Massage important in Khoisan healing approach - Oxford scholar explains lack of ethnographic interes
Massage is a commonplace and important healing strategy amongst ‘Khoisan’ but ethnographic and anthropological literature largely ignores or downplays massage. This is the view of Doctor Chris Low of the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford who recently published an article in the Journal of Southern African Studies.
Low contends that the primary reasons for this partiality concerns the ‘everyday’ and ‘recognisable’ nature of massage and that of the low medical status accorded massage through history. This has lead to a lack of ethnographic interest in the subject. He also suggests that an overwhelming anthropological focus on the San healing dance has overshadowed recent research into healing strategies. This has resulted in an uneven representation of Khoisan medicine.
The article also describes how massage and the dance relate to one another in a wider healing context. By linking the dance and massage in this manner, Low suggests how aspects of current massage practice continue to operate within distinctive and old Khoisan ways of thinking about and practising medicine. The article ends by presenting examples of ‘Khoi’ disease categories and their treatment by massage.
Whilst not going so far as to identify a Khoisan ‘medical system’, Low says that the article uses massage to lay the bones of a distinctive and coherent approach to illness and treatment.
Health in the Khoisan culture was also the subject of Dr Low’s doctorate which involved extensive fieldwork in . He explored historical representations of Khoisan medicine relative to current practices and ideas. Starting with an initial focus on massage, the project pushed for a new way of conceptualizing all aspects of Khoisan medicine that highlighted an underlying set of ideas, including notions of wind, smell and potency, that both informed current practice and seemed to tie contemporary medical strategies to a hunter-gatherer past.
His current research concerns how the environment and changes in the environment influences medical ideas and practices. He focuses on Khoekhoe and San groups in , and and their changing relationships with animals from the distant past to the present.
In 1993 Low received his
Licentiate Acupuncture at the
of Acupuncture in London and in 1989 he completed
a Diploma in Osteopathy at the
of Osteopathy in