Complementary and Modern Medicine: Strange Bedfellows? (Satis Shroff, Freiburg)
In the 80,000 hamlets of Nepal, there are over 400,000 shamans and traditional healers, who have to some extent acquired the basics of modern medical treatment through the Health Ministry.
The old tradition of the dhami-jhakri in which the fate of a person can be influenced by appeasing the spirits is still intact in Nepal. A séance provides the ill person a communication possibility depending the nature of the illness. For the spirits (Geister), be they rough or fine in their manifestations, belong to the everyday lives of the tradition-conscious Nepalese and many other ethnic-peoples in the northern and southern hemispheres of this globe.
Disease and conformity: The traditional healers of Nepal are not only versed in the nature of illnesses caused by spirits, demons, male and female witches, Gods and Goddesses, but also diseases which are in conformity with epidemiological studies and results. The usual diseases that are mentioned by traditional healers are: diarrhoea, coughs, pneumonia, heart-maladies, abdominal pain, pain in the joints and other less specific symptoms like: headaches, body pain, nausea etc. Other commonly mentioned diseases are: vomiting, worm-infections, pickles and boils, carbuncles, cases of goitre in the hills (think of the Himalayan-salt ads in the west), different skin problems, tuberculosis, problems of the urinary tract and menstrual disorders and anomalies.
In the past the shamans were not allowed to get rich through healing, and the codex and ethics of the healers in the Himalayas were strict. Today, the Nepalese shaman blesses a life-saving electrolyte solution for the treatment of diarrhoea and dysentery. The shaman has become innovative in Nepal, and makes himself or herself socially useful by ritualising and selling anti-baby pills for a small financial commission. This way, he or she helps Family planning, which is supported by the government. The Nepalese government has raised the status of the shaman by bestowing an official title upon him: Practitioner of Traditional Medicine, with the condition that he or she take part in medical and hygiene courses. ‘Traditional’ sounds better than ‘complementary’ because shaman has a long tradition in Siberia, Nepal and others parts of the world.
Sociological view: The position of the shamans in the hamlets of Nepal is getting a certain amount of recognition and importance, because he or she gathers new experiences and acquires modern methods of healing, and in this way, the shaman uses a combination of traditional and modern medicine. From a sociological point of view, magico-religious healing plays a central and positive role. The magic and faith in the healing powers of the shaman helps to strengthen the group, tribe or caste by defining a common foe, and in identifying the evil, invisible spirit that has been causing illness. In this way, it is possible to control one’s own environment and the immediate neighbourhood and to influence it. Moreover, the healing ritual of the shaman late into the night helps to sublime difficult somatic Triebanspruche and to channel them in a socially acceptable and legal way, without being stigmatised in the society as being abnormal or an ill-person.
When you boil down the matter between traditional and modern medicine, belief is in the eye of the beholder. If modern medicine doesn’t help, complementary (traditional) therapy seems to do so, for instance in the case of people struggling with long-term pain. Whereas the physician is concerned with infections caused by fungi, bacteria and viruses, Nepal’s Dhamis, Bijuwas, Bong-things and shamans are concerned with spirits, demons, Gods and Goddesses and other invisible powers between Swarga (Heaven) and Prithvi (Earth). The people in Nepal still have faith in the practitioners of traditional medicine, despite the danger of being stigmatised as being superstitious, anachronistic and backward. The government has found out that even though Health Post have been set up, the people living in the foothills of the Himalayas (Mittelgebirge) still prefer ritual therapies from their shamans. The medically-trained traditional healers can reach millions of Nepalese through a well-developed strategy. Most of the Dhamis-Jhakris have shown that they are open to new skills in health, population and family-oriented basic knowledge. Moreover they were (and are) ready to give their acquired modern knowledge to their respective communities in their hamlets.
Humane and empathetic: The traditional healer not only cures with modern pharmaceuticals, but he or she imparts a cultural note to the therapy by blessing the medicine in a ritual through the recitation of mantras or prayer, which is indeed soft and humane, and the patient becomes a part of the ceremony, and isn’t left alone like in a hospital. Traditional (complementary) medicine has come to stay. It was there all the time in different continents, and is an expression of care, humane-treatment, softness (Sanftemedizin), dignity, respect and empathy for the ill person. These are values that have dwindled in modern medicine’s pursuit for rationalism, validity and science. Every time a patient enters a physician’s clinic, he or she feels uneasy that the clock is ticking away to his or her disadvantage. Time is money. More patients means more money for the physician and the health insurance company. That leaves little time and hope for the hapless, impatient patient.
The value of hope: The value of hope, which is an important resource in different cultures and among traditional healers, is lost in modern medicine. What was Florence Nightingale doing with her candle-light in the bedsides and stretchers of her wounded soldiers in the Crimean War? Was she giving them antibiotics, anti-viral drugs? No, she was giving these forlorn souls a precious medicine named hope. But is traditional medicine entirely based on hope? Certainly not. Traditional Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, and the Indian subcontinent’s Ayurvedic medicine, Unani medicine deploy among others pharmaceuticals botanical, zoological and mineral extracts to cure the illnesses of millions of people since time immemorial. So does modern medicine, which enjoys perfect packaging and marketing and ads through the media. It’s the catchy, convincing-sounding ad that makes people rush to the apothecary to buy the pharmaceutical product that they’ve seen in TV or have heard about from their relatives and friends, as is mostly the case in the layman’s aetiology.
