Academic journal article Contributions to Nepalese Studies

Saano Dumre Revisited: Changing Models of Illness in a Village of Central Nepal (1)

Academic journal article Contributions to Nepalese Studies

Saano Dumre Revisited: Changing Models of Illness in a Village of Central Nepal (1)

Article excerpt


Nearly 25 years ago, anthropologist Harvey Blustain published an article introducing the various levels of medicine in the central Nepali village of Saano Dumre. This well cited article has become somewhat of a landmark piece in Nepali medical anthropology, and has served as a foundation for many other anthropologist's understandings of, and investigations into, health beliefs in various other parts of Nepal.

This current article, based on field research conducted in Saano Dumre in 1999, examines the apparent changes, which have taken place during the ensuing years. Using the methods of cognitive anthropology, the author has explored several health-related topics including categories of illness, treatment seeking order, influences upon health and perceived causes of illness (including factors which facilitate a greater susceptibility to illness), ideas about transmission of illness, villagers perceptions about what has changed over the past 25 years, and ideas regarding the efficacy of traditional and western medicines.

Although many changes have taken place in 25 years, it seems clear that the villagers of Saano Dumre are still practicing a pattern of medical pluralism characteristic of so many other parts of Nepal. The interesting feature, however, is that the form of medical pluralism being practiced in Saano Dumre; would actually be better defined as a hybrid system, combining features of both new (western) and old (traditional) into a single constantly modifying medical model.


Situated in the shadow of Lig Lig Mountain (2) in the western mid-hills of Nepal is the village of Saano Dumre. The village consists of 150 houses spread across an entire hillside, with some homes resting on the ridge at 4,000 feet and others situated along the banks of the Chepe Kola River some 2,500 feet below. The village, which covers all of ward number two of Palantar Village Development Committee, (3) is made up of several gaus (4) (mostly caste-based neighborhoods or hamlets). The total population of the village is listed as 705 and is made up of Bhramin-Chetri (51 homes), Sarki/Kami/Damai (49 houses), Girl (30 houses) and Muslim (20 houses) caste divisions. The majority of the population is agriculturists (603 persons) and about half are reported as literate. (5) It was also estimated that nearly 200 of the village's 360 males are working abroad in the Middle East, India, or Kathmandu. (6) This would suggest that Saano Dumre now has much contact with the wider world, a theme that became apparent over the course of the research.

Anthropologist Harvey Blustain first put Saano Dumre on the map of South Asian anthropology in 1976. Blustain (1976), basing his conclusions on data gathered over an 18-month period from 1974 to 1976, described health beliefs and practices among the local villagers of Saano Dumre. This well cited article, part of a special issue of Contributions to Nepalese Studies published by The Center for Nepal Asian Studies at Tribhuvan University, quickly became a landmark piece in the medical anthropology of Nepal (7). The article has since continued to serve as a basis for understanding health beliefs throughout various other parts of Nepal as well.

Opportunity arose during my doctoral research to visit Saano Dumre, the site of Blustain's initial fieldwork, to conduct interviews with villagers regarding their current beliefs and practices concerning illness. (8) I felt this research might provide a valuable opportunity for a comparative look at the changes in belief and practices about illness which have taken place in the village in the ensuing 25 years since Blustain's influential publication. Such a diachronic view might provide some insight into the culture change (or resilience) in the light of great efforts toward the development of Western-style health care in rural Nepal over the last quarter century.

There are a few notable differences between Blustain's findings and mine. …

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