Healing Practices in Wamling
The popularity of modern medicine is pushing out the local curative practices
By Kinley Yonten
When someone is bitten by a snake, the first thing people do is to tie the bitten part with a rope to prevent poison from entering the body. It is also advisable to drink little Ara (home brewed beverage) by both the victim and the one sucking poison out to relieve from pain or death.
That was the time when modern medical facilities were non-existent to reach rural folks. In absence of veterinary centers, villagers had to find ways to treat themselves and animals. Local healing methods were used to treat the animal and people suffering from various illness and injuries.
Like most rural villages, villagers in the Wamling devised and developed their own local healing methods. Wamling is a small village under Shingkhar gewog in Zhemgang dzongkhag. The village is officially four days walk from the nearest road point. There are about 70 households.
In Wamling, villagers live close to the nature and are able to recognize plants and other things in the forest. Villagers developed indigenous curative and healing practices, which were inspired by nature and the availability of natural resources in the forest.
One of the most interesting and unique feature of the folk medicine is that the skill of healing is not limited to one individual. Almost everyone is familiar with the method. So in this regard, folk medicine empowers an entire village to treat themselves from minor injuries and illness.
But today most of these practices are forgotten due to availability of western medicine and is threat to the local curatives. It is feared that these local traditions would die with the death of every village elders and it will be a big loss to the community and its cultural heritage.
According to the researcher Ngawang Phuntsho, the curative practices and methods were only available options to treat themselves and their family members. But today, for an urban and literate people, this traditional healing method makes no sense.
He stated that with a steady progress in western medicine, such local healing practices are on the decline and gradually forgotten. “Today, when someone is injured, he or she is rushed to a nearby health unit or hospital, and even for a minor headache people take painkiller.
“We have best local healing practices and we need to pass the indigenous knowledge to the future generation. Such practices would come in handy when one is far off from the reach of the modern medical facilities.” He said.
Some of the practices include basic medication for a simple stomach ache to food and mushroom poisoning to fixing dislocated limbs for both animals and people.
Phuntsho, 62, a local healer said when a limb is dislocated, it is twisted and turned to correct the dislocation. The sprained area is then covered with four to five pieces of small wooden pads joining together by a small string. It is a painful process.
A teacher, Thinley also from Wamling shared his bitter experience in the village. He said that his body was filled with rashes, while helping his father in collecting firewood. When splitting the firewood, tree saps accidentally smeared over his body which later formed huge rashes all over his body. He added that soft and fresh butter was applied to his skin. It is believed that if a red cow’s milk is applied on the affected skin, the rashes will subside and heal.
Mushroom poisoning is also common in the Wamling. Mushroom is the important vegetables that villagers collect. Most of them a can differentiate edible mushrooms from poisonous ones but at times, they end up consuming poisonous mushrooms.
“It is a frightening experience,” said Phuntsho, recollecting an incident where he had seen a man getting restless after consuming poisonous mushrooms. The victim becomes insane and starts hallucinating.
However, the old age practice to treat someone who had consumed a wrong mushroom is to treat the victim with the roots of nettle plant called tshekpa kui. Nettle roots are cooked as curry and fed to the victim. Minor instances are treated by feeding the victims with milk, skimmed milk and whey.
According to the Annual Health Bulletin, Bhutan today has 11 hospitals, 235 Basic Health Units (BHU), 52 indigenous units and 562 Outreach Clinics. All these hospital, BHUs, indigenous units and Outreach Clinics provide both traditional and modern medicine as two arms of the health ministry hereby giving Bhutanese people choice on the type of medical treatments.