Sickness Ruins the Complexion, Breeding Disappears without Gold: Culture and the Interpretation of Illness among the Minangkabau of West Sumatra, Indonesia

By Rafsel Tasady, Ismet Fanany and Rebecca Fanany.

Published by The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The interpretation of illness and its meaning to individuals and groups is largely a product of culture and is based on shared experience, historical significance, and the social function of individuals in the community. West Sumatra, like many parts of Indonesia, has experienced rapid development and modernization since the nation achieved independence in 1945 and is currently 10 years into Regional Autonomy, a dramatic shift in national administration from a highly centralized system to one which devolved authority to the level of district or municipal government. These changes have brought Indonesians into contact with an increasingly globalized culture and have put pressure on traditional institutions and practices. This is especially significant in the area of health, where considerable tension exists between the allopathic conceptualization of health (as espoused by health care professionals in the formal sector) and traditional interpretations of health that derive from a traditional cultural and linguistic frame of reference. This paper, based on fieldwork in the Indonesian region of Tanah Datar, West Sumatra, describes the impact of cultural and linguistic factors on the interpretation of illness among rural residents and elucidates the growing impact of multiple systems of meaning in local understanding of health.

Keywords: West Sumatra, Minangkabau, Conceptualization of Health

The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp.31-41. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 385.348KB).

Rafsel Tasady

Lecturer, State Islamic College, Batusangkar, Indonesia

Rafsel Tas’ady is a lecturer at the State Islamic College of Batusangkar. She has a great deal of experience conducting field work in rural Indonesia and especially working with young people in the region.

Dr. Ismet Fanany

Associate Professor in Indonesian, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia

I am the head of the Indonesian language program at Deakin University. My research interests center on the role of Islam in modern Indonesian society, especially in the context of regional autonomy and in relation to local development issues. I have a number of publications in this area as well as on a range of other topics related to langauge and culture in Indonesia.

Dr. Rebecca Fanany

Lecturer in Public Health, School of Public Health, Deakin University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Dr. Rebecca Fanany is at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University. Her research interests center on the relationships between culture and health. She is the author of numerous articles and papers as well as several books, and has worked extensively in Indonesia and the Malay world.