This fascinating case study focuses on shamanism and the healing practices of the Taman, a formerly tribal society indigenous to the interior of Borneo. The Taman typically associate illness with an encounter with spirits that both seduce and torment a person in dreams or waking life. Rather than use medicines to counter the effect of these discomforting visitors, the shamans—called baliens—use stones that are thought to have come into being by materializing wild spirits that have converged during the initiation ceremony.
Jay Bernstein argues that shamanism continues to flourish not merely because of tradition, but because it meets real needs for therapy that are not otherwise satisfied. He stresses the exchange of objects in shamanic ceremonies and argues for the relevance of psychology and symbolic and social processes in explaining the identity of shamans. Finally, he situates Taman shamanism in the context of the pluralistic medical system of interior Borneo, which includes the traditions of the nearby Malay Muslims and Iban Dayaks.
Written in a style that will engage the interest of both scholars and beginning students, Spirits Captured in Stone is a valuable contribution to contemporary debates in cultural and medical anthropology; the anthropology of religion, as well as magic and ritual; folklore; and Southeast Asian ethnography.
Jay H. Bernstein is a research affiliate in the Division of Library and Information Science and the University Library, St. John's University.