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Curing a Brain Tumor with High Tech Operations and the Help of Spirits: The Appropriation of Biomedicine among the Dayak Benuaq

Guérir une tumeur au cerveau grâce à la haute technologie chirurgicale et l’aide des esprits : l’appropriation de la biomédecine chez les Dayak Benuaq
Michaela Haug
p. 167-191


Cet article analyse l’appropriation de la biomédecine chez les Dayak Benuaq dans le Kalimantan oriental, en Indonésie. Prenant comme exemple la guérison réussie d’une tumeur au cerveau, je montre comment la biomédecine est entrelacée de façon créative aux pratiques de guérison indigènes et animistes afin de guérir le patient de façon globale. J’intègre cette étude de cas à une discussion plus large sur la modernité et l’enchantement, qui ont longtemps été perçus comme une paire d’opposés dans la théorie occidentale, car les attributs de la modernité comme la rationalisation, la sécularisation et la bureaucratisation sont généralement considérés comme opposés aux connexions animistes, aux attentes magiques et aux explications spirituelles du monde. Je soutiens que l’introduction de la biomédecine chez les Dayak Benuaq ne conduit pas à un abandon des idées animistes et des pratiques de guérison indigènes et, en tant que tel, à un processus de désenchantement. Au contraire, leur capacité à accepter la pertinence simultanée d’hypothèses alternatives sur le fonctionnement du monde leur permet de combiner la biomédecine et la médecine autochtone de manière créative.

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Notes de l’auteur

Linguistic Remark: When expressions or quotations are presented in another language than English, they are given in italics. Names of ethnic groups, rivers and other geographical locations are not in italics. The spelling of Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia, marked with BI) is in accordance with the spelling rules used after the orthographical reform of 1972. The language of the Dayak Benuaq (Bahasa Benuaq, not marked) is spoken with many local variations and until recently has rarely ever been written. As no dictionary on the language of the Benuaq exists yet, I have followed the spelling conventions used by my interlocutors. I have marked long vowels with duplication and glottal stops with ‘q’ if they are non-audible and with ‘k’ in cases where they are audible.

Texte intégral

While I became one of the people who accompanied Tinen Ani through the treatment of her brain tumour, I did not have in mind that I would talk or write about these events. Only in hindsight did I feel that her healing process would provide a meaningful example for the intertwinement of indigenous medicine and biomedicine. I am very grateful to Tinen Ani for giving me the permission to tell her story in an academic context. I presented a previous version of this article at the Ninth Conference of the European Association for Southeast Asian Studies in Oxford (16-18. August 2017) within a panel on “Disenchantment and Re-enchantment of Social and Natural Landscapes in the Southeast Asian Hinterlands” which was convened by Anu Lounela and Kenneth Sillander. I thank them both for their fruitful comments.


  • 1 The names of all Dayak Benuaq interlocutors mentioned in this article have been changed.

1During my recent field research among the Dayak Benuaq in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, Tinen Ani1—one of my long-term interlocutors and a close confidant—had to undergo three complex brain surgeries to remove a brain tumour. Since no one in her small village or the surrounding settlements had ever had such a treatment, Tinen Ani’s brain surgeries received great attention within the village community. Ultimately, the successful treatment of Tinen Ani’s brain tumour lasted six months and combined biomedical and indigenous healing methods. This article explores how biomedical knowledge was appropriated during Tinen Ani’s healing process within her family and the village community and how biomedical notions of illness and healing were creatively intertwined with indigenous concepts and healing practices.

2Daniel Hollenberg and Linda Muzzin (2010) argue that, despite a growing interest in alternative medicine and recent attempts at combining biomedicine with alternative or indigenous medicine within biomedically-oriented healthcare systems, biomedicine continues to hold a hegemonic position, often resulting in the devaluation of indigenous medicine and related concepts and healing practices. This predominance of biomedicine goes hand in hand with the dominance of a western, modern ontology based on the natural sciences, which considers itself superior to other, non-modern and indigenous ways of knowing, structuring and understanding the world. The global medical dominance of biomedicine is thus advanced through the globalization of a modernist, scientific worldview, which is held responsible for the “disenchantment of the world”—a term coined by Max Weber (1919) for the disappearance of magical and animistic beliefs as part of a more general process of rationalization, which for him was a defining feature of modernity. Following this perspective, modernity and enchantment have long been perceived as a pair of opposites in western theory, as attributes of modernity like rationalization, secularization and bureaucratization are commonly seen as opposed to animistic connections, magical expectations and spiritual explanations of the world (Saler 2006: 695; McEwan 2008: 31). However, this dichotomy is challenged by the documentation of new forms of enchantment (e.g. Gell 1992; Comaroff & Comaroff 1998), as well as by the recently revived interest in animism and notions of “re-enchantment” in terms of a more profound dialogue between Western social theory and other knowledge systems (Zaidi 2006).

3The healing of Tinen Ani’s brain tumour illustrates the creative intertwinement of biomedicine and its scientific approach with indigenous healing rituals. By biomedicine I mean medicine which is based on the principles of natural sciences (especially biology and biochemistry) and which stresses standardized, evidence-based treatments carried out by formally trained persons (Quirke & Gaudillière 2008). Indigenous healing practices are embedded in the Dayak Benuaq autochthonous religion, which contains many of the characteristics identified as central to animism in current theoretical understandings of animism (see Århem & Sprenger 2016), like for example the extension of personhood and sociality to include spirits of various kinds. In contrast to notions of disenchantment or re-enchantment, I argue for the continuity of enchantment in the face of modernity. Unfortunately, the term “enchantment” lacks a clear definition. Its meanings have changed over time and vary greatly. Several publications stress that it includes positive aspects (such as charm, awe, wonder and a childlike excitement over life) as well as negative ones (like fear, feelings of being disrupted and the uncanny). It has been used to cover a broad range of phenomena such as states in which “ghosts, spirits, and spectres exist within a melange of other marvels, including magic, myth, witchcraft, sorcery, voodoo, vampires, and zombies” (McEwan 2008: 30). In this article, I summarize various aspects of the Dayak Benuaq’s autochthonous religion under the term “enchantment”. My attention is focused particularly on human-spirit relations, as well as on autochthonous conceptualizations of the human body and the resulting healing practices. My major argument is that neither human-spirit relations nor autochthonous ways of healing are abandoned with the introduction of biomedicine—enchantment continues to exist in the face of modernity.

4The perception of “modernity”, as opposed to animism, magic and spiritual explanations of the world, is based on an examination of Western societies and a misleading focus on official narratives and the behaviour of elites, as these were promulgating the discourse of modern disenchantment to differentiate themselves from the masses and to secure cultural superiority (Saler 2006: 693). In contrast, I demonstrate the continuation of enchantment, despite modernization and the introduction of new technologies, by looking at the lived realities of ordinary people. I show how enchantment prevails despite modernization, mechanization and development—here exemplified by the technically highly complex biomedical treatment of Tinen Ani. A major reason for this, I argue, is the ability of the Dayak Benuaq to move quite easily “among contexts in which different forms of practice are underwritten by different ontological assumptions” (Harris & Robb 2012: 672). While our modern, science-based ontology is an ontology in which “only one set of propositions about reality can prevail” (Salmond 2014: 301), the Dayak Benuaq do not necessarily feel the need for adhering to a single reality. They can therefore accept different and sometimes even contradictory conceptions of illness and healing and combine them in creative ways.

  • 2 To overcome the tumour, Tinen Ani had to undergo a total of three operations. The first two operati (...)

5Methodologically, this article builds on what Signe Howell and Aud Talle have termed “multitemporal fieldwork” (2012: 2), as I have repeatedly conducted anthropological research among the Dayak Benuaq since my first visit to East Kalimantan in 2000. In the course of this long-term engagement, I have participated in many rituals and gained profound insights into the autochthonous religion of the Dayak Benuaq, which are incorporated into this article. The particular case presented here draws on data collected during eight months of field research in East Kalimantan between July 2016 and March 2017. During this time, I accompanied Tinen Ani through two major operations2 in a large hospital in the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, Samarinda, and participated in two extensive healing rituals in her home village that were both central to her recovery process.

6After exploring recent debates on the disenchantment and re-enchantment of modernity, and laying out my argument for the continuity of enchantment, I briefly introduce the local setting. In what follows, I describe the various steps that led to the healing of Tinen Ani’s brain tumour. In doing so, I explore some basic features of Dayak Benuaq autochthonous religion, and related conceptions of the human body, illness and healing and how they were creatively interwoven with Tinen Ani’s biomedical treatment. I conclude this article with a discussion of the results presented and some reflections on factors that may be crucial for the persistence of indigenous medicine and the continuation of enchantment among the Dayak Benuaq in the future.

Modernity, the Disenchantment and the Re-enchantment of the World

7Saurabh Dube aptly sums up the huge rift which is associated with the advance of modernity in western societies when she writes:

The idea of modernity […] brings into view a monumental narrative—the breaching of magical covenants, the surpassing of medieval superstitions, and the undoing of hierarchical traditions. The advent of modernity, then, insinuates the disenchantment of the world: the progressive control of nature through scientific procedures of technology, and the inexorable demystification of enchantments through powerful techniques of reason. (Dube 2002: 729.)

8This makes it easy to understand why, in large parts of Western theory, modernity and enchantment have long been perceived as opposing pair. However, many approaches also question and criticize this dichotomy as far too simplistic.

9In his historiographic review, Michael Saler identifies three major approaches to the relationship between modernity and enchantment: the binary, the dialectical and the antinominal approach (2006: 294). The first corresponds to the assumption that the rationality of modernity would sooner or later eliminate enchantment. It was in this spirit that Max Weber (1919) gave his famous lecture on “science as vocation”, in which he summarized the loss of animistic connections, magical expectations and spiritual explanations that had characterized the traditional world, as a result of the ongoing “modern” processes of rationalization, secularization and bureaucratization, as the “disenchantment of the world”. However, within the binary model, enchantments did not disappear entirely; rather:

[They were] marginalized in various ways as residual phenomena both subordinate to and explicable by modernity’s rational and secular tenets. […] In addition, enchantments became associated with the cognitive outlooks of groups traditionally cast as inferior within the discourse of Western elites: "primitives", children, women, and the lower classes. (Saler 2006: 969.)

10The dialectical approach, which is implicitly linked to Marxist thought (see Lefebvre 1995, 2009), sees the processes of modernity creating their own harmful and destructive enchantments, above all the goal of progress, which is seen as the monumental enchantment of modernity. Modernity is seen as “inherently irrational, a mythic construct no less enchanted than the myths it sought to overcome” (Saler 2006: 698). Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), which represents one of the most prominent articulations of the dialectical approach, “indicts Western modernity as a globalizing enchantment whose reliance on instrumental reason abolishes individuality, distorts human nature, and represses autonomy” (Saler 2006: 699). Under the umbrella of the antinominal approach, M. Saler compiles several attempts undertaken since the 1990s to rethink the discourse of modernity and enchantment from a vantage point that rejects the simple ascriptions of the previous approaches. Decisive for these diverse works was the critique of the very concept of “modernity”, its underlying binary oppositions, and its colonial heritage that emerged from postmodern and postcolonial scholarship. M. Saler argues that the binary and dialectical approaches are being replaced as it becomes obvious that “[m]odernity is defined less by binaries arranged in an implicit hierarchy or by the dialectical transformation of one term into its opposite, than by unresolved contradictions and oppositions, or antinomies: modernity is Janus-faced” (2006: 700).

11Some of the authors who challenge the dichotomy of modernity and enchantment argue that enchantment constitutes an integral part of modernity and that we find “enchanted modernities” all over the world. Technology and its marvels, for example, are seen as having the power to cast spells over people (Gell 1999) and to create enchantments by celebrating the inventiveness of human agency (Starthern 2001). Thus, enchantment is no longer limited to marginal, remote or shadowy spaces, but can be located in urban centres, which are seen as simultaneously modern and magical. Steve Pile argues that “magic itself consistently emerges from modern city life, as people seek ways to improve their conditions and influence their futures” (2005: 59).

12Some scholars see specific forms of enchantment as deeply politicized responses to rapid change and social transformations triggered by modernization and globalization. Studying Southern African society during the post-apartheid period, Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff observed, for example, a dramatic increase in witchcraft and spirit possessions. They argue that these new forms of enchantment are inseparably interwoven with modernity, because it produces “an ambiguous mix of possibility and powerlessness, of desire and despair, of mass joblessness and hunger amidst the accumulation, by some, of great amounts of new wealth” (Comaroff & Comaroff 1998: 283). They thus conclude that instead of “slipping away with the resolute march of modernity”, enchantment is “everywhere on the rise” (ibid.: 295). This corresponds to the findings of anthropologists and historians who have repeatedly shown that it is precisely in uncertain and unstable times that people resort to magic, spiritual relations and the occult, be it to find explanations or means of resistance (West 2001).

13The recently renewed interest in animism and ontological queries within the humanities has further contributed to a new perspective. Enchantment once embodied all that the enlightened and rational thinking human wanted to leave behind. In times of multiple global crises, however, we can observe a hopeful turn towards non-modern, animistic and spiritual conceptualizations of the world in search of socio-ecological alternatives (e.g. Harvey 2005; Wergin 2018; Sprenger 2021). Discussions about the Anthropocene and the complex intertwining of humans and nature promote a holistic view of the world and at the same time a growing acceptance of systemic indigenous worldviews (Knauß 2018). A disenchanted state of being is no longer desirable in this context, as it discourages an affective attachment to the world and restricts the ways in which we can understand and conceptualize the world and the role that humans and other beings play in it. Dipesh Chakrabarty shows how difficult and limiting it is to grasp an enchanted life-world from a disenchanted perspective using the example of peasant uprisings in India. For the peasants, these were inspired by the admonitions of their gods, while historians only would accept secular causes—but in doing so they do not capture the reality of people’s lives. Chakrabarty thus argues: “The moment we think of the world as disenchanted […] we set limits to the ways the past can be narrated (2000: 89). And—so I would like to add—limits to the ways we perceive the present and imagine our future.

The Continuity of Enchantment

14Among some of the works that explore the entanglement of modernity and enchantment we can find subtle indications or sometimes even explicit evidence for the continuity of enchantment in the face of modernity. In the introduction to the edited volume Modernity and Re-enchantment in Vietnam, Philip Taylor questions, very cautiously, whether enchantment has ever been eliminated or whether it was simply hiding under the communist regime. He writes: “Viewed in these terms, the efflorescence of religion in present day Vietnam might be seen not so much as the re-enchantment of a formerly secular society as the decentring of religious expression” (Taylor 2007: 50).

15Nils Bubandt’s The Empty Seashell (2014), on the other hand, problematizes the continuity of enchantment very pointedly, as witchcraft has not disappeared among the Bui people in North Maluku, Indonesia, despite profound changes, modernization and development. He shows in his book how witchcraft has persisted despite a millennial movement linked to the regional and colonial politics of North Maluku in the nineteenth century, conversion to Christianity, the authoritarian developmentalist policies of Indonesia’s New Order, and finally the adoption of modern technologies and the development of a lively modernity after the fall of Suharto in 1998. The official attitude toward witchcraft is to deny it epistemically, although even representatives of the state, such as civil servants or police officers, are afraid of it.

16Summarizing the findings of different post-colonial scholars, Cheryl McEwan argues that the continuity of enchantment is a particular characteristic of non-western societies, as the:

[…] universal distinctions at the heart of the modernity/enchantment dichotomy (in particular, between modernity and tradition, secularism and superstition) are based on linear notions of time and progress and, therefore, often have little relevance when viewed from outside Western cultures. (McEwan 2008: 33.)

17Mark Schneider, on the other hand, reminds us that enchantment can persist anywhere. He emphasizes that even in the western world:

Enchantment […] is part of our normal condition, and far from having fled with the rise of science, it continues to exist (though often unrecognized) wherever our capacity to explain the world’s behavior is slim, that is, where neither science nor practical knowledge seem of much utility. (Schneider 1993: X.)

18Our science-based, modern ontology claims to be able to produce the only valid explanation of the world. This, however, leaves little room for conscious awareness and the appreciation of enchantment and stands in contrast to the lifeworld of the Dayak Benuaq.

Setting the Scene

19Tinen Ani’s home village is a small settlement in the forested highland region of the Tunjung Plateau in the Middle Mahakam, located in East Kalimantan in the regency of Kutai Barat. Comprising roughly 30,000 people, the Dayak Benuaq make up almost twenty percent of the population of Kutai Barat and present the second largest ethnic group in the regency. After having been subject to marginalization and assimilation policies during the “New Order” period (1967-1998), the Dayak Benuaq have—as have other ethnic minorities in Indonesia—largely profited from the downfall of former president Suharto and gained new political self-determination through democratization and the implementation of regional autonomy in 2001 (see Arenz et al. 2017; Haug 2010). East Kalimantan experienced what Davidson and Henley have called a “revival of tradition” (2007) which is manifested in a new pride in Dayak identity and in the revitalization and folklorization of local dances, costumes and art. Most Dayak Benuaq practise an extended subsistence economy, which is characterized by a combination of swidden agriculture with a variety of other economic activities that are integrated into the surrounding market economy, such as cash crop production or wage work. Historically, this combined economic strategy grew out of the trade in forest products, which has linked the Dayak Benuaq to international trade for several centuries (Gönner 2001).

20Their autochthonous religion and Christianity dominate present religious life among the Dayak Benuaq. The former constitutes an integral part of their adat, which can be best understood as a dynamic system, which controls all aspects of human life among the different ethnic groups of Indonesia. Adat is often simplistically translated as “tradition” or “custom”, while the part of adat which constitutes normative orders has been termed as “customary law”. Until the early 20th century the autochthonous religions of Borneo have been described as “old religion” (agama kuno; BI) or “Dayak religion” (agama dayak; BI) by Dayak themselves, while Christians and Muslims have often derogatorily referred to them as pagan (kapir or pagan; BI). During the 1940s the term “Kaharingan” won recognition as name for the autochtonous religions of Southeast Borneo, which all share some common features. Kaharingan played a major role in the struggle for an independent Dayak Province, which led to the founding of Central Kalimantan in 1957. A long struggle led by the Dayak Ngaju (see Schiller 1997) finally resulted in the official recognition of Kaharingan as part of Hinduism, under the label “Hindu-Kaharingan” (Agama Hindu Kaharingan; BI) in Central Kalimantan in 1980 (Weinstock 1981: 47f). However, in East Kalimantan, Kaharingan is still considered as a “belief” (kepercayaan, BI) (Herrmans 2017: 196); only a small number of my interlocutors know and even fewer use the term.

  • 3 A detailed description of the historical development of Christian mission activities in Kutai Barat (...)
  • 4 In Indonesia, each citizen is expected to adhere to one of the officially recognized world religion (...)

