Who made Mama Raja ill? This question, buzzing around the village, starts off this anthropological study on healing performances in the context of religious change. The fascinating case is presented of a seriously ill woman of high standing in northwest Ayfat, located in the interior of the Bird’s Head in West Papua. By unravelling the various explanations of the cause of the illness, and the path Mama Raja followed in search of healing, the author documents how, why, and when Papuan people make their choices in their search for healing.
The study offers an ethnographically rich journey through the variety of healing methods in current Ayfat society: indigenous (obtained during female and male initiation rites), biomedical (the missionary hospital), and Christian (created by ritual healers since the coming of the missionaries). Likewise, the causes ascribed to illness range from sorcery, witchcraft, violation of ancestral or biblical rules, to biomedical conditions, a multiplicity of ways of understanding illness and healing that emerged in the context of religious change. Making choices among the variety of healing performances, and the creation of new performances, are shown to be dynamic processes.
At the core are the innovative contributions of local healers, particularly women, who chose to create new performances in the face of religious change.
Restoring the Balance looks at indigenous and Christian religious practices, and how people in northwest Ayfat have found a way to integrate the two and bring both sides into balance.
This book will be hightly useful to anthropologists and others interested in Melanesian and eastern Indonesian cultures, healing, spiritual healing, or religious change. It would make an attractive case study for university courses at any level.
Dr Ien Courtens studied anthropology and worked for ten years as a lecturer and researcher at the Radboud University Nijmegen. She has done postdoctoral research on Marian pilgrimages on Java in relation to healing.