Parallel and Divergent Landscapes: Cultural Encounters in the Ethnographic Space of Tuareg Medicine

Abstract

This essay explores the dialogue between the local quest for healing and the anthropological quest for healing knowledge, and local assessments of knowledge-power relationships in these processes. The context is medical discourse among the Tuareg of Niger Republic, West Africa, and my research experiences among these people. I examine local medical specialists and their traditional and changing practice in terms of how they perceive and respond to wider knowledge and power systems that impinge on local health care. Paramount in these systems are central state policies and medical anthropological research on healing, as these intersect in a postcolonial and post-separatist/rebellion setting. The essay analyzes parallels between the exchange of medicine and the exchange of knowledge and reflects upon how anthropological knowledge of African healing systems is constructed in an environment highly charged with power and danger—of political violence and economic crisis. The broader issue addressed here is how to give greater empowerment to local residents’ voices in their “indigenous critique” of the medical anthropological project.