21Christianity started to spread during the colonial period. The Catholic church began its missionary activities in East Kalimantan at the beginning of the 20th century and has been closely linked to the establishment of schools, the implementation of socio-economic development programs and the development of a biomedical infrastructure in the Middle Mahakam. This included the erection of a polyclinic in Laham in 1923, the founding of a small hospital in Tering in 1936, and a larger one, called Balai Pengobatan Santa Familia, in Barang Tongkok. The latter was of major importance for medical services in Kutai Barat until the erection of the new spacious state-run hospital Harapan Insan Sendawar in 2003. Protestant missionary activity started in East Kalimantan in 1929. However, it did not become noticeable in Kutai Barat until the 1990s, when a variety of charismatic and Pentecostal churches started to spread in the region.3 According to official numbers, Kutai Barat currently has 367 Protestant and 138 Catholic churches (Pemerintah Kutai Barat 2011: 97). However, the ratio of church buildings does not say anything about the numbers or the convictions of the believers. While the Catholic church endeavours to show respect towards adat and embraces many local customs, most Protestant churches take a very negative attitude and demand from their followers a complete renunciation of their autochthonous religion. This is impossible and highly undesirable for most villagers, as ritual life constitutes an important part of sociality within Dayak Benuaq society. Most of my interlocutors, whether nominally Catholic or Protestant,4 do not perceive their autochthonous religion as being contradictory to Christianity and tend to connect the two in a complementary way.

  • 5 Within the literature one also finds the spelling belian, which is an adaptation of the actual term (...)

22The Dayak Benuaq autochthonous religion contains many of the characteristics identified as central to animism in current animism theory (see Århem & Sprenger 2016). Relationships with a broad variety of spirits play an important role in Dayak Benuaq everyday life and are mainly expressed in the form of frequently preformed rituals. These include death rituals, family rituals which are performed for marriage, during pregnancy and after birth, as well as various agricultural rituals and healing and purification rituals, called beliatn,5 which are of major importance for this article. Attempts to classify the great variety of spirits of the Dayak Benuaq pantheon have been undertaken by Massing (1981), Hopes et al. (1997), Madrah & Karaakng (1997), Gönner (2001), Zahorka (2007) and most comprehensively by Venz (2012). For the distinction between different types of spirits, which is only briefly summarized here, it is of major importance whether they are of human or non-human origin, what shape they can take, where they live, and whether they are well or ill disposed towards people. Amongst the most important spirits are a number of primordial beings who created the world, and the seniang, who are located in the sky, from where they watch as moral agents over the observance of customary law (see Gönner 2001: 47; Sillander 2006: 326; Herrmans 2011: 199). The term tangkai emcompasses a number of spirits which can help humans in case of illness or other problems in exchange for certain obligations. They include earth spirits (tonoi), water spirits (juata), the powerful predatory feline timang, and the nyahuq, which mainly appear in the form of birds and are of special importance in swidden agriculture. In contrast, the term papaiq covers a number of rather dangerous spirits that like to frighten humans and can inflict illness by dispossessing persons of their juus, which constitutes an invisible constituent part of the body and will be explained in more detail below. Many spirits are said to have an anthropomorphic appearance and a social life similar to that of the Dayak Benuaq. This gives the impression that most spirits simply live invisibly alongside humans. As well as collective relationships between humans and spirits, the Dayak Benuaq recognize personal relationships and even friendships between individual humans and individual spiritual beings.

23Through the concurrent presence of their autochthonous religion, Christianity and modern school education, most Dayak Benuaq are familiar with animist, Christian and scientific conceptualizations of the world. They regularly engage in situations, contexts and practices that are based on different ontological assumptions, e.g. by participating in rituals, praying in church and studying forestry (see Haug 2018). In cases of illness, people can resort to different methods and cures, which are based on different conceptions of illness and healing and different ideas about the human body. Since healing through prayer with the assistance of a Catholic or Protestant clergyman is rarely practised so far, people mainly choose between indigenous medicine and biomedicine. In case of minor health problems or simple injuries, such as a sore throat or a sprained ankle, they can resort to pharmaceutical products, which are nowadays sold without medical prescriptions in pharmacies or village shops. Alternatively, they can use traditional herbal medicine, as many people still know how to make cough syrups, tinctures for treating wounds to avoid infections, or pastes for various skin problems, from medicinal plants that can be found in the forest.

24For more serious illnesses, people can seek biomedical treatment with a doctor or in hospital, they can arrange a healing ritual, or they can try to combine the two approaches. Such a situation of medical plurality, which requires an engagement with and an examination of different and partly competing ways of healing, is characteristic of many societies in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, as shown, for example, by Tsing (1988), Laderman & Van Esterik (1988), Connor & Samuel (2001) and Craig (2002). In a household survey, which I conducted in 2004 in Tinen Ani’s home village, 70% of the households reported that in cases of sickness they used both indigenous and biomedicine, 26% stated that they solely used “modern” medical services and 4% preferred to use exclusively traditional healing methods (Haug 2010). The villagers repeatedly pointed out that it is important to distinguish between illnesses which are better cured by biomedicine (like for example a fracture or an open flesh wound) and illnesses that require the performance of a healing ritual (such as malaises caused by black magic or a feeling of sickness that is accompanied by bad dreams about deceased persons). If it is obvious that an illness requires curing by indigenous medicine, it is still of importance to choose the right form of beliatn and the appropriate pemeliatn. Most often, as in the case of Tinen Ani, indigenous medicine and biomedicine are combined.

Curing a Brain Tumour—Taking the Tumour Out

25In June 2016, Tinen Ani, a peasant woman in her mid-fifties, was hospitalized in a major hospital in the provincial capital of East Kalimantan, Samarinda, because of typhoid fever. As she continuously complained about severe headaches, the doctor ordered a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan—and very unexpectedly, Tinen Ani was confronted with the diagnosis that she had a brain tumour. The doctor recommended taking the tumour out as quickly as possible. However, Tinen Ani was shocked and preferred to travel back home first. When I arrived in the village in August 2016, Tinen Ani showed me her MRI photographs, where even as layperson one could easily recognize the tumour, nearly 4 cm large, which had started not only to cause a constant headache, but to affect Tinen Ani’s sense of balance and ability to move.

  • 6 Many villagers have experienced not being treated as respectfully as they would expect in hospitals (...)

