Accepted Paper:

Khasi narratives of medicine, wo/men and the environment  


Sharmila Ghosh (Panjab University Chandigarh)

Paper short abstract:

Khasi medicinal practices have involved traditional 'medicine men' who have participated in ritual and utilitarian knowledge that leads to health. This has interacted with matters relating to forests, conservation, gendered differences in access and current trends.

Paper long abstract:

The matrilineal Khasis of Meghalaya, India believe in the sacred covenant with God which lays down as a corollary that say that ritual transgressions lead to illness and bad luck. Transgressions are deciphered through the Shaman who reads the signs and makes some prescriptions and often gives medicines. The medicines are manufactured by the shamans themselves with the ingredients collected personally. Divested of the ritualistic elements the specialists often functions as 'medicine men' with the age-old knowledge of the medicinal values of mostly the varied flora and fauna.

It is this aspect that uncovers the social context of relations between the sexes as well as the unequal forest relations between them. Khasi narratives show not only the context of the people who have taken up this important job in society. It is also clear that forest relations are an important component of this knowledge and therefore an anthropological study of these issues can reward us greatly. Newer demands for such kinds of medicinal practices, the growth of medicinal plant markets and relations with the world outside has also modified the importance of this knowledge.

This trade-off between traditional, ritual practices and practical utility has always been a part of conservation practices. It will be shown through this paper how such practices emphasize and ignore different aspects of the forest based on need.

Panel P123
Anthropology and conservation: inter-relationship and future perspective