The Role of Traditional Healers and Traditional Medicine in Bali

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Aryati, Ni Wayan Pasek, PhD Candidate, Academic Director
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In this paper, I will explore the various types of traditional healers (balian) of contemporary Bali, and the roles that they play, as well as how traditional medicines are used as one of the alternative forms of supporting the healing process.In Bali, we believe in two different worlds: the visible world (sekala) and the invisible world (niskala). We, the sekala beings, share our living space with the niskala beings, which can be either malignant or benevolent in character. We believe that the invisible beings can cause many kinds of misfortunes including accidents, crop failure, death of a family member, or loss of a job. To neutralize the negative powers of the invisible beings to us, we should create harmonious relationships with them in order that they can provide us with protection, rather than plaguing us with difficulties.If someone gets slightly sick in Bali, the first they will do is to make traditional medicine with ingredients that are available in the surrounding area. This knowledge about traditional medicines is transmitted from generation to generation, both orally and by means of written documents which were originally influenced by the Ayur Vedic literature from India. If these traditional medicines fail to cure someone, then usually they seek help from local allopathic practitioners like nurses or medical doctors. On the other hand, if the allopathic practitioners fail to cure their ailment, or if they cannot afford the relatively higher cost of allopathic treatment, many people will go to a traditional healer in order to seek a cure through spiritual and mystical ways of healing, perhaps accompanied by more specialized forms of herbal medicine.There are many types of balian in Bali, so people can go to a specialist depending on the kind of sickness involved. Some balian are not strictly speaking healers, but rather provide advice and guidance on how to deal with troubles caused by unseen spirits, either divine or demonic. However, even in this case the larger question of maintaining a healthy relationship between the “seen” and “unseen” worlds is at stake, so that balian of this type can be understood as making important contributions to both personal and community health.