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Traditional Beliefs and Practices in the Tolai Society; East New Britain Province

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Traditional Beliefs and Practices in the Tolai Society; East New Britain Province essay
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Karen Willis and Shandell Elmer (2007), introduced the understanding of associating Society, Culture and Health as a way of analyzing the importance of each individuals’ and groups’ well-being. For one to actively participate within the society, one must live up to a certain culture which promotes healthy and better living. Based on a research, it was found out that in many parts of Papua New Guinea (PNG), the practices and beliefs of traditional medicine is still prevailed. Therefore, this discussion will document the Traditional beliefs and practices in the Tolai society (East New Britain Province), especially Sorcery and ill health. The discussion will elaborate more on how sorcery beliefs and practices associate with ill health, the significance of sorcery and ill health. Furthermore, it will emphasize more on the beliefs of the subject on women and how the victim of sorcery is treated.

Traditional beliefs and practices among the Tolai people has been kept and valued for more than hundred years since the onset of the colonial rules era (Epstein, 1999). Similarly, Epstein (1999), added that there have been so much violations in regard to societal cultures which resulted to be in the form of other people being vulnerable to severe illness. He defined Sorcery as the applying of magical powers which is one of the cultural norms one must practice in order to keep him/her safe from being persecuted by the willful murderer (kuanua; iniet/tena vardodoko). Thus, the person protect himself/herself against illness that the European medical approach can not comply to.

Moreover, Epstein (1999), stated that “the practice of magical powers is compulsory”. Meaning that sorcerers do not choose their victim, rather they are drawn by unchangeable trace that is shown by someone who is claimed to be suffering from a severe disease. In this way, it illustrates that the iniet (willful murderer) will not do anything to the victim unless he/she has been given the taring (palatable substance prepared by sorcerer). This is why it is concluded that ill health within the Tolai societies has been greatly influenced by the traditional beliefs and practices of sorcery.

Sorcery practice does influence ill health within the Tolai society and all around Papua New Guinea in many ways. Since the onset of the Colonial powers and the arrival of the Missionaries, the Tolai people belief on magical powers for curing emotional, social and even physical illness that were once wide spreading. According to Epstein (1999), the Tolai said magical powers has a much wider explanation than modern medical knowledge for treating different types of illness. Therefore, when a sorcery case is discovered as a result of ill health then, another sorcerer will take turn to curing the victim from becoming adverse.

Many a times people tend to say, a person is deceased as a result of sorcery. However, it is universally understood that death does not count on anyone. It could be the result of being socially, emotionally, physically or mentally affected by the living surroundings. As the author (Epstein, 1999) emphasized, the attitudes of the Tolai people towards the tena vardodoko/ iniet is paramount for determining who are the good and bad people. In this way, it will be more appropriate to identifying the true causes of the type of illness that is affecting the society.

Since the practice of sorcery is compulsion, the willful murderer cannot resist to quit from killing innocent people who are suffering from severe illnesses (Kaputin, 1987). He said the patient seem to exude the body scent that, based on Tolai belief, the willful murderer used it as a guide to locating the patient. Thus, women tend to be more vulnerable to be attacked at the time of their manses.

Because of the scent which exuded from their body, with due respect to our tireless mothers and caring sisters, the tena vardodoko/iniet take advantage to attacking them, bearing in mind the idea of gaining power (Kaputin, 1987). Therefore, the victim’s relatives, especially males tend to seek a healer which is the kuanua; tena valagar or decide to taking revenge. In this way, it could be seen clearly that from a very little illness there comes the sorcery in a bigger perspective.

Seeking a healer (tena valagar) is inappropriate because otherwise the healer might also be a sorcerer. As explain by Epstein (1999), the healer is also a sorcerer because he knows how to go about with sorcery and also, he involves in practicing sorcery. Hence he would have a clear understanding of the procedures to combat the magical power, overcoming the magical powers and killing the victim. Thus, the healer will give you some substances which will make you vomit the poison (tabatabar/taring), Epstein added.


In conclusion, there were a multitude of success of the medical ideology and practical in curing and treating where the European knowledge failed. This is why the Tolai natives treasured their Traditional Beliefs and Practices of medicine.

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