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The Modern Traditional Healer: Locating 'Hybridity' in Modern Traditional Medicine, Southern Tanzania

Rebecca Marsland
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 33, No. 4, Histories of Healing (Dec., 2007), pp. 751-765
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25065249
Page Count: 15
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The Modern Traditional Healer: Locating 'Hybridity' in Modern Traditional Medicine, Southern Tanzania
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Abstract

This article explores how 'modern traditional' healers, working in Kyela District in the south west of Tanzania, attempt to challenge and transcend a widely-recognised dualism that places forms of biomedicine as 'modern' and all varieties of indigenous healing as 'traditional'. Drawing on the notion of 'intentional hybridity', the article analyses conversations with healers, which reveal how their practices and aspirations operate to destabilise the boundaries that are so essential to the way that they and their medicines are imagined. Framing their practices in terms of competition for business between both mission medicine and government-employed biomedical practitioners, the healers worked to reposition themselves within this 'modern' and moral space by emphasising the similarities between their own medicines and biomedical pharmaceuticals, for instance, or claiming that biomedical personnel are jealous of their ability to attract patients (or customers). They were also prepared to support a local government initiative that, if effective, may reduce the incidence of witchcraft-related illness - a stance which in theory does not make good 'business sense', yet that places them firmly in opposition to some forms of 'tradition'. Finally, the article details the technical innovations which healers would like to appropriate from biomedicine. In conclusion, the material presented demonstrates the ability of the healers to transcend, contest and make use of the constructed categories through which they are imagined in Tanzania.

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