Spirits Captured in Stone: Shamanism and Traditional Medicine among the Taman of Borneo

By Jay H. Bernstein | Go to book overview
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Introduction

The Taman Balien

This book examines the healing practices of the Taman, an ethnic group of 4,500 people living in the interior of Indonesian Borneo. In particular, it focuses on the objects, practices, and activities of certain shamanistic healers called balien and the concepts underlying this institutionalized folk‐ medical occupation. The Taman believe that many illnesses—both major and minor—originate in the work of spirits. Baliens can treat only those illnesses ; however, treatment by a balien may be all that is available to the ailing person without leaving the Taman village.

The balien treats illnesses presumed to have been caused by spirits that have attacked or disturbed a person's soul. In some cases, the soul is thought to have left the person's body and been taken away by a spirit. The balien is able to feel disease-objects and remove them from the body; to see, hear, and catch spirits; and to locate, capture, and replace lost souls. The use of medicines in balien treatments is secondary to the use of special healing stones, which occupy a central role in all the balien's techniques. These stones are considered by the Taman to have magical powers and to be of miraculous origin, and the crux of the balien system lies in their mystery.

The balien's repertoire consists of seven ceremonies, ranked in order of their level of advancement. No one but a balien may perform any of these ceremonies. The balien is compensated for his or her work but does not subsist on payments. Outside the performance of these ceremonies, the balien is not differentiated from any other Taman adult and has no particular advantages or disadvantages.

Most remarkable about the balien system is that the highest of the balien's ceremonies is the inauguration of a patient as a balien. The predisposing condition of the balien is not caring for the sick but rather suffering illness: The balien has been transformed from a sick person and the subject of treatment into a healer. From the Taman point of view, the person initiat

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