Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Mediating Healer


A dream healer is transformed during a trance to travel beyond the physical body. There is a displacement of oneself in this situation where agents outside of the body guide a healer. The guides operate within the spirit world to bring to consciousness the causes of illness: “Spirit divination can locate the cause of illness outside of a patient and thus preclude blame and conduce toward recovery” (Strathern 1996, 324; Laderman 1991, 82). Through the guides of the spirits a healer mediates with the spirits of the ill person “in extracting sorcery objects and in diagnosing illness generally” (Strathern 1996, 165; Lambek 1993, 324).

There is a crucial distinction to be made here of the spirit of the healer who leaves the body to mediate with the source of illness in a patient’s body. An ill person is also one with spirits who mediate with the healer’s spirit guides. Often the mediation involves peaceful agreement. If there is violence between the two spirits this may place the life of the healer in danger. The healer may not return to the original state of consciousness.

To avoid such consequences a healer’s spirit must return to the body of the healer without accomplishing its goals. Since this poses greater danger to the ill person and the healer, the decision to return is critical. The recognition here of the ill person’s spirit as an important meditating agent informs us of the factors outside of the body of the ill person from which illness is known to exist, not in the body as is often the case with modern medical explanation of illness.

The discussion lends itself to psychogenic and sociogenic explanation of healing. First, it is a healer and an ill person who recognize that the illness is a condition affected by something outside of the body.

Second, that affecting conditions exist in thoughts lending to spirit possession that alters the consciousness to a level of irrationality. In this situation a spirit possession allows mediation between different agents to take place.

Third, illness invites a revisitation of both a healer and an ill person to the social, cultural, historical and spiritual reality of their society. Through healing a healer and a patient appear to be “reframing their experiences” in order to make sense of what has been displaced that involves individual patients and spectators” (Strathern 1996, 171-2; Connor 1990, 354-9).

The spirit of the sumahunduo guides, mediates, and informs him. The same is also true of the spirit of the sumahurauhua (woman dream healer). We may ask why people consult sumahunduo? Is there an inherent social disorder one may ask? The agency of a sumahunduo posits in part several answers to the questions. The Nagum Boikens respond to the wide social interdependence network of production of meaning and activity to see continuity in their lives. The physical presence of a sumahunduo in the society already presupposes that productive interdependency in the society.

Through sumahu hlu healing, a sumahunduo negotiates with spirits that guide him/her. A good bond between the human and spirit world is necessary for successful dialogics to take place. Strathern explains that “a metaphor or a historical figure may be in focus” during the time of altered consciousness for the sake of seeing a patient recover (Strathern 1996, 171-2). In this sense a sumahunduo functions as the medium of such expression. We could further argue that a sumahunduo revisits history and gives new insights into the lives of Nagum Boikens.

The renewal of balance in the consciousness of an ill person is necessary for the revitalization of buried knowledge in the subconscious of a healer, an ill person and spectators. The buried knowledge reinforces the belief in the self as a spiritual being operating at different levels of consciousness. Through this process a society is informed by the practice of healing in ways the people understand what affects their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Sumahu hlu and spirit possession are two different things. Both are culturally determined through the sociogenic and psychogenic constructions. What does the out of body experience do and what do dreams really mean to the Nagum Boikens? Sumahu hlu can occur both at an individual level as well as on the level of a collective community. On the individual level dreams work either as clues to the potential of something happening or a particular illness becomes revealed as something that is culturally constructed. At this level dreams work as a psychogenic consequence of the subconscious by bringing to the level of consciousness the possibilities of locating the causes of an illness.

Though in most dreams that individuals have, healing is often done through restoration of disrupted social relationships or through the renewal of social relationships. Appropriate behaviors are quickly restored in order for a wound to be healed. Where a sumahunduo is involved a distinct process is involved. The out-of-body experience of a sumahunduo is necessary for any healing to take place. But how would the transmission of knowledge from the spirit world be interpreted in our time? Knowledge of events that could have caused illness, knowledge of the specification of medicinal plants and its application and the possible consequences of a treatment are the larger issues to understand in our discussion of the sumahu hlu rituals.



Anthropologists have drawn attention to the link between consciousness and “various organs and functions of the body” to show that “consciousness was associated with speaking and speaking equated with thinking” which are located in the lungs: “Homeric views of thought as a speech [are linked] with the Trobriand concept of nanola, intelligence that resides in the larynx and is linked to the ability to learn magical formulae.” Feeling and thinking are “experience[d] in the heart and “the lungs, the seat of breath, and thus plausibly tied to speech (hence to thinking)” (Onions 1954, 4; Strathern 1996, 44).

A lot more research in our traditional healing systems is needed for us to understand and appreciate the place of traditional healers in PNG.

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