Adaptation in Cultural Evolution: An Approach to Medical Anthropology

Adaptation in Cultural Evolution: An Approach to Medical Anthropology

Adaptation in Cultural Evolution: An Approach to Medical Anthropology

Adaptation in Cultural Evolution: An Approach to Medical Anthropology

Excerpt

My interest in human ecology, particularly its medical aspects, developed during my first field experience in the Ivory Coast, West Africa. There I was struck by the wide range of behaviors which made good sense in terms of basic hygiene. Among these were the use of pit latrines, apparently before European contact, frequent and thorough bathing, isolation of the sick in the case of certain highly contagious diseases, and the thorough cooking of food. The situation was, of course, by no means perfect, and many tropical diseases could be found in the population. Still, these people who had no concept of preventive medicine other than the use of charms to ward off disease had developed a basically sound set of hygiene practices. Furthermore, these practices contrasted with relatively ineffective therapeutic techniques which were solidly embedded in ethnomedical theory. In effect, the most successful behaviors from the medical point of view lay outside native medical practice as such.

These observations led me to examine the role of hygiene and therapy in relation to environmental adaptation. My thinking soon extended to ecological adjustments in . . .

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