By Chenmiki Laloo
Our mothers applied lime to our stomachs drawing a very visible plus sign if we suspected that we were suffering from stomach discomfort (sabuit sakai). She would apply a chewed beetle leaf to our wounds if we fell or had a minor accident. She even made us drink a mixture of water and salt in place of ORS when we were on the floor with loose movements. There are several examples of very effective and curative remedies. Well, who invented all these remedies? I would ask my mother this question. She says she learned it from her mother and her mother also got it from our ancestors. Oral communication passed down from our ancestors continues to support the traditional wisdom of our Indigenous people.
The first modern drug (morphine) was developed in 1804 by a German scientist Friedrich Serturner. Before this invention, there were practitioners of traditional medicine who were the guardians and healers of society; they were pioneers in the treatment, diagnosis and prevention of disease in order to maintain well-being. By definition, traditional medicine refers to health practices, approaches, indigenous knowledge, and cultural beliefs incorporating herbal, animal, and mineral medicines, spiritual healing, and manual healing techniques. birth. The practice of traditional medicine and traditional healing still plays a central role in our society, but it is most relevant in villages and inaccessible areas where development has bypassed them. A pregnant woman in labor having to climb 4,000 steps to reach the main road and then take public transport to get to the hospital is an ideal example of the need for traditional doctors in these areas.
On March 2, 2011, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council passed a law for the promotion and protection of traditional Khasi medicine. The law received Governor’s assent on September 22, 2011. The law defines traditional Khasi medicine as the body of wisdom, knowledge, skill, and practice within the broad context of holistic wisdom, including the philosophy , theology, social customs and traditions, diets and foods, folklore. and legends, sacred sites and spaces, traditional social ways of life and community relations, home remedies, spiritual and psychological healing, songs, prayers and invocations; which are practiced, performed and used by traditional Khasi healers, priests, elders, housewives and other practitioners throughout Khasi society. Now, who is a practitioner of traditional Khasi medicine? The law defines him as a person highly qualified in the knowledge, skills and practice of traditional Khasi medicine. After the law came into effect, the KHADC set up a commission known as the Khasi Traditional Medicine Commission. The main functions of the Commission are to educate, train, promote, protect, formulate policies, encourage documentation and research, ensure they know their rights, coordinate with various agencies governments and civilians and to manage finances for the protection and promotion of Khasi. Traditional medicine.
The United Nations General Assembly, which adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007. Article 24 of the resolution states that “Indigenous peoples have the right to their traditional medicines and to maintain their customs health, including the conservation of their medicinal plants, animals and vital minerals”.
On May 28, 2022, Grassroots – an indigenous rights-based organization committed to working for community development from an indigenous and gender perspective hosted a one-day session titled “Bridging Intergenerational Gaps and Promoting Traditional Wisdom through narration” in Khrang, Laitkroh block. The program was carried out in collaboration with the secondary school of Nangkyrsoi and the young people of the village. The session is also a component of the “Kyrsiew Ia La Ki Tynrai” project supported by the Pawanka Fund. One may ask why tell stories? In the past, storytelling was used as a medium that shaped our moral and cultural values and our customary laws. The famous Khasi anthology “Sawdong ka Lyngwiar Dpei” interprets that these stories were mostly told around the hearth. Another benefit of storytelling is that it brings family and friends together. However, the art of storytelling is a forgotten art in this rapidly changing world. Grassroots organized this program to bridge the intergenerational gap between traditional medicine practitioners and the younger generation through storytelling. It aimed to disseminate information about the knowledge and wisdom of traditional medicine. Students and teachers from Nangkyrsoi secondary school, youth groups from Khrang and Kongthong, village organizations and practitioners of traditional medicine were among the participants. Four eminent traditional medicine practitioners were invited to share stories of their journeys, challenges and traditional intergenerational wisdom. Klonnel Khongrymmai – a shaman told how he uses the power of spoken words to fight disease. He negotiates with divine power to heal the person. He has the ability to sense the disease inside a person with his fingertips. He emphasized healing through the power of faith. Another healer was Prisca Lynrah, a visually impaired massage therapist. Her recognition for traditional healing by the general masses began in 1995 when she healed her own husband. The mystery of healing was sensory – by feeling with the hands. She has helped several women to conceive through her massage. She is also helped by her husband when she needs medicine to be extracted from plants, bees, etc. vividly explained while showing the plants he uses for blood clotting and other remedies. He is an orphan whose gifts were visible from a young age. His first customers were his own brothers and himself. He attributes his knowledge to his elders. The last practitioner to share his story was Andreas Sohkhlet – who is nearly 90 but still has many patients who seek his expertise. He started his traditional healing journey in 1963 when he was tired of cremating corpses, especially those of children every day. “On those days we cremate corpses and every week I cremate 5-6 children.” With the help of his elders, he started experimenting with herbs and when people healed, he started having ideas about the mixture and the components of the medicine. With his experience, he gave these herbal mixtures to people and children and then noticed that the number of deaths decreased. He continues with this practice to this day. Memorial Khongkai shared a meaningful story of the Lepcha community told to her by her friend Minket Lepcha’ through puppets displaying the story of a plant called ‘Oroxylum indicum’ known locally as ‘Pagoreep’ which has its significance in human rites and rituals and is used as a medicinal plant for healing. In this age of technological advancement, it is imperative to revisit our roots and bridge intergenerational gaps by tapping into traditional and non-traditional media so that stories like these, bearing meaningful insights into our society, are not lost. A famous American author Ursula K. Le Guin once said: “There have been great societies that have not used the wheel, but there have been no societies that have not told stories. “.