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September 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 27(8): 811-8.

The pragmatics of aesthetics: the performance of healing among Senoi Temiar.

Roseman M.

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155.

Indigenous healers in many societies use patterned sounds, movements, colors, shapes, and odors as therapeutic techniques; yet medical anthropology remains curiously inattentive to the aesthetics of healing rituals. Based on research among Senoi Temiar of Peninsular Malaysia, I propose an approach to the therapeutic efficacy of these symbolic forms. The music of Temiar healing ceremonies is examined from three perspectives: the formal musical structures, the indigenous theories that inform those structures, and the strategies through which they are performed and experienced by participants. Temiar healing performances present a moment of articulation between two domains of knowledge and action: musical composition, performance, and affect, on the one hand, and indigenous cosmology, illness etiology, and the pathogenicity of emotions, on the other. Songs of Temiar spirit-mediums cross-cut these two domains, and demonstrate the pragmatics of aesthetics.

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