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Courtens, Ien 2005 Restoring the Balance: Performing Healing in West Papua, PhD Dissertation, Radboud University, Nijmegen.
    © Ien Courtens, 2005. Use of any part of this thesis for any purpose must be acknowledged.


Who has made Mama Raja ill? This question, buzzing around the village, forms the starting point of this anthropological study on healing performances within the context of religious change. Restoring the Balance presents a fascinating case of a seriously ill woman of high standing in the Northwest Ayfat area, located in the interior of the Bird's Head in West Papua. By unravelling the various explanations of the cause of the illness, and the path Mama Raja followed in search of healing, Ien Courtens demonstrates how, why, and when Papuan people make specific choices in their search for healing.

The study offers an ethnographically rich journey through the variety of healing methods in current Northwest Ayfat society: indigenous (such as obtained during female and male initiation rites), biomedical (the missionary hospital), and Christian (created by ritual healers within the missionary process). Likewise, the causes ascribed to illness range from sorcery, witchcraft, violating ancestral as well as Biblical rules, and biomedical explanations. The investigation into the multiplicity of healing methods and explanations exposes how this variety emerged within the process of religious change. Choices for, and the creation of, healing performances are perceived as dynamic processes that shape, reshape and respond to religious change.

At the core are the innovative contributions of local healers, particularly women, who chose to create new performances in reaction to, and for the purpose of, religious change. In taking an emic perspective, Restoring the Balance sheds new light on religiously informed approaches to healing. It traces an ongoing dialogue in Northwest Ayfat concerning the relations between indigenous and Christian religious notions and practices, that aims to bring both sides into balance.


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