26Tinen Ani considered it impossible to get rid of the tumour in her home village—although she would have preferred to do so. She was afraid of being far away from her family and was repulsed by the impersonal atmosphere in the hospital, which she already knew from her last stay. The Dutch theologian Coomans, who worked as a Catholic missionary priest with the Dayak Benuaq from 1964-1970, had already documented a similar reluctant attitude among local patients towards hospitals, based on the conviction that illness must be managed within the community and that death outside of the village context is undesirable (Coomans 1980, cited in Venz 2012: 126). Even though the Dayak Benuaq are now much more familiar with biomedicine, many continue to dislike hospitals, which they associate with social hierarchies,6 loneliness and unpleasant bureaucratic encounters. Indigenous healing practices, in contrast, take place in the familiar setting of the village community. They always comprise a strong social component, as neighbours, family members and relatives from surrounding villages gather for the performance of a ritual, sharing the work of cooking, cutting firewood, playing drums and gongs, producing the elaborate decorations and simply chatting the night away, with rituals running for several days, 24 hours a day.

  • 7 In the present day, it has become customary to pay the ritual specialist not only in kind but also (...)

27Both the performance of large rituals and hospital treatments can place a heavy economic burden upon rural households. While biomedical treatment nearly always requires (more or less large) cash expenditures, the performance of a ritual requires natural produce, including large amounts of rice, sacrificial animals and additional money to purchase sugar, coffee and cooking oil and to pay the ritual specialist.7 Financial considerations can therefore be of major importance. In the case of Tinen Ani, financial issues played a minor role, as she held a Healthy Indonesia Card (Kartu Indonesia Sehat), which, as part of a new state-sponsored health care programme launched in 2014, offers free health care to poor citizens. Her expensive brain surgeries were thus fully covered by the Indonesian health care system, while her family paid for the healing rituals and other additional costs. These included, for example, the travel costs and board for Tinen Ani and her companions—usually two of her three children, who, as is common in Indonesia, did not leave her side even when she was in hospital, and took turns to sleep on the floor next to her bed, always ready to call a nurse for help if necessary. These costs were not insignificant but were manageable compared to those of the operations.

28Tinen Ani and her six brothers came together to discuss which healing method they wanted to use. They decided to follow a twin-track approach, as neither biomedicine nor indigenous medicine was considered sufficient to cure Tinen Ani. All of them saw the removal of the tumour as a biomedical task. Surgery was seen as inevitable; as her younger brother explained to me, the tumour was considered “an obvious illness” that could clearly be seen on the MRI photographs (personal communication, 17.09.2016). Tinen Ani thus faced her fears and went back to the hospital in Samarinda to have the tumour removed, accompanied by two of her three children, one of her brothers and me. On 21 September 2016 Tinen Ani’s tumour was taken out in a seven-hour long operation. Her skull was cut open and the tumour removed—which was very difficult as it was located close to a major blood vessel. The cut-out part of the skull could not be used again, as it had been deformed by the tumour. In the skull there thus remained an open spot, which was preliminarily covered with skin, and later would be covered by an artificial bone plate. The day after the removal of the tumour Tinen Ani had to be operated again to stop an internal bleed. Fortunately, the doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Tinen Ani recovered well from her two strenuous operations. Finally, the examination of the tumour tissue revealed that it was a benign tumour and that no follow-up treatment would be necessary except for the subsequent closure of the remaining aperture in her skull.

29Coming back home to the village—with a shaven head and an impressive bandage around it, some more MRI photographs, and the cut-out part of her skull preserved in alcohol in a glass jar—Tinen Ani and the modern technologies that probably saved her life became the source of much awe and wonder. During her first days back at home Tinen Ani received visitors from morning till late at night, sharing her experiences and her new biomedical knowledge, which she had acquired through her operation and her conversations with the doctor. The specialist who operated on Tinen Ani, a young woman from Java who had studied in the U.S., took an unusually long time to explain to Tinen Ani in detail what she would do during the operation. Her readiness to explain the medical diagnosis and necessary procedures is not common given the prevailing social hierarchies in Indonesia. In any case, her personal empathy contributed greatly to Tinen Ani’s positive perception of her biomedical encounter. In the village, all were exuberantly happy about the successful surgery and very excited about the marvels of modern technology. Tinen Ani, her children, and her brother again and again explained that the doctor had indeed to open her skull in order to remove the tumour and that she now had to wait a couple of months for the swelling to decline before the skull could be closed with an artificial bone plate.

Curing a Brain Tumour—Healing Tinen Ani’s Juus

30While the first operation was taking place, Tinen Ani’s family members performed a small ritual in the village called betabur betebas. During this quite short ritual, which can be conducted without a ritual specialist, the family members asked for the help of several spirits—particularly the Nayuq Seninang and the individual spirit friends (pengirikng) of some family members. They threw rice into the air in the direction of the sunset for the bad spirits, which are easily attracted by blood, and asked them not to disturb Tinen Ani’s operation. They threw rice in the air in the direction of the sunrise for the good spirits and asked them to support Tinen Ani and help to keep all negative influences away. The good as well as the bad spirits were promised a proper meal if they complied with the request.

  • 8 For a discussion of the relationship between particular ideas about the body and therapeutic strat (...)

31Why was the help of the spirits needed for Tinen Ani’s healing? Why was the biomedical treatment of the tumour not considered sufficient? I see this as closely related to the Dayak Benuaq’s concept of the human body,8 which, as Oliver Venz (2012: 159-232) describes, consists of three central components: unuk, asakng and juus. While unuk refers to the physically tangible body, asakng is used to refer to the heartbeat, the breath and the seat of emotions, intellect and character (SEIC)—a term introduced to the anthropology of religion by Lothar Käser (2004: 181). However, like all other organs, asakng ceases to function at death. It therefore has no characteristics of an independent being in the sense of western ideas of a soul. O. Venz therefore defines the body concept of the Benuaq as dichotomous, with unuk and juus as primary components (2012: 231). In Indonesian, juus is often translated as roh (spirit, soul, haunting spirit) and in compounds as roh kehidupan (life spirit) (Tullur & Hendrik 1990: 16) or jiwa (Pamung & Suni 1994: 24). In English texts juus is translated as “soul“ (e.g. Hopes et al. 1997: 187; Sillander 2004: 349; Herrmans 2005: 117), “vital force” (Massing 1981: 3), “vital essence” (Hopes et al. 1997: 187), “life force“ (Hopes 1997: 164; Sillander 2004: 179), or “vital power” (Gönner 2001: 49, author’s translation from German). However, O. Venz argues convincingly (and in accordance with my own observations) that neither the use of the Arabic-derived roh, the Sanskrit-borrowed jiwa nor the English term soul do justice to the far more complex concept of juus, particularly as soul comes with such a large ballast of European and Christian philosophy (see Klein 2002). O. Venz understands the juus not as an impersonal force, but as a personal and individual being. He writes:

The fact that it is identical in form with its bearer and appears as its double makes it possible to speak of juus as a spiritual double. Since the experiences of the spirit-like double during sleep appear to humans as a dream, I would also like to define it as a dream ego [Traumego]. (Venz 2012: 231, translation by the author).

32The unity of body and juus is the basic condition for the functioning of all vegetative, emotional, affective and rational functions of humans and therewith the prerequisite for a healthy life (ibid.). The weakening of the juus, or the loss of parts of it, are thus a central cause of illness. Likewise, all kinds of dissociation of the juus from the human body, such as its abduction, frightening or scaring, are dangerous for humans, as they can, in cases of prolonged separation, even result in death (ibid.: 232). Impairment of the juus must be countered by means of a beliatn. This makes the integration of biomedicine and indigenous medicine more comprehensible: while biomedicine is considered well equipped to heal Tinen Ani’s body (unuk), only a healing ritual is seen as capable of healing her spiritual double (juus). Kakah Ogiq, one of Tinen Ani’s elder brothers, explained to me:

Tinen Ani has undergone an operation. Her body has been cut open and her blood has been shed. Her first body is not complete anymore. For sure, her second body is injured as well. This is what we heal with this ceremony. (Personal communication, 25.10.2016.)

  • 9 Detailed descriptions and attempts to classify beliatn rituals are for example provided by Weinsto (...)

33In general, beliatn rituals have two main functions: healing and purification. The latter aspect includes e.g. the settling of taboo violations or the purifying of people who took part in a death ceremony and now need to be “cleansed” from the contact with death. The highest ranking and largest beliatn (called guguq or nalitn tautn) can cleanse an entire community and its environment from negative aspects or misdeeds and thereby prepare for a successful new year. The duration of beliatn varies. While most curing rituals last only one or two nights, nalitn tautn ceremonies last from a minimum of sixteen nights up to several months (Gönner 2001: 56). Curing beliatn rituals are often subdivided into four major types:9 beliatn sentiu, beliatn beneeq, beliatn bawo and beliatn bawe. However, it remains a matter of discussion whether these constitute different types of rituals or if they rather should be interpreted as common compositions of ritual elements which have been designated with particular names.

  • 10 Different categories of spirits (like e.g. those of deceased ancestors but also nayuq and timang) c (...)

34The male and female specialists who carry out the rituals, the pemeliatn, act as mediators between the human and the spiritual world. Some get their knowledge revealed in dreams, but most acquire their skills through several years of training by an experienced ritual specialist. Most pemeliatn specialize in certain ritual forms and larger beliatn are often carried out by several pemeliatn together. During a healing ritual, the pemeliatn, or more precisely, his juus, travels into the world of the spirits to find out the reason for the illness and to cure it, usually with the support of his spirit friend (pengirikng).10 The pemeliatn thus belong to the religious experts who can deliberately separate their juus from their bodies. However, during such journeys, their spiritual doubles require special protective measures and they have to re-associate their juus with their bodies immediately after the ritual has ended (Venz 2012: 232).

35One month after Tinen Ani’s tumour had been taken out, her family conducted a healing ritual called Nasuq Juus June, which can be translated as “catching or reassembling the juus”. The ritual lasted two nights and included four major parts. First, the spirits who had been asked for their support during the betabur betebas were given the promised offerings—in this case several chicken and a pig. After the offerings, Tinen Ani was bathed, with water being poured over her, to clean her of all negative influences. After her cleansing followed a part that is called bebayar betahur, where all family members had to pay a symbolic fine to Tinen Ani, because they had decided that she should be operated on—and had thereby decided that her blood would be shed. Although the injury to Tinen Ani’s body was necessary to remove the tumour, it still constituted an injury for which the family members had to take responsibility, as they had encouraged Tinen Ani to undergo the operation. The climax of the ritual was the fetching back of the parts of Tinen Ani’s juus that she had lost during the two operations. For this, the pemeliatn travelled in a richly decorated boat, hanging on ropes from the roof beams, into the realm of the spirits to locate and finally catch the lost juus. The caught juus was embodied in the form of a small pellet, which was strung onto a thread and tied around Tinen Ani’s wrist as bracelet. Finally, with the completion of the ritual, both her body and her juus were complete again and the conditions thus provided for her comprehensive recovery. Although Tinen Ani was the first person of her village to undergo brain surgery, she was not the first patient cured by the combination of biomedical treatment and a beliatn ritual intended to reassemble the juus. I have been told several stories where the wounds and fractures caused by accidents were first healed (stitched or operated on) in hospital, with beliatn rituals being conducted afterwards to capture parts of the juus that might have been lost during the accident and to ensure that the juus was complete again.

36As a result of the brain surgery, Tinen Ani experienced sensory disturbances and symptoms of paralysis on the left side of her face and in her left arm and hand. She had learnt about the biomedical neurological explanation for these symptoms during her regular check-up appointments in the local hospital in Barong Tongkok and patiently practised the physiotherapy prescribed. However, again, the biomedical explanation was not perceived as capturing the entire picture. Tinen Ani’s remaining problems were also linked to particular spirits, the liaq, which can cause various symptoms of paralysis or the malposition of limbs. In this case they were not thought to cause the symptoms—but they were seemingly disturbing the healing process. Shortly after the first healing ritual, her family thus conducted another healing ritual called Nataakng Liaq to stop these spirits from disturbing Tinen Ani’s recovery. During this ritual the family provided offerings to the liaaq (a chicken and a pig) and asked them to stop disturbing Tinen Ani’s recovery. Eventually, through these combined efforts, Tinen Ani’s paralysis symptoms became weaker and weaker until they disappeared. Several months later, when I was already back home in Germany, Tinen Ani underwent her third major operation, during which the artificial bone plate was set in. This operation was not supplemented by any further ritual, as it was considered the necessary completion of the biomedical treatment which had begun several months before. Tinen Ani also weathered this third and last operation well and at the time of writing, she has completely recovered from her brain surgeries.


37In this article, I have explored the appropriation of biomedicine by describing how particular biomedical concepts and ideas were taken up and made fit for the lifeworld of the Dayak Benuaq. While Hans-Peter Hahn (2004) originally used the term in relation to material culture, Stephanie Granado et al. (2011) extended the conceptual scope of appropriation from objects to ideas. It is in this sense that I use the term here. The villagers learnt about biomedical concepts and knowledge: the idea that one can have a tumour in the head, the biomedical explanation for the development of a tumour, its benign or malignant nature, its effects on the human body and the fact that one can open and close a skull. To regard this as appropriation emphasizes the agency which local people exercise when they “choose or reject a certain technology, good, or ideology, and adapt, manipulate, and give it meaning in their own terms” (Granado et al. 2011: 106).

