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October 2021

Med Nowozytna. 1998 ; 5(2): 85-100.

[The attitude of the New Guinea natives towards illnesses]

Beben W, Rosinski FM.

According to the traditional views of the New Guinea natives sudden violent illnesses, epidemics, disabilities, congenital deformities, mental handicaps, accidents, violent deaths are most of the times being ascribed to actions of the supernatural forces, usually to ghosts and magic. Only the slight wounds and insufficient functions weaknesses if their physical base was evident, suicide, senile or death at war (although not always) were considered as "natural". According to the natives, breach of common law granted by the supernatural, especially of taboo is the basic cause of sickness and death. The diagnosis and treatment of the patient is carried in accordance with this concept. Quacks start with trying to establish the "actual" cause of sickness or death; often the blame is attributed to effect of destructive magic of several kinds. Especially dangerous is the so called "death spell", particularly the one connected with "poisoning" or "destruction of interior" by a witch or wizard. On the basis of established cause the quack applies treatment consisting usually of many elements. At first the actual cause is to be removed, i.e. the sick person has to undo the damage he made or ease the wrath of the supernatural and, if need be, the soul of the patient which got lost or was abducted has to be found. Sometimes the wizard who cast the spell has to be identified and made to give an antidote to the sick person. Occasionally the quack extracted the foreign body from the body of a sick person. Customarily the sick person received also the multi-component curing specimen consisting of, among others, herbs of great curing effect. The composition of those specimens, especially of antidote for "magic poisons" is kept secret.

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