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October 2021

Cult Med Psychiatry. 1980 Mar; 4(1): 43-70.

Many medicines in one: curing in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Johannes A.

The actual means by which the clinical successes of non-Western medical treatments are achieved has been little explored. More specifically, analyses have focused almost exclusively on their psychotherapeutic value, with some attention to the pharmacodynamics of plant remedies. The central argument of this paper is that such a perspective has been generated more by the selective psychiatric orientation of cross-cultural field-workers than by the diverse realities of the curing systems themselves. The paper describes medical care among the Nekematigi, Benabena-speaking horticulturalists of the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Presented within an ecological framework, these materials demonstrate dependence upon a wide range of physical manipulations such as bleeding and flagellation with nettles, dietary alterations including increased protein consumption, social rearrangements, verbal spells, and plant medicinals of both specific and general application. The potential effects of each contribution to the medical regime are examined and a twofold conclusion is reached: (1) that it is precisely the mix of physical and psychological elements that accounts for Nekematigi success in treating the chronic infectious diseases which predominate in their environment, and (2) that this is likely to be true of many previously reported medical systems hitherto interpreted primarily in psychological, social, or symbolic terms.


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