38The healing process of Tinen Ani was characterized by very “modern” technologies that enabled the localization and removal of her brain tumour, the analysis of tumour tissue and finally the insertion of an artificial bone plate into her skull. The introduction of these new biomedical possibilities evoked awe and wonder in many villagers, which is reminiscent of the above mentioned “enchantment of technology”. However, neither the fascination of these new technologies nor the new biomedical knowledge and the rational, science-based explanation that it offered for Tinen Ani’s tumour and its concomitants led to the depreciation of indigenous understandings of illness and healing. The biomedical treatment of Tinen Ani’s illness was rather creatively combined with Dayak Benuaq indigenous healing methods. Enchantment, here in the form of human-spirit relations which are at the heart of beliatn healing rituals, continues in the face of modernity. Indigenous medicine is neither devalued nor replaced by biomedicine. As Tinen Ani’s younger brother explained to me, “They [biomedicine and indigenous medicine] do not collide. They both represent a path in the search for healing, neither is right or wrong. Both are an attempt at healing” (personal communication 10.11.2016). This shows that they are seen as two equal, although different, approaches to healing which were both necessary to heal Tinen Ani comprehensively.

39Biomedicine is based on a scientific, naturalistic conception of the world and the “Cartesian split” between mind and body. It demands rather uniform and standardized practices, searches for universal causal laws, claims to enact objective and empirical observation and analysis, and emphasizes rationality, replicability, comparability and generalizability (cf. Hollenberg & Muzzin 2010: 39). Biomedicine thus stands in a marked contrast to indigenous medicine, which tends to align its methods very individually to the particular patient, follows a holistic approach, and foregrounds the deep connection between mind and body. Although beliatn rituals follow a common pattern, a pemeliatn can, for example, adjust several ritual elements according to a specific patient’s situation. Indigenous healing practices among the Dayak Benuaq are further embedded in an animist ontology, which is not tied to the major dichotomies that explicitly or implicitly underlie Western scientific thinking, such as nature and culture, subject and object, or mind and body. Although the Dayak Benuaq distinguish between unuk and juus as major components of the human body, they see them as inseparably connected with each other. To heal Tinen Ani, it was not enough to cut the tumour out and thus cure her physically tangible body. Her body and her spiritual double are indivisibly connected with each other. Just as the body gets sick when a part of the juus is missing, the juus is affected when the body undergoes surgery or suffers an accident. However, biomedicine and indigenous medicine complemented each other well in this case, as biomedicine could remove the tumour while the first healing ritual enabled Tinen Ani’s juus to be healed. Biomedicine and indigenous medicine also complemented each other well in the treatment of the subsequent paralysis symptoms. The second healing ritual prevented the disturbing influences of the liaq spirits, thereby ensuring the successful use of physiotherapy.

40While the Western, naturalistic ontology “is an ontology of one ontology” (Henare [Salmond], Holbraad & Wastell 2007: 10), the Dayak Benuaq can accept different, even contradictory understandings of what there is and how things relate. The way they switch between contexts that are based on different propositions of how the world works resonates with Anne Salmond’s description of the Maori in New Zealand (2014). She argues that shifting between different worlds is common for Maori:

While at one moment, a person may stand in [a context], where river ancestors are real and co-present, at another, they may speak and think as a physicist, or an historian, or a highly trained lawyer, with no evident sense of contradiction. (Salmond 2014: 301.)

41Furthermore, she observes that ancestral Maori concepts are very much alive and are adapting to change by including various modernist assumptions about reality. This “process of juxtaposition and exchange”, A. Salmond explains, “has generative effects. It makes it possible to deal creatively with competing and shifting universalisms […]” (ibid.: 301). In a similar vein, the Dayak Benuaq accept biomedicine and indigenous medicine as different and partly opposing understandings of the human body, illness and healing. However, they accept these contradictions and do not feel the need to label one system as true and the other as false or to place them in a hierarchical relationship with each other. Instead, they foreground their potential to complement each other without diminishing or challenging the validity of their respective propositions. They can thus be combined without devaluing one or overvaluing the other.

42It is impossible to foresee the future of indigenous medicine and related enchantments among the Dayak Benuaq. However, some major challenges can be identified. Many see Christianity and especially the increasing presence of Protestant churches as a change that will ultimately lead to a decrease in rituals. However, joining a Christian denomination does not mean internalizing all of its teachings. Furthermore, the social importance of rituals (healing rituals and others as well) for consolidating sociality and affirming the wellbeing of the entire community should not be underestimated. While biomedicine cures a person without taking his or her wider social context into account, indigenous medicine engages the entire community and weaves each individual into it. Studying the interface of Zulu traditional healing and biomedicine in South Africa, Tanya Crawford and Maurice Lipsedge show that the strategies of traditional healers are often designed “to strengthen existing social ties and increase the family’s sense of cohesion and their capacity to work together” (2004: 144). Psychological distress is countered by “bringing about significant changes within their social environment” while biomedicine tends to promote “change within the individual alone” (ibid.).

43Among the Dayak Benuaq, healing, and particularly the performance of beliatn rituals, is constitutive of human as well as more-than-human sociality. Working together strengthens cohesion and expresses solidarity, as without the cooperation of the extended family and often the entire village community, the performance of a beliatn is simply impossible. Isabell Herrmans, who works among the neighbouring Luangan, further highlights that the ritual sharing of food among humans, but also between humans and spirits during rituals, is essential for the continuous engagement of humans and non-humans, which is conceived as a precondition for a “good life”, health, and prosperity in general. She even attributes the continuing popularity of rituals among the Luangan to this very characteristic (Herrmans 2017: 203). As biomedicine neither can nor intends to fulfil these functions, rituals cannot easily be replaced. Michael Coomans already describes how reluctant newly converted Christians were to abandon their participation in rituals. Despite the changes in the religious perceptions of the baptized, he writes, “the participation, and often also the preparation, of these ceremonies [...] constitutes social obligations through which they had to express their unity and sympathy” (1980: 183). No one in the village is exempt from these social obligations. Even the two Indonesian Pentecostal missionaries who managed to establish two churches in Tinen Ani’s home village could only do so by making compromises. Although they try to avoid entering a house during the performance of a ritual, they do help to collect firewood or engage in other tasks outside because they cannot escape the social pressure to participate in community work related to a ritual—especially since both missionaries are married to local women and thus have to fulfil obligations towards their relatives.

