Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas

Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas

Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas

Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas

Synopsis

Body and Emotion is a study of the relationship between culture and emotional distress, an examination of the cultural forces that influence, make sense of, and heal severe pain and malaise. In order to investigate this relationship, Robert R. Desjarlais served as an apprentice healer among the Yolmo Sherpa, a Tibetan Buddhist people who reside in the Helambu region of north-central Nepal.

Excerpt

While conducting fieldwork in the late 1980s among Yolmo Sherpa, an ethnically Tibetan people who live in the Helambu region of northcentral Nepal, I participated in some twenty-odd healing ceremonies as the shamanic apprentice to a veteran "grandfather" healer called Meme (t. me me). Barefoot, illiterate, sporting ragged farm clothes and a scruffy beard beneath an angular face, the sixty-seven-year-old Meme possessed a wealth of sacred knowledge. In everyday conversation his uncouth speech and manners told of the low-status family from which he came. But when healing, this dignified bombo or "shaman" (t. bon po) could communicate with the gods, divine the mysteries of illness, joke at timely moments, and shamanize till dawn. Due to these talents, neighboring families frequently asked him to perform curing rites.

Throughout my stay, I accompanied Meme Bombo when he was called to heal. Meme's house, an old but sturdy structure, with a drum hanging from the rafters and fleas treading the mud-washed floors, lay on the southern fringes of Chumdeli, a hillside hamlet surrounding a Lamaist temple and populated by farmers, some of whom claim to be Yolmo and others Tamang people (this being a social division that locally can be represented in ethnic terms), and those 'dres pa "mules" of mixed Tamang- Yolmo descent. Son of a Tamang mother and Yolmo father, Meme himself was of the latter lineage, but as he studied under a Yolmo shaman from the northwest, his craft fell along Yolmo lines.

On the afternoon of a healing, I would climb through the dense forest that separated Chumdeli from my home in the village of Gulphubanyang and walk down a zigzag trail through terraced fields of wheat and maize until I reached Meme's farmstead. After sipping tea with his family, I would tag along as Meme ambled in the twilight shadow toward his patient's house. Until early morning, when I usually fell asleep, I assisted Meme in the limited ways I could, helping him to "play the drum," sacrifice chickens, and beseech the gods to enter our bodies. Footsore, smoke-eyed, I approached these evenings with a combined sense of apprehension, fatigue . . .

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