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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The gift and the road: Exploring the meanings of health and illness in Tautu, Vanuatu
by Vaughan, Ashley M., Ph.D., University of Hawai'i at Manoa, 2013, 363; 3585978
Abstract (Summary)

Based on 13 months of ethnographic research, this dissertation documents how the people of Tautu, Vanuatu incorporate the global flows of biomedicine and Christianity into their local knowledge structures and social practices and the resulting integration of biomedical, Christian, and traditional medical ideologies and practices. This integration is articulated in Tautuans’ theories of illness causation and categories of care; knowledge practice; diagnosis and treatment processes; definitions of health and illness; and healing narratives. At the center of this creative, integrative process are traditional social relations based on kinship and exchange and the related principles of pragmatism, “dividuality,” and reciprocity. However, Christianity—specifically “gift” narratives in which Tautuans explain that their healing knowledge and powers come from God—is the main discursive frame through which Tautuans create a middle ground between “traditional” and “modern/Western.”

These gift narratives serve multiple purposes. First, they allow patients and practitioners to organize their past experiences and to make sense of suffering. Second, in these “gift” narratives Tautuans authorize certain aspects of traditional medicine by reconstructing them as Christian knowledge. Third, through these narratives Tautuans are carving out a space where biomedical, traditional, Christian forms of healing are complimentary practices, as the idea that all types of medicine are “gifts from God” causes the categories of biomedical, traditional, and Christian to fall away and to be subsumed by the larger heading of “spiritual healing.” Fourth, these gift narratives are also religious narratives about salvation intended to convert people not only to kastom medicine but also to the Christian faith. Finally, these narratives are an attempt to appropriate and indigenize biomedical ideologies and forms of knowledge production and to gain international recognition of the efficacy of traditional medicinal plants; these narratives, then, illustrate Tautuans’ desires to globalize their local practices and to engage with the modern world on their own terms.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: White, Geoffrey M.
School: University of Hawai'i at Manoa
School Location: United States -- Hawaii
Source: DAI-A 75/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Spirituality
Keywords: Christianity, Pacific Islands, Traditional medicine, Vanuatu
Publication Number: 3585978
ISBN: 978-1-303-79305-9
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