chapter
11 Pages

Contemporizing Tribal and Indigenous Medical Knowledge: An Indian Perspective

WithDarshan Shankar

Background In contemporary times, India’s tribal medicine is perceived as a weak and declining tradition compared to the economically powerful Western modern medicine that was imposed a few centuries ago. Brainwashed policymakers and academics may tend to argue for abandonment and burial of a once-rich tribal tradition. However, from the perspective of an Indian cultural understanding of social time, in which it is believed that all cultures follow repetitive cyclic patterns of birth, growth, and decay, followed by rebirth, new growth, and again decline – patterns that repeat over time – the tradition of tribal medicine is merely in a 32late-declining phase of its cultural cycle in which it is awaiting a natural revitalization. The phenomenon of any tradition being in a state of decline, at a particular stage of its evolution, is a natural part of a societal cyclic process, and the fact of decline does not imply anything fatal or suggest an inability to revive or discount future potential. The Indian cultural view is that the tradition of tribal medicine can, in fact, be revitalized today because it has already fallen to its lowest cyclic depth, at which stage any tradition may actually be poised to turn around. The challenge is to discover an appropriate cultural strategy for revival. The choices appear to be, firstly, to appeal to Western sciences like phytochemistry and biomedicine, or alternatively in the Indian context, to plan its rescue with the aid of Ayurveda, a sophisticated, codified indigenous health tradition that has its roots in tribal medicine but evolved a systemic theoretical framework beyond the empiricism of its cultural parent. This chapter argues that Ayurveda is culturally the appropriate way to effect the rescue of tribal medicine in this cyclic moment of its rebound from a steep decline. Such an agenda of indigenous revitalization requires a deep understanding of cultural processes beyond the politics of knowledge and the pressures of a currently monocultural globalization process.

Relevance This chapter serves to alert policymakers that it is possible to involve indigenous scientists from non-Western cultures in helping revitalize traditional knowledge. South–South cooperation can be more relevant than North–South collaboration with respect to several domains of indigenous knowledge such as medicine, agriculture, animal husbandry, fine and performing arts, architecture, metallurgy, sociology, and political sciences.