in the Village of the Sick: A Memoir of Cancer

Stranger in the Village of the Sick: A Memoir of Cancer, Sorcery, and Healing


After more than fifty years of good health, anthropologist Paul Stoller suddenly found himself diagnosed with lymphoma. The only thing more transformative than his fear and dread of cancer was the place it ultimately took him: twenty-five years back in time to his days as an apprentice to a West African sorcerer, Adamu Jenitongo.Stranger in the Village of the Sick follows Stoller down this unexpected path toward personal discovery, growth, and healing. The stories here are about life in the v…

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The Mathematics of Ebola Trigger Stark Warnings: Act Now or Regret It.(r/worldnews)

I’m a medical anthropology Ph.D student studying/interested in infectious diseases. Let me try to explain.

It’s not so much that educating people about biomedicine is not going to work, more that the education is not being done in a good way. Weird people walking in trying to get them to completely disregard their long, LONG standing beliefs for this new form of “witchcraft” that is completely counter-intuitive is never going to work; this is a cliche, but imagine if the tables were turned and they came here to help us fight an epidemic and insisted germs weren’t real and that it was sorcery that was the issue (I know, not a perfect analogy because of one of the systems of knowledge is “scientifically correct” and the other isn’t). But, your solution of coming up with brand new magic to incorporate into their beliefs wouldn’t help either, because it’s not a deeply-ingrained belief. These people have been living with these belief systems for thousands of years. Every part of what they believe about health is interrelated with what they believe about God, relationships with each other and nature, etc. Every part of knowledge is connected with every of type of knowledge. So to run in and say, “Here are your new magic beliefs on health,” would never work, because the new beliefs wouldn’t be compatible with the rest of their beliefs.

What actually needs to happen is finding a way to make biomedical knowledge compatible with their traditional knowledge. Think of it kind of like how the Christians “got” pagans by turning their old holidays into new Christian holidays. This is why anthropologists (think “cultural brokers”) are so sorely needed in situations like this–and the CDC and WHO know this and are hiring/consulting with medical anthropologists…but it should be done before disasters happen, because, like everything, it takes time.

This is rather stream of consciousness so it might not make sense, but it’s all I can crank out for now.

Edit: For the people who are interested in medical anthro, I’d suggest reading Stranger in the Village of the Sick by Paul Stoller, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman, and especially Inequalities and Infections by Paul Farmer.

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Paul Stoller

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Beacon Press

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Stranger in the Village of the Sick: A Memoir of Cancer, Sorcery, and Healing

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The Mathematics of Ebola Trigger Stark Warnings: Act Now or Regret It.

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