By Sienne R. Craig
University of California Press, $34.95, 321 pages
Healing Elements is a richly documented account of the practice of Tibetan traditional medicine, ‘Sowa Rigpa’. The author, anthropologist Sienna Craig of Dartmoth College, has written a fine ethnography, based on extensive research. Tibetan medicine is widely practiced in Ladakh (India), in Nepal and Bhutan, in Tibet and Quinghai (China) and elsewhere. And though some readers may find Prof Craig’s book academic, it is a topic worthy of her in-depth approach.
In true anthropological fashion, Craig binds the entangled threads of her topic together with a theoretical perspective. Her framework is social ecology, with which she captures the environmental, social, economic, biological, political and cosmological interrelationships of the healing practices. She asks: Does Tibetan traditional medicine work? What makes it work? How, for whom, and to what ends? And, not least, what does “traditional” medicine mean? In seven chapters she describes a Himalayan healer (an ‘Amchi’), relates how Tibetan medicine is institutionalized and legitimized, presents several therapeutic case studies, describes medicinal plant collection and manufacture into prescribable medicines, and concludes with several biographical accounts. The book includes a glossary, index, and extensive bibliography. For readers interested in alternative healing, this is an important study.
Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt