Western Medicine’s Impact On The Traditional Beliefs Of The Kaliai The people of the Kandoka village, located in Papua New Guinea, have quite a unique way of life that differs from that of Western civilization in several ways. They are essentially a simple society based on subsistence horticulture and occasional hunting. With a population of approximately four hundred people, the Kandoka village is the largest of the five coastal villages of Lusi-Kaliai speakers. Travel between these different communities is achieved by foot or sea and usually requires a substantial amount of time. This can be quite problematic in cases of medical emergency.
Although a registered nurse is located at an Aid Post a few miles from the village, more serious cases are often referred to hospitals quite far away. The Kaliai have now been in contact with Western culture for over a century and with Western medicine for almost fifty years. They have still managed to maintain their strong cultural beliefs and practices while at the same time integrating certain aspects of Western culture into theirs. In this essay I will discuss how the availability of Western medicine has affected how the Kaliai perceive and explain causes of illness and methods of treatment, when they seek this type of treatment, and how they explain and deal with it’s failure. I will then proceed to comment on how and when traditional treatment is exercised and what happens if this method fails.
The information used in the discussions is provided in a series of case histories documented by Drs. Dorothy and David Counts. It is from these cases we find that the people of the Kandoka village have generally accepted Western medicine and use it in varying combinations with traditional practices. Western Medicine’s Impact on Perceptions of Illness With the introduction of Western medicine into the Kandoka village came new ways of explaining illness and providing treatment. Contact with Western missionaries had established a great deal of respect for their culture through both their kindness and their exciting different way of life. When Western medicine became available near by at a relatively low cost the Kaliai experimented with these new methods of treatment.
This new system of health care differs from traditional Kaliai care in that it is based more so on scientific facts and discoveries. Illness and disease are diagnosed according to what symptoms the victim possesses. Once the diagnosis is established the associated treatment is administered. From the information presented in the case histories it does not appear that the Kaliai were unwilling to seek aid from Western medical care providers. Several of the victims mentioned in the cases sought advice and treatment provided by Westerners. In the majority of situations this was even the first avenue explored by them.
Such was the case with Paul, Tina, Nathan, Bruno and Christy. It generally appeared that this method of treatment was selected over traditional medicine especially when symptoms were recognized as being similar to ones that had been cured through Western medicine in the past. Examples of this involve the infection of Paul’s thumb, Tina’s high fever, and Nathan’s swollen face. Shortly after the symptoms appeared, Paul approached the Counts for first-aid treatment. With this infection continuing to worsen, his next action was to travel to the mission clinic to see if they could heal him.
In Tina’s case her parents wanted to take her to the Health Centre but bad weather prevented them from travelling there. They, like Paul, then approached the anthropologists for help. In Nathan’s situation he was administered treatment at the Kaliai Health Centre and was then paid a visit by the Counts. The anthropologists, and their pills, were credited with predicting the time of his recovery and with his cure. These cases suggest a high level of confidence in Western medicine’s ability to heal.
Unfortunately, in Paul’s case he was unable to get to a better medical facility in time and ended up needing to have his thumb amputated. Drs. Dorothy and David Counts were often consulted both because of their close proximity and because they were highly respected by the villagers. The other common place travelled to for treatment was the Kaliai Health Centre staffed by trained nurses. Although the people of the Kandoka village hold a generally positive opinion of Western medicine there were some instances in which this type of treatment was perceived to have failed.
The most obvious example indicating this relates to Bruno’s sudden death. The boy’s family took him to the medical centre where he was diagnosed with symptoms consistent with malaria. The nurse there did everything she could to try and save him but his body was unable to fight the illness. This was perceived a failure not only because he died but also because his family was unable to accept that Bruno could have contracted the disease and were unfamiliar with the treatment he received. A similar conclusion was drawn in Christy’s case. The nurse claimed that her retardation was the result of cerebral meningitis as a child.
The Kaliai could not understand this and therefore looked for an alternative way of explaining what had happened to her. What was found in both cases was discovered to relate to traditional medical explanations. Kaliai Traditional Medical Beliefs The Kaliai’s traditional beliefs relating to illness and healing have been culturally embedded into every member of society over countless generations. The Kaliai are highly spiritual people who believe in the presence of powerful extra-human intelligent spirits. Certain members within the village are known to practice sorcery and witchcraft. These people have the ability to cast spells and inflict harm on others.
The reverse is also true for they are often approached by the ill or injured seeking a cure for their ailment. The Kaliai hold enormous respect for the spiritual world. An example of this relates to the case of Michael and Melissa and their disrespect to the ‘masalai’ (bush spirit) in their g …