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Body and Emotion

Body and Emotion: The Aesthetics of Illness and Healing in the Nepal Himalayas

Robert R. Desjarlais
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Body and Emotion
    Book Description:

    Body and Emotion is a study of the relationship between culture and emotional distress, an examination of the cultural forces that influence, make sense of, and heal severe pain and malaise. In order to investigate this relationship, Robert R. Desjarlais served as an apprentice healer among the Yolmo Sherpa, a Tibetan Buddhist people who reside in the Helambu region of north-central Nepal.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0642-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Note on Transcription
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Part 1. Loss

    • 1. Imaginary Gardens with Real Toads
      (pp. 3-35)

      While conducting fieldwork in the late 1980s among Yolmo Sherpa, an ethnically Tibetan people who live in the Helambu region of northcentral Nepal, I participated in some twenty-odd healing ceremonies as the shamanic apprentice to a veteran “grandfather” healer called Meme (t. me me). Barefoot, illiterate, sporting ragged farm clothes and a scruffy beard beneath an angular face, the sixty-seven-year-old Meme possessed a wealth of sacred knowledge. In everyday conversation his uncouth speech and manners told of the low-status family from which he came. But when healing, this dignified bombo or “shaman” (t. bon po) could communicate with the gods,...

    • 2. Body, Speech, Mind
      (pp. 36-62)

      One drizzly September morning, Meme and I walked a mile west of Gulphubanyang to a small hamlet populated by low-status Tamang and Yolmo families to pick up a shamanic drum I had ordered from Rinchen, a local craftsman. I found the descent along the mountain path to be a slow one, with Meme’s bare feet stopping before each twig to brush it off the damp trail. Upon arriving within the cluster of homesteads that made up the hamlet, Meme and I sat on straw mats outside Rinchen’s house as he and his sons plowed a plot of land on a...

    • 3. An Aesthetics of Experience
      (pp. 63-89)

      In late June 1988, Mingma Lama, a tall, thin Yolmo elder in his late sixties, suffered from weakness and frailty due to the loss of several life-forces. Mingma was born into a family of lamas and lived in the hamlet of Todhang to the south of Gulphubanyang. His wife died several years earlier, and he now lived with his son’s family in a house that he, the father, built many years back. In meeting Mingma, I sensed he had been lively and energetic in his youth (as his son was then) but, despite a lasting smile, an aging body forced...

    • 4. Pain Clings to the Body
      (pp. 90-134)

      Padma Lama, a prestigious, heavyset “priest” from the village of Dhupchughyang, helped to perform the anniversary funeral rites for a Todhang woman who died the previous May. He danced and drank a bit at the dose of the ceremonies, walked at night with his wife and neighbors up to their homes, slept in his wood-framed bed, and died, for unknown reasons, sometime during the night. Latu and other lamas cremated the body the next morning, then performed a series of funeral rites at Padma’s home, which culminated in the sbyang par (“changpar”) rites conducted in the aging temple in Dhupchugang...

    • 5. Soul Loss
      (pp. 135-156)

      “Another man died last night,” Nyirna said as I stepped up to her home late one rainy morning.

      “Yes sister,” I said. “I saw the lamas descend from the temple and arrive here last night.”

      She was leaning against her storefront doorway, trying to shield a cigarette from the wind so she could light it. Her hands were shaking.

      “Did you drink tea?” she asked with quick, high-pitched breaths.

      “Yes. I drank.”

      Raindrops snapped against the tin roof and the road beneath us was muddy and slick.

      “Another man died last night,” she whispered.

      She lit another cigarette before realizing...

  7. Part 2. Healing

    • 6. The Art of Knowing
      (pp. 159-184)

      Yeshi lay on the well-worn edge of a wood cot. While her infant daughter clung to her breast, another child nestled against the wall, his runny nose hidden within the fold of a green shawl. Newspapers yellowing with age lined the surface of the mudstone wall. In one advertisement, a plump Brahman grinned over an open refrigerator; in another, an article on Georgia O’Keefe’s “Erotic Flowers” blossomed onto a Newsweek centerfold. Photographs hung from the mantel above. Her parents posed, young, somber, and shy, in front of a black-and-white Alpine scene cut from Kathmandu cardboard. Her husband’s nephew sported sunglasses,...

    • 7. Metamorphoses
      (pp. 185-197)

      After the final deity left his body, Meme set the drum on the floor, took off his belt of bells, lit a cigarette from an ember, and relaxed his body against the central pillar. Tenzin handed him a cup of tea and a plate filled with steaming rice, lentils, and potatoes.

      “Please, Meme,” Tenzin asked, with hands held low. He then scooped rice from the cooking pot and dished it onto other tin plates. He passed the plates to the neighbors in the back corners of the room, then gave Yeshi a small amount of rice and lentils.

      “Eat,” he...

    • 8. A Calling of Souls
      (pp. 198-222)

      By midnight, most neighbors had returned to their homes after eating a meal made with the sacrificed chicken, and took with them their newfound concerns over their families’ welfare. Only Yeshi, household members, and close family members stayed up past midnight to help Meme.

      Meme had divined the causes of Yeshi’s distress, appeased the gods, thrown the sri from her home, and cleansed her anatomy of “harm.” Despite these healing endeavors, her body remained weak and lacking. Life-forces that usually supported her body remained apart from it. To fully heal, Meme had to recover these vitalities by “calling” them back...

    • 9. Departures
      (pp. 223-243)

      By two in the morning, Yeshi lay asleep on a cot. After Meme rested from the soul-calling rites, he ended the healing by chanting a prayer of “departure” (btang shag, “shyasal”) that asked the various deities to depart from the gtor ma altar and return to their respective “domains” (dal).

      Deities, to the domain of lha, depart

      Serpent-deities, to the domain of klu, depart

      Gods, to the domain of jo, depart

      Goddesses, to the domain of jomo, depart

      … The goddess of land, Sapsi Gyalmo, depart

      The goddess of sky, Gurumai Lhamo, depart

      One hundred thousand diseases (nad pa), to...

    • 10. Afterwords
      (pp. 244-254)

      “When Karma hears this,” Latu held a tape cassette in his hand, “tears will come to his eyes.”

      “Please speak again, grandfather?” I asked, stepping up to his trailside shop.

      “When my nephew hears this,” Latu put the cassette into his recorder, then pointed at his tearduct, “tears will come to his eyes.”

      It was the morning after Karma first arrived in Gulphubanyang. When I introduced him to Latu, Latu spoke of his friendship with Karma’s father, who died three years before.

      Latu played a section of the tape, which sounded several male voices chorusing a Buddhist chant.

      “Listen,” he...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 255-276)
  9. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 277-280)
  10. References
    (pp. 281-296)
  11. Index
    (pp. 297-300)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-304)