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

By Jay H. Bernstein | Go to book overview

7

Balienism in Society

This chapter considers the balien's profession in the context of social and psychological integration. While the primary focus is the institutionalization of knowledge and its social ramifications, these issues are ultimately inseparable from issues of the "internalization" of the profession as an expression of the self (De Vos 1990). In this chapter I focus on aspects of the self and identity, such as gender, chronic illness, and social adjustment, in relationship to being a balien. I also address the question of the mental normality of the balien. First, it is important to determine the place of the baliens and their ceremonies in Taman society.


The Balien's Profession as
Organized Activity and Social Collectivity

The balien's task of curing people shares certain characteristics of professional occupations, and it can be likened to one. One way in which balienism is institutionalized as a profession is that it is treated as a kind of work that must be compensated in esteem of the service rendered. Thus, it differs from both Sakalava spirit-mediumship in Madagascar (Sharp 1990) and Wana shamanism in Sulawesi (Atkinson 1989: 273), in which payments are intended to benefit the spirit-familiars rather than the practitioners.

The work of the balien can also be contrasted with other Taman ceremonies for which the performer is not paid, such as offerings (tentalayong). In traditional legal cases, too, the person adjudicating the case (normally the headman) is not customarily paid, although he may require a volume of liquor from the disputants, as well as food, coffee, and other provisions to be consumed during the session.

Another way in which balienism resembles a profession is that baliens are characterized by a monopoly on special knowledge and practices. Their domain of knowledge is not common to other members of society, and no

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