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

By Jay H. Bernstein | Go to book overview

8

Conclusion

Anthropologists have discarded the myth that traditional society is somehow unchanging and timeless. Every traditional practice or belief must have either evolved from or succeeded some other form. To conclude this book I want to take a long view of Taman shamanism and traditional healing practices by looking at their changing meanings and purposes in the context of cultural history and evolution. Is it possible to find antecedents to present‐ day traditions in the absence of documentary records and archeological evidence ?

Using colonial administration and church sources, King (1985) has constructed a picture of life in traditional Maloh society (a society that includes the Taman—see Chapter 2). King presents Maloh society as leaving behind its traditional mode of life. The traditional systems of political and social organization King describes were in decline when he studied them. I would argue that the full onslaught of change in the religious and economic spheres has perhaps not been as complete, but the trend of change points in the direction of homogenization and loss of a distinct tradition. As for traditional medicine, it is clear that knowledge of herbal and other medicines from natural products has declined following the availability of manufactured pharmaceutical medicine.

According to King (1985: 50), the Taman have lived in the Upper Kapuas for more than twenty generations. A Taman way of life evolved in the absence of the Indonesian nation, Dutch colonialism, the town of Putussibau, Iban raiders, and the Muslim Malays. 1 The balien's therapies must have been even more important as a form of medicine in the past than they were during the time of my study. It is interesting to speculate about how shamanism may have been organized before the introduction of modem and Malay medicine, when the main alternatives to the balien were traditional herbal and other natural remedies.

In the 1980s the candidate balien had usually sought relief from Malay healers and from doctors and nurses before submitting, out of dissatisfaction

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