Shaman in Malaysia

The film I have chosen for this week is “The Horse Boy.” The film concentrated on the story of a young boy, Rowan, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4 and his parent’s risky decision of traveling across the world in search for shamans who could help. Rowans father, Rupert, had noticed that Rowan felt at ease and more comfortable when he mounded a horse with him. This gave Rupert the idea of finding placed that combined the use horses to heal/help Rowan’s autistic tantrums, inability to make friends, and expressive capabilities. Upon discovering that Malaysia offered this combined method, Rupert, his wife, and Rowan set out on a horseback adventure to delve within the shamanistic influences that Malaysia had to offer them.

Within the film, the healers are shaman or ‘witch doctors’ that are highly respected within Malaysian culture. Socially, as the film dictates, these shaman are mostly tribesmen and aren’t the wealthiest people in Malaysia. The techniques they used throughout the film focused on the folk sector as well as incorporating both the individuals body and spiritual beliefs in order to find a way to heal Rowan, not cure him. The Shaman who performed their rituals on Rowan used methods that in Western Medicine would not be entirely legal or accepted. For example, when they went up the mountain to meet the 9 Shaman that had come out for them, one of them whipped both Rupert and his wife as a way to ward off any evil that may be following them. Another required Rupert’s wife to rub a mixture throughout her vaginal area because the shaman believed that something ‘evil’ had entered her womb. They treated their patients as patients- if that makes sense. The way that they assumed the role of beings that should be offered the highest respect kind of made you see them as that as well. Their job was to help their patient, no nonsense prescriptions or promises, they just did what they had been doing for years-whether it worked for all cases or not.

Using the concept of the “Three Bodies” that was seen in lecture, the Shaman took into consideration the individual and social body. The individual body, because in order to perform the rituals, the soul and psyche have to have some kind of correlation. The idea of the body as a ‘natural symbol’ as shown in lecture, correlates with the portion of the film that sends the family to a healing like that is, according to the Malaysian people, “for the mind.” I definitely consider this form of medicine as a healthcare delivering system, even if I don’t necessarily believe in evil spirits or shaman powers. Healthcare within the shaman populations and Malaysians as well is delivered as a sort of sacred favor in a way. The shaman don’t know any patient history and aren’t particularly aware of what things like autism mean in a medical sense, just a behavioral and observational sense. The body is understood as a conjoined thing, a form that can be infiltrated by bad energies and therefore can be influenced by those energies (like when they said that Kristin’s grandmother was somehow following Rowan). Based on this, the shaman treated Rowan using rituals that involve not only Rowan, but his parents as well. It was pretty remarkable, watching the film and how things played out for Rowan in the end.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Jenelle Dushane says:

    When I was first watching this movie I was convinced it was going to end bad because I do not find shamans to be credible or even successful healers. I was convinced if anything was healed by a shaman then it was all in your head to begin with. As the movie goes on you learn a little more about them and their unique ways of dealing with their patients.
    I like how you stated they can only heal Rowan not cure him. They cannot make it go completely away but maybe they can help ease some difficulty. Which biomedical doctors sometimes have to do with patents, such as cancer patients. They cannot be cured but maybe they can live a little longer or with less pain. You also stated they do what they can whether it helps or not, this is also sometimes what doctors do, doctors do not always know what the exact problem is but they help with what they can. If it doesn’t help you return and try something different.
    What I find most amazing about this story was the ending. Rowan does improve, but why? Was it because his parents kept trying or because he was getting older, or was it because of the reindeer shaman or the stress of the trip altogether. This is sometimes the same with doctors, sometimes things get healed in unnatural ways where we cannot explain them or maybe it’s just a miraculous healing. Life is all trial and error from shamans and doctors to Rowan’s parents.

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