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Their Footprints Remain

Their Footprints Remain: Biomedical Beginnings Across the Indo-Tibetan Frontier

Alex McKay
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    Their Footprints Remain
    Book Description:

    By the end of the 19th century, British imperial medical officers and Christian medical missionaries began to introduce Western medicine to Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan. Their Footprints Remain uses archival sources, personal letters, diaries, and oral sources in order to tell the fascinating story of how this once-new medical system became imbedded in the Himalayas. Of interest to anyone with an interest in medical history and anthropology, as well as the Himalayan world, this volume not only identifies the individuals involved and describes how they helped to spread this form of imperialist medicine, but also discusses its reception by a local people whose own medical practices were based on an entirely different understanding of the world. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0124-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 9-12)
  4. List of Maps and Tables
    (pp. 13-14)
  5. Glossary
    (pp. 15-16)
  6. Maps
    (pp. 17-18)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 19-54)

    During the latter half of the 19thcentury, health care in the Western world was radically transformed by a series of dramatic advances in the theory and practice of medicine. The discovery that most common infections were caused by biological agents (“germs”) led to the development of entirely new therapies and curative strategies. That finding also underpinned the development of invasive surgery as a major arm of medical practice, something which only became possible when the need for aseptic conditions was recognised.

    A host of other developments during that period helped fuel the medical revolution. Among major advances were the...

  8. 1 Missionary Medicine and the Rise of Kalimpong
    (pp. 55-84)

    Christianity recognises no worldly boundaries to the spread of the Faith and its missionaries’ dreams of converting the Tibetans can be traced back to the late 8thcentury. The then Patriarch of the Nestorian Christians, Timothy 1 of Baghdad, considered that little-known land to be under his jurisdiction and moved to appoint an apostolate to Tibet.¹ But while Nestorians, and later Catholic emissaries to the court of the Mongol Khans, may have reached the fringes of the Tibetan world, the first recorded direct encounters between Christian West and Buddhist Tibet were not until the 17thcentury.

    Following rumours of a...

  9. 2 Sikkim: Imperial Stepping-stone to Tibet
    (pp. 85-114)

    The introduction of biomedicine to Sikkim provides a number of contrasts to the ratherad hocprocesses that occurred in the Kalimpong-Darjeeling and western Himalayan areas. The Buddhist state’s reluctance to admit European missionaries into its realm restricted their influence on medical development in Sikkim. Missionary medicine was still a significant force in the first two decades of British rule, and Kalimpong-trained local staff played a major role in spreading biomedicine from the dispensaries there. But the missionaries were not able to dominate medical initiatives in this Himalayan state as they had in Kalimpong. Instead it was the Indian Political...

  10. 3 Biomedicine and Buddhist Medicine in Tibet
    (pp. 115-142)

    On Sunday 12 June 1707, two Capuchin missionaries arrived in Lhasa, which was then a cosmopolitan city,¹ albeit with little or no knowledge of the far-off European powers. Granted an interview with Tibet’s Regent, the missionaries stated that they, ‘were doctors and wherever they went they practiced medicine for God’s sake’.² The pair were allowed to stay in Lhasa and Friar Francis Mary of Tours, who unlike his companion actually did have some medical experience, began to treat patients. His reputation grew rapidly; among those who came to him for treatment was the personal physician of the Regent and the...

  11. 4 Medical myths and Tibetan trends
    (pp. 143-172)

    While they are a unique source for the study of public health in Tibet, the annual reports from the British dispensaries tended to be brief and formulaic. They also reflect the impact of individual medical officers, some of whom were far more active than others in terms of both medical practice and record keeping. These annual reports seem hastily compiled, with numerous errors and inconsistencies clearly apparent. Conditions reported as common in one report may not be mentioned in the next, and there are also wide fluctuations in dispensary attendance figures that are not always explicable in terms of known...

  12. 5 Bhutan: A Later Development
    (pp. 173-204)

    By the late 1940s, biomedicine was firmly established in Sikkim and was attracting ever-growing numbers of patients to the IMS dispensaries in central Tibet. But in Bhutan, biomedicine still remained largely unknown and it was only in the post-colonial period that any biomedical structures developed there. As will be seen, Bhutan’s tardy adoption of the new system was due to two factors. Firstly, the state was closed to Christian missionaries and thus to missionary medicine and, secondly, as Bhutan was of little or no economic or strategic importance to British India, it received only minuscule development assistance.

    Bhutan is situated...

  13. 6 The Choice of Systems
    (pp. 205-228)

    Biomedicine in the Indo-Tibetan world today is part of a pluralist world of medicine comprising elements of various traditions and practices. Its structures and personnel have been largely indigenised and no Western doctors hold permanent appointments there. Biomedicine is recognised as being of foreign origin and has associations with local and global modernities rather than indigenous religio-cultural traditions. But it has become firmly rooted in the local medical world following practical concessions to local cultural understandings and the adoption of many aspects of its practice and theory by indigenous medical practitioners.

    Reflecting wider social responses to modernity, the medico-cultural fractures...

  14. Conclusions
    (pp. 229-244)

    According to missionary accounts, a wide range of Tibetan patients were attracted to the 18thcentury form of Western medicine offered by the Capuchins in Lhasa. Other European travellers in the pre-modern period record a similar demand for their medical services, but it is difficult to assess the rationale for that demand in the absence of more extensive and balanced sources. Greater overall efficacy seems doubtful in an era before the biomedical revolution of the late 19thcentury, but their availability and their offering of professional services without monetary aims must have been factors, along with a certain novelty.


  15. Appendix: Attendance at Gyantse and Yatung IMS dispensaries
    (pp. 245-248)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 249-284)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-302)
  18. Index
    (pp. 303-312)