Traveling Knowledge Systems in East Indonesia and Boundaries of the Possible: Women Healers among the Lamaholot
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Traveling Knowledge Systems in East Indonesia and Boundaries of the Possible: Women Healers among the Lamaholot


My thesis explores how interpersonal relationships between women healers and non-human persons (such as leluhur, or ancestral souls, and nitung, or nature/guardian beings) in the Lamaholot region of East Indonesia demonstrate sophisticated understandings of health beyond Western biomedical definitions. Building on a previous five-month study which expanded my connections with healers on the island of Lembata, I conducted a month-long oral history collaboration with a family of local healers and their diverse acquaintances on how local healing practices inform historic identity and psycho-social well-being. As Indonesia’s Ministry of Health imposes increasingly stringent laws on “wild” or unregulated medicine, local populations increasingly embrace Western, technoscientific models of health and safety. This, alongside the increased influx of affordable technologies (especially smartphones and laptops), causes kinship and identity to also transform. In 2006, the government of Lembata passed a law which prohibited all unlicensed traditional healers from providing ingestible or prescriptive treatment in any capacity. The legal discernment of 2009 between institutionalized health systems and traditional healers shifted public views on epistemologies previously upheld for centuries. My collaborators and I work to collect, and later visually depict through creative nonfiction, an archive of personal histories. This collection of microhistories will serve as a reference for Lamaholot communities who regularly discuss the value of passing down local knowledges to their youth. Throughout this thesis, I explore how local knowledge systems partially “travel” across temporal and generational boundaries within Lembata, and also how these knowledge systems endure transformation across geographic distances. I conclude that the longevity of local healing knowledge depends on how locals a) maintain practices for remembering past identities, b) adapt to adjacent knowledge systems without being overpowered by contending epistemologies, and c) contribute new or pertinent notions of the possible.

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