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August 2021

Soc Sci Med. 1987 ; 25(4): 357-65.

Destructive heat and cooling prayer: Malay humoralism in pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period.

Laderman C.

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458.

Malaya, an ancient crossroads of trade, was the recipient of Chinese and Ayurvedic humoral ideas and, later, those of medieval Islam. These ideas were readily accepted by Malays, since they are highly congruent with pre-existing notions among aboriginal peoples of Malaya involving a hot-cold opposition in the material and spiritual universe and its effects upon human health. Islamic Malays have adapted these aboriginal beliefs to correspond to the Greek-Arabic humoral model in matters concerning foods, diseases, and medicines. Although Malay theories of disease causation include such concepts as soul loss and spirit attack, along with 'naturalistic' ideas such as dietary imbalance and systemic reactions to foods, all of these theories can either be reinterpreted in humoral terms, or, at least, are congruent with the basic tenets of Islamic humoral pathology. Behaviors and beliefs regarding human reproduction, however, while essentially following a humoral pattern, diverge from Islamic, as well as traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic, humoral theories. Unlike any other major humoral doctrine, Malay reproductive theory (like that of non-Islamic aboriginal peoples of Malaya) equates coldness with health and fertility and heat with disease and sterility. These ideas, in turn, are related to beliefs regarding the nature of the spirit world: the destructiveness of spiritual heat and the efficacy of cooling prayer.


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