‘Traditional’ Healers, Speaking and Motivation in Vava’u, Tonga: Explaining Syncretism and Addressing Health Policy

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Poltorak, Mike (2010)
  • Publisher: Oceania Publications
  • Subject: GN

Bilateral health system development in Tonga is implicated in a misrepresentation of ‘traditional’ healing that has serious implications for the provision of health care. It has strengthened the tendency to homogenise and stereotype a diverse body of healers in counter distinction with biomedicine. The diversity of and syncretism in non-biomedical local healing practice is little appreciated in policy debates. Addressing the epistemological, social and linguistic context of syncretism in terms sensitive to healers’ concerns and conceptualisations is vital to build on the pre-existing collaborations between health professionals and a diverse body of healers in a country that has experienced a marked shift from communicable to non- communicable disorders. This paper examines the diversity and syncretism of five of the most popular ‘spirit’ healers in Vava’u, Tonga in terms suggested by healers themselves using the Tongan concept and value of tauhi vaha’a(to evoke and intensify relatedness) as an analytic tool. The creativity implied in healers’ socially constitutive use of language with ancestors, relatives, patients, churches and the hospital questions the value of any notion of traditionality \ud and suggests considerable grounds for collaboration.
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