Modern medicine is a science because its experiments can be reproduced, it is systematic and can adjust itself in combating new bacteria, viruses and other disease causing microbes. But traditional or complementary medicine is also learning new methods of treatment and hospital hygiene.
Alone in 1980 Dr. Badri Raj Pandey et al trained more than 1000 traditional healers (Dhamis-Jhakris) in Nepal under the Family Planning and Maternal Child Health Project (MCHP). Since there are more traditional healers than physicians and paramedical personnel, the traditional healers are an important resource for the family planning and health organisations in Nepal. This study has revealed that the traditional healers play an important role. They have a functional network and they aren’t s so expensive as medical doctors. The traditional healers are always ready to visit their patients, even though it means walking through the better part of the day to treat the patients. Physicians are reluctant to walk four to six hours to their impoverished patients, and they’d rather be paid in currency notes rather than with eggs, vegetables, or a little red rooster.
School medicine has to win the traditional healer as a resource and ally, and not as concurrence, for the common aim of traditional and modern medicine is to free the individual from his or her illness, and provide an efficient and honest cure. The wellness and recuperation of the patient should be the common goal and not rivalry. This target was fixed by the Nepalese government and the shamans are now treated with respect, asked for assistance and requested to take part in therapy-workshops and medical training projects. Such workshops were held in: Kanchanpur, Chandani municipality, Mahendranagar, Syangja and Ilam in the past. It was explained that the project as such didn’t have any intention to influence the healing methods or beliefs of the tribal shamans. The participating shamans learned how to motivate the people of their respective communities, family-planning and other health-promoting measures.
Causality and logic: The shaman can differentiate the principle of causality and logical thinking and communication. The shaman manifests religion and the art of healing as a coexistence form, and is open for new healing methods if it helps the patient. Likewise, there is a trend on the part of physicians and psychotherapists to take on the shaman’s healing methods. And to this end, there are universities that are training therapists through the use of modern and traditional medicine by inviting and bringing together traditional healers and modern therapists, medical and nursing students and physicians.
Two German two universities in Heidelberg and Munich have established themselves in the service of traditional and modern medicine by offering workshops and seminars by bringing practitioners of Traditional and Modern Medicine together. It is a marriage between the two systems of medicine.
An advanced international, intercultural and interdisplinary education as a therapist in Medican Anthropology is being made possible from 12th till 19th October 2007 by the Institute of Ethnomedizin and it costs 1269 euros. You can join the program at any stage. It is a global path for health and healing and is organised by the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. The program makes it possible for western therapists to take part in a lively dialogue with authentic indigenous healers, shamans, and teachers from all over the world.
For those interested in ritual healing methods in the world a seminar was organized by the Südasien Institute, Heidelberg, Dept. of Ethnology from 12.-16.March 2007. The program was available under: www.sai.uni-heidelberg.de/abt/ETHNO/forschung/springschool.htm. How does ritual healing work and what can we learn from it? Can and should ritual healing be publicly integrated in the Heath Services? These were the themes of the one-week seminar which showed the detailed and extensive field research among the ritual healers in Tibet, India, Indonesia, Kenia and Latin America.
Another programme organised this time by the Institute for Ethnology has a number of well-known Nepalese shamans like Maile Ngema Lama, wurde bereits mit 8 Jahren in der Wildnis von den Urahnen der Schamanen berufen und in das schamanische Heilwissen eingeweiht. Sie wuchs in einem Bergdorf der Tamang auf, die zur tibetischen Sprachgruppe gehören. Nach der weiteren Ausbildung in ihrer Stammestradition begann sie mit 11 Jahren zu praktizieren. Sie ist ca. 50 Jahre alt, gehört zum Volk der Tamang und ist heute eine der berühmtesten Heilerinnen von Nepal.
Mohan Rai, director of Shaman Studies and Research Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal. Mohan Rai is a central personality of shaman culture in the Himalayas. He is 68, comes from the broder area of Nepal/Bhutan and belongs to the Mongol folk of Rai and Kirati. His father was a famous Kirati Schaman. He speaks more than ten languages.
Parvati Rai, Nepal, a female Kirati Schaman and practices since 45 years. Parvati worships Nature, like all Kirat-folk. Among the Kirats the shaman plays a central role in the society from birth till death. Parvati Rai received her initiation when she was nine years old and became a shaman at the age of 16, lives in Kathmandu and works as a shaman for the Kirat Society and supports the Kirat Foundation through her work. She married at the age of 15 and has four kids.
About the Author: Satis Shroff is a writer and poet based in Freiburg (poems, fiction, non-fiction) who also writes on ethno-medical, culture-ethnological themes, and writes regularly for The American Chronicle (www.Amchron.com), and is a contributing writer on www.boloji.com, http://www.wordpress.com and also Blog.ch. He has studied Zoology and Botany in Nepal, Medicine and Social Science in Germany and Creative Writing in Freiburg and Manchester. He describes himself as a mediator between western and eastern cultures and sees his future as a writer and poet. Satis Shroff was awarded the German Academic Exchange Prize. He is a lecturer in Basle (Switzerland).