The Anthropology of Medicine: From Culture to Method

By Lola Romanucci-Ross; Daniel E. Moerman et al. | Go to book overview

9
THE IMPASSIONED KNOWLEDGE OF THE SHAMAN

LOLA ROMANUCCI-ROSS

The shaman can best be understood as a healer of the mind/body as well as the "body politic," or community. This is achieved through his or her status as the interpreter of symbols, those cultural instruments for perceiving and arranging reality. As interpreters in understanding the manifold meanings of sign and signifying function, they also play a role in the integration and use of symbols as generators and stylizers of patterns of systems, principally religious and medical, but also social, economic, and political. They are, therefore, significant vectors of a force that compels mind, matter, and experience ( Romanucci-Ross 1980b). Enigma in a symbol, as Ricoeur ( 1970) suggested, does not block understanding but rather promotes it. One might also note that enigma is often a stimulus to innovation.

The shaman then, in shamanic cultures, emerges as "larger than life." This adds to therapeutic power as s/he (which will be abbreviated to "he" in this text) experiences mind and body metamorphoses in the patient- shaman encounter; the audience (family and others) is very much involved emotionally in this "medical event." As this psychosomatic drama unfolds, we learn what the society considers important in communication of assertions about the connectivity of all relationships from intrapersonal, to interpersonal, to communal, to the relations between humans and the rest of the universe. Where knowing and feeling are not viewed as distinctive processes, the shaman, whether he is being discursive or "iconic," is the community intellectual. Oral traditions, through the shaman, are passed along in rich contextual and personal pathways of meaning.

Possessing the ultimate power to heal or prevent illness and disaster, the

This chapter includes a number of concepts previously presented in Romanucci-Ross 1989. Permission granted by Istor Books.

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