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September 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 27(8): 857-77.

Ambiguity, synecdoche and affect in Semai medicine.

Dentan RK.

Department of American Studies, State University of New York, Buffalo 14261.

Semai descriptions of their beliefs about health and disease vary from person to person. Moreover, at different times the same person expresses mutually incongruent beliefs. This amorphousness and fluidity merit analysis rather than neatening. This paper details Semai beliefs, loose ends and all, and suggests that their formal peculiarities are due to the prevalence of synecdoche in conceptual organization. Their inconsistency and fluidity may stem from individualistic egalitarianism within Semai society and powerlessness in the face of nonSemai attack. Finally, it is suggested that construing indigenous medicine as a crude form of Western medicine leads to overtidiness and consequent error.

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