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Cross-Cultural Healing in East African Ethnography

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Abstract

Examples of cross-cultural therapeutic relations have been mentioned frequently in ethnographic accounts from East Africa but have rarely been the object of in-depth description and analysis. Colonialist ideology, structural-functionalist anthropology, and a number of more recent medical anthropological contributions have been biased in ways that have drawn attention away from what is a prominent feature of African traditional medicine: the search for healing in the culturally distant. A focus on the dynamics and ideology of cross-cultural healing may be crucial for an understanding of processes generated by the encounter between biomedicine and African traditional medical systems. As is exemplified by the Iraqw of Tanzania, widespread acceptance and extensive use of biomedical health services may not necessarily mean that people abandon traditional beliefs and practices. Quite the contrary, the attribution power to the culturally distant implies an openness to the unfamiliar, the alien, and the unknown, which may have facilitated the introduction and acceptance of biomedical health services, [medical anthropology, traditional medicine, cross-cultural healing, Iraqw, Tanzania]

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