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The language of malaria in Abui: An interdisciplinary investigation of healthcare practices in Alor, Eastern Indonesia

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Title: The language of malaria in Abui: An interdisciplinary investigation of healthcare practices in Alor, Eastern Indonesia
Authors: Holton, Gary
Blake, A.L.
Thomas, Michael
Kreager, Philip
Ekawati, Lenny L.
show 7 moreIsmajani Puradiredja, Dewi
Kratochvíl, František
Delpada, Benidiktus
Tee Yuan Wen, Alicia
Wan Tin, Chan
Mohamad Yuni, Khuzaimah
Ghazali, Soffia binte

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Issue Date: 04 Mar 2017
Description: We report on an interdisciplinary collaboration between public health experts, linguists, and botanists which seeks to better understand indigenous perspectives on malaria among the Abui [abz] speaking communities of Alor Island, Eastern Indonesia. Malaria is endemic in Alor and is highly resistant to common conventional treatment regimens (Sutanto et al. 2009). There is a low rate of compliance with modern malaria treatments, and a correspondingly high reliance on traditional treatment methods (Krentel 2008). Our research attempts to understand traditional knowledge of malaria in Abui and its relevance to modern healthcare. We analyze a corpus of unstructured interviews concerning health-related problems in Abui in order to better understand the conceptualization of disease (Forster 1976). This includes the systematic study of metaphor (Author 2016), sequencing of symptom descriptions (Author 2016), symptom-based indigenous classification of malaria, an inventory of traditional health-protecting practices, and an inventory of medical plants. The plant terminology reveals a syncretism between terms referring to diseases and the plants which either treat or cause those diseases. For example, the term takaya denotes both the ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa) and a severe form of malaria (Plasmodium falciparum). The leaves of the ti plant takaya are tied onto valuable trees such as candlenut, areca palm, and jackfruit to create a protective spell which wards off theft of the fruits or nuts of that tree. Transgressing this protection by taking the fruits or nuts without permission will cause the transgressor to suffer the takaya disease. The existence of supernatural causes may go unnoticed when interviews are conducted in Indonesian, the national language closely associated with modernity. However, the pervasiveness of plant-disease syncretism within Abui belies the continuing significance of traditional beliefs regarding disease. The collaborative methodology described here shows great promise for improving our understanding of the conceptualization of malaria in Abui and thus increasing treatment efficacy for this disease. Moreover, this approach provides a platform for documentary linguistics which includes a high level of community engagement. The healthcare interviews yield a culturally significant corpus of spontaneous speech which also serves as an independent knowledge base to evaluate the reliability and accuracy of ethnobotanical research. Finally, we suggest several ways in which our approach can be applied to future healthcare research in other domains and with other communities. References Author. 2016. The Pragmatics Behind the Medical and Health Knowledge in Alor: An Understanding of how disease is conceptualized in the Abui language. Honors thesis. Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Du Bois, Cora. 1944. The People of Alor: a social-psychological study of an East Indian island. Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press Forster, George M. 1976. Disease Etiologies in Non-Western Medical Systems. American Anthropologist 78(4): 773-782. Krentel, Alison. 2008. Why do individuals comply with mass drug administration for lymphatic filariasis? A case study from Alor District, Indonesia. PhD dissertation. London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Sutanto, I. Nurhayati, S. S., Manoempil, P., Baird, J.K. 2009. Resistance to Choloroquine by Plasmodium vivax at Alor in the Lesser Sundas Archipelago in Eastern Indonesia. The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 81(2), 338-342. Author. 2016. The Semantics of Complex Sentences in the Discourse of Health and Diseases: A Case Study in Abui. Honors thesis. Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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