Accepted Paper:

Gud sik, rabis sik (good sick, rubbish sick): negotiating aetiological uncertainty in Vanuatu  


John Taylor (La Trobe University)

Paper short abstract:

Focusing on the local distinction between gud/nomal sik (good/normal illnesses) and rabis ski (rubbish illnesses), the later of which are deemed to be caused by "supernatural" forces, this paper investigates the significance of etiological uncertainty to healthcare seeking behaviour in Vanuatu.

Paper long abstract:

In Vanuatu, individual illness episodes are typically classified aetiologically, as either gud/nomal sik (good/normal sick) or rabis sik (rubbish sick). While the former term refers to instances in which the cause of an illness is deemed to be primarily material/biological in nature, rabis sik (also used for sexually transmitted infections) refers to illnesses caused by acts of sorcery or manifestations of ancestral sacred/spiritual power often associated with features of the landscape. Occurring in a highly pluralistic healthcare setting, the identification of an illness as either a gud or rabis sik is crucial to how people respond to that illness. Such processes are however often unclear, inconclusive and fraught process, leading individuals and families to navigate between multiple options, including as offered by local healers, "prayer warriors," and Western medicine. This paper presents preliminary findings from a recently commenced ethnographic research project investigating the significance of the sacred/spiritual to illness causation and healthcare seeking behaviour in Vanuatu.

Panel Med04
Managing medical uncertainty