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

By Jay H. Bernstein | Go to book overview

3

Therapeutics, Pharmacopoeia,
and Medical Pluralism

In Taman village society, treatment by a balien is usually the first response to symptoms of illness. In some cases, serious illnesses are treated only by baliens until they are resolved. But the balien does not function in a vacuum, and a sick person is often treated, over the course of an illness, by several different kinds of people, including doctors and nurses as well as folk healers. The balien treats illness on the presumption that it was crafted and sent by a spirit. The balien's healing power does not depend primarily on the use of any medicines but on special instruments and direct negotiation with spirits. This chapter describes the range of medicinal and other therapeutic treatments existing alongside balien practices, as well as the status of modem medicine in Taman society. It also addresses the uses of medical knowledge and attitudes toward it among the Taman.

The folk-medical practices described in the first sections of this chapter are part of everyday knowledge, or are not integrated into complex systems. Even the more secretive and esoteric traditional healing practices involving medicines and other objects are carried out by those who are considered not healers but simply people who possess and know how to administer particular substances.

Only one type of healer, the Malay dukun, has a professionalized role as a specialist, even though other people who use their knowledge or materials in their possession to cure illnesses may demand compensation. 1 Although there are various kinds of dukuns, their role and general approach to healing is well understood by the Taman. Using a combination of herbalism and Islamic knowledge, they represent a different folk-medical paradigm from that of the balien, and they are a frequently patronized alternative.

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