44Another important factor is the increase in formal school education and the related increasing access to scientific knowledge. I do not see this as a threat to the Dayak Benuaq autochthonous religion because of their ability to engage flexibly with different ways of knowing, structuring and understanding the world. However, what comes along with increasing schooling is a significant loss of “traditional knowledge”. This is not caused only by the (often lamented) disinterest of the young, but more by their prolonged absence from the village. Young people nowadays leave the village to pursue higher education in (semi-)urban environments in Barong Tongkok, in Samarinda, and even in the big cities of Java. Spending less time in the village, on the rice fields and in the forest, they do not acquire agricultural knowledge, knowledge of plants, the production of tools, and the paraphernalia necessary to carry out a ritual—knowledge which was still common among their parents’ generation.

  • 11 Temporal changes also take place in the opposite direction when rituals are prolonged for economic (...)

45The decrease in this kind of “traditional” knowledge goes hand in hand with the aging and shrinking number of religious specialists, as there is a lack of young people who want to become their apprentices (cf. Venz 2012; Herrmans 2017). Pemeliatn are respected members of the community, but their profession is in some ways difficult to reconcile with what might best be called “the requirements of a modern lifestyle”. Young people are not simply discouraged from becoming pemeliatn because they aspire to more lucrative educational and occupational opportunities, although this is certainly true for some, but because the rhythm of life has changed. A pemeliatn must always be ready to heal and respond to spontaneous requests. This is difficult to reconcile with the increasing importance of and dependence on wage work. While independent, self-sufficient subsistence farmers can dispose of their time more or less freely, salaried employees cannot. However, pemeliatn need an additional and more stable source of cash income, as they cannot live on the natural resources and highly fluctuating payments that they receive for their services. Their increasing dependence on fixed working hours also makes it difficult for many people even to participate in rituals. Young people with higher education who work for the government or companies repeatedly complained that they cannot take as much vacation as they would need in order to participate in all the rituals that they feel obliged to attend. Heyaq, Tinen Ani’s son, for example, works at a local coal mining company, which allows him eighteen days of holiday per year—a number of days that would quickly be used up by a larger ritual. However, rituals are adapted to new living conditions and appropriate changes are made concerning their performance and duration. Healing rituals are thus not only combined with biomedical treatment, but also adapted to modern working life. One pemeliatn from a neighbouring village told me, for example, that he nowadays adjusts the timing11 of his performance so that one weekend is exactly enough to carry out a healing ritual.

46All in all, I consider neither Christianity nor the growing familiarity with scientific knowledge to be the major obstacles to the continuation of indigenous medicine and its inherent enchantment among the Dayak Benuaq. Instead, it is the much quieter and much less noticeable, but no less effective, changes in living conditions that challenge them. Their integration into new economic systems characterized by a different temporality make it difficult to regularly practise elaborate and long-lasting rituals. The spatial distance of young people from the village context impedes the passing on of traditional knowledge. I thus see the aspirations of the younger generation, as well as the creativity and ingenuity of today’s ritual specialists in adapting beliatn rituals to the requirements of a modern way of life, as decisive for the future continuation of indigenous healing practices among the Dayak Benuaq.

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Note de fin

1 The names of all Dayak Benuaq interlocutors mentioned in this article have been changed.

2 To overcome the tumour, Tinen Ani had to undergo a total of three operations. The first two operations (during which I was able to accompany her) took place in September 2016; the third and final operation took place after my departure in autumn 2017.

3 A detailed description of the historical development of Christian mission activities in Kutai Barat and its effects on the Dayak Benuaq autochthonous religion can be found by Venz (2012: 114-142) and Coomans (1980), and a detailed analysis of protestant missionary work by Müller-Krüger (1968).

4 In Indonesia, each citizen is expected to adhere to one of the officially recognized world religions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism and Confucianism, but exclude the autochthonous religions of most indigenous peoples (for a more detailed exploration see Duile [2017]).

5 Within the literature one also finds the spelling belian, which is an adaptation of the actual term beliatn, as most Indonesian speakers experience difficulties in pronouncing the ‘tn’. Detailed descriptions of particular beliatn rituals among the Dayak Benuaq and the neighbouring Dayak Bentian can be found by Massing (1981), Bonoh (1984), Latief (1998), Sillander (2006), Zahorka (2007) and Herrmans (2011).

6 Many villagers have experienced not being treated as respectfully as they would expect in hospitals, due to their “village-like appearance”, which is linked to factors such as low education, worn clothing or unfamiliarity with bureaucratic requirements.

7 In the present day, it has become customary to pay the ritual specialist not only in kind but also in cash. However, the amount can be freely determined, in accordance with the financial possibilities of the family.

8 For a discussion of the relationship between particular ideas about the body and therapeutic strategies chosen, see Good (1994).

9 Detailed descriptions and attempts to classify beliatn rituals are for example provided by Weinstock (1983), Bonoh (1984), Tullur & Hendrik (1990), Hopes (1997), Latief (1998), Gönner (2001) and Herrmans (2005, 2011, 2015).

10 Different categories of spirits (like e.g. those of deceased ancestors but also nayuq and timang) can become the personal companion (in Indonesian often named sahabat, which means friend) of humans. The Benuaq noun pengirikng means companion, follower, or confidant while the verb ngirikng means to accompany (Venz 2012: 391). While it is rather special for ordinary people to have a spirit friend, it is common for pemeliatn.

11 Temporal changes also take place in the opposite direction when rituals are prolonged for economic reasons. This increasing monetization and commodification of rituals is perceived very ambivalently among the Dayak Benuaq and discussed for example by O. Venz (2012) and I. Herrmans (2017).

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Michaela Haug, « Curing a Brain Tumor with High Tech Operations and the Help of Spirits: The Appropriation of Biomedicine among the Dayak Benuaq »Moussons, 38 | 2021, 167-191.

Référence électronique

Michaela Haug, « Curing a Brain Tumor with High Tech Operations and the Help of Spirits: The Appropriation of Biomedicine among the Dayak Benuaq »Moussons [En ligne], 38 | 2021, mis en ligne le 25 novembre 2021, consulté le 03 décembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Michaela Haug

Michaela Haug is Assistant Professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology and Senior Researcher at the Global South Studies Center at the University of Cologne. She focuses on human-environment relations, political, economic and social change, inequality and gender relations with a regional focus on Southeast Asia. Her current research project explores how different and partly contradicting visions of the future affect forest use changes in Indonesian Borneo.

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