Coping with Uncertainty in the Field of Health in Arakan (Burma)

Monday, July 14, 2014: 4:15 PM
Room: Booth 52
Oral Presentation
CÚline CODEREY , National University of Singapore, Vezia, Singapore
Based on fieldworks conducted in Arakan (Burma), in a Theravada Buddhist context, my paper describes the approaches used by Arakanese people to cope with uncertainty in the field of health. According to the local conception a person’s state of health stems from a complexity of factors such as the person’s karma, his mind, the relationship he has with the community and the spiritual world, the climate, the food and the planetary influence. Because of the instable nature of these factors and the complex relationships uniting them, people never know for certain whether they are well protected against diseases or not and thus live in a permanent state of uncertainty. The effort to maintain the harmony at all levels and be protected by dangers is a matter of the daily rituality through prayers, offerings, good deeds, etc. Moreover, there are occasions where the risk of danger is higher and more concrete, whether because has been predicted by an astrologer or because the person or the community lives temporarily in a vulnerable state (during childhood and pregnancy or when the karmic and planetary situation is adverse). In these cases, people resort to short-time protections focused on the vulnerable factors: they wear amulets, avoid specific foods, etc. Despite these preventions it happens that they face diseases and thus try to restore a certain state of well-being by acting on all the factors they consider involved: they buy medicines, consult an astrologer to positively orient the planetary influence, appeal to an exorcist to chase the malevolent force away, etc. Although these recourses are intended to cope with uncertainty they also involve a part of uncertainty. The choice among different practices and healers and the relationship people have with them is always imprinted with a complex interplay between trust and mistrust, risk and hope.