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

By Jay H. Bernstein | Go to book overview

5

Becoming a Balien

The origin of the balien is the power of spirits (dewa). The signs of someone becoming a balien are: lust for the devil (setan iblis), dreams of being taken by the devil, no appetite for food, and an unsettled mind.

—Conversation with two Taman men

A person does not become a balien by receiving training but through induction in an initiation ceremony. To understand the nature of balienism as a medical discipline, it is necessary to grasp the fact that people become baliens through an involuntary process, unlike the practitioners of pharmaceutical cures, who acquire medical knowledge for purposes of gain. While uncommon or oil-based medicines used by ordinary people are mystified by being kept secret, baliens are people of known status, initiated in public ceremonies. Unlike the secretive nonprofessionalized medicinal curers in their society, they are obliged to cure when called upon.

The predisposing condition leading to a person's inauguration as a balien is inferred from dreams and physical and behavioral signs (including some commonly recognized as illness) that suggest an ineluctable destiny to join this healing vocation.


Predisposing Conditions and the Reinterpretation of Illness

People become baliens because of a condition interpreted as an illness. Most commonly, baliens experienced sexually arousing dreams or fantasies before initiation. In these dreams, a person may find him- or herself being pursued by an aggressive suitor or lover. The person then experiences a longing for the fantasy figure and may see apparitions of it in waking life. If recurring, such dreams and fantasies are not considered to be caused by the subject's own desires or imagination. Instead, they result from the person's having been "targeted" as a victim by a spirit who is in love with the person. The person may therefore deny any active role in making up the fantasy.

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