lore of Sephardic Women preserves the precious remnants of a rich culture on the verge of extinction while affirming women's pivotal role in the health of their communities. Centered around extensive interviews with elders of the Sephardic communities of the former Ottoman Empire, this volume illuminates a fascinating complex of preventive and curative rituals conducted by women at home--rituals that ensured the physical and spiritual well-being of the community and functioned as a vital counterpart to the public rites conducted by men in the synagogues.
Isaac Jack Lévy and Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt take us into the homes and families of Sephardim in Turkey, Israel, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, and the United States to unravel the ancient practices of domestic healing: the network of blessings and curses tailored to every occasion of daily life; the beliefs and customs surrounding mal ojo (evil eye), espanto (fright), and echizo (witchcraft); and cures involving everything from herbs, oil, and sugar to the powerful mumia (mummy) made from dried bones of corpses.
For the Sephardim, curing an illness required discovering its spiritual cause, which might be unintentional thought or speech, accident, or magical incantation. The healing rituals of domesticated medicine provided a way of making sense of illness and a way of shaping behavior to fit the narrow constraints of a tightly structured community. Tapping a rich and irreplaceable vein of oral testimony, Ritual Medical Lore of Sephardic Women offers fascinating insight into a culture where profound spirituality permeated every aspect of daily life.
Amazonian indigenous peoples have preserved many aspects of their culture and cosmology while also developing complex relationships with dominant non-indigenous society. Until now, anthropological writing on Amazonian peoples has been divided between “traditional” topics like kinship, cosmology, ritual, and myth, on the one hand, and the analysis of their struggles with the nation-state on the other. What has been lacking is work that bridges these two approaches and takes into consideration the meaning of relationships with the state from an indigenous perspective.
That long-standing dichotomy is challenged in this new ethnography by anthropologist José Kelly. Kelly places the study of culture and cosmology squarely within the context of the modern nation-state and its institutions. He explores Indian-white relations as seen through the operation of a state-run health system among the indigenous Yanomami of southern Venezuela.
With theoretical foundations in the fields of medical and Amazonian anthropology, Kelly sheds light on how Amerindian cosmology shapes concepts of the state at the community level. The result is a symmetrical anthropology that treats white and Amerindian perceptions of each other within a single theoretical framework, thus expanding our understanding of each group and its influences on the other. This book will be valuable to those studying Amazonian peoples, medical anthropology, development studies, and Latin America. Its new takes on theory and methodology make it ideal for classroom use.
An important contribution to medical anthropology, this work defines the principal causes if illness that are reported throughout the world, distinguishing those involving natural causation from the more widely prevalent hypotheses advancing supernatural explanations.
The Vaqueiros de Alzada, a cattle-herding people in the Asturian mountains of Spain, have one of the highest suicide rates in Europe—and an attitude toward death that gives this statistic unusual meaning. This World, Other Worlds considers death among the Vaqueiros as a central cultural fact which reveals local ideas about the origin and destiny of humans, the relations of humans and animals, the configuration of the universe, and the nature of society. Interested chiefly in the conceptual and meaningful aspects of death, María Cátedra focuses on the cultural resources with which the Vaqueiros confront their own mortality—how they experience death and what this reveals about the way they see this world and other worlds.
Applying sensitive ethnographic insight to a rich body of oral testimony, Cátedra discloses an unsuspected symbolic universe native to the Vaqueiros. Death is seen here in close, coherent relation to pain, age, and suffering; sickness and suicide, one must understand the cultural valuation of different ways of dying and the conditions under which suicides take place. To understand what it means to be a Vaqueiro is to understand how suicide can be perceived by a people as acceptable.
A groundbreaking work in European ethnography, This World, Other Worlds takes symbolic analysis to a new level. In its illumination of local conceptions of death, grace, and sainthood, the book also makes a substantial contribution to the anthropology of religion.
For the Yaka of Southwestern Zaire, infertility is a tear in the fabric of life, and the Khita fertility ritual is a trusted way of reweaving the damaged strands. In Weaving the Threads of Life Rene Devisch offers an extended analysis of the Khita cult, which leads to an original account of the workings of ritual healing.
Drawing on many years among urban and rural Yaka, Devisch analyzes their understanding of existence as a fabric of firmly but delicately interwoven threads of nature, body, and society. The fertility healing ritual calls forth forces, feelings, and meanings that allow women to rejoin themselves to the complex pattern of social and cosmic life. These elaborate rites—whether simulating mortal agony and rebirth, gestation and delivery, or flowering and decay; using music and dance, steambath or massage, dream messages or scarification—are not based on symbols of traditional beliefs. Rather, Devisch shows, the rites themselves generate forces and meaning, creating and shaping the cosmic, physical, and social world of their participants.
In contrast to current theoretical methods such as postmodern or symbolical interpretation, Devisch's praxiological approach is unique in also using phenomenological insights into the intent and results of anthropological fieldwork. This innovative work will have ramifications beyond African studies, reaching into the anthropology of medicine and the body, comparative religious history, and women's studies.
In Women as Healers, thirteen contributors explore the intersection of feminist anthropology and medical anthropology in eleven case studies of women in traditional and emergent healing roles in diverse parts of the world. In a spectrum of healing roles ranging from family healers to shamans, diviner-mediums, and midwives, women throughout the world pursue strategic ends through healing, manipulate cultural images to effect cures and explain misfortune, and shape and are shaped by the social and political contexts in which they work. In an introductory chapter, Carol Shepherd McClain traces the evolution of ideas in medical anthropology and in the anthropology of women that have both constrained and expanded our understanding of the significance of gender to healing-one of the most fundamental and universal of human activities.
The contributors include Carol Shepherd McClain, Ruthbeth Finerman, Carolyn Nordstrom, Carole H. Browner, William Wedenoja, Marjery Foz, Barbara Kerewsky-Halpern, Laurel Kendall, Merrill Signer, Roberto Garcia, Edward C. Green, Carolyn Sargent, and Margaret Reid.