Tribal healers script a success story

KOZHIKODE, AUG. 1. A new generation of tribal healers in Wayanad have scripted a success story for the State Backward and Scheduled Communities Welfare Department.

A group of Adivasi youth who studied tribal medical lore from well-known practioners of tribal medicines under a scheme of the department have emerged as successful medical practioners. More importantly, they have gained considerable knowledge about a medical system which many feared would disappear with the aging tribal practioners. That too amid reports of the reluctance of many senior tribal physicians to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation.

Rajan Vaidyar, who has put up a dispensary 20 km from Kalpetta town in Wayanad, is a representative of the new breed of tribal healers who learned tribal medicine during a three-year certificate course in tribal medicine conducted by the Kerala Institute for Research Training and Development Studies (Kirtads) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Eight Adivasi youth who enrolled for the programme were paid a monthly stipend of Rs.600 each by the department.

Heavy demand

Under the supervision of a team of senior tribal physicians led by Achappan Vaidyar, a tribal physician belonging to the Kurichiya community, the students were imparted training in identifying medicinal plants, manufacturing medicines and the intricate methodology of disease diagnosis. The successful youth tribals later set up practice in their own place.

Rajan Vaidyar, a former State champion in archery, joined the course after doing pre-degree and has been quick to make a name as a dependable tribal healer. People troubled by various ailments travel from distant places into the interior Wayanad by bus and jeep seeking his herbal medicines.

JULY 24 was a hectic day for him and his assistants. Nearly 300 patients had taken token to meet him in his three-room dispensary. While men, women and children waited outside for their turn, inside his assistants were chopping, grinding and boiling leaves, stem and roots of medicinal plants.

Therapeutic properties

Middle-aged Joseph said he had come in search of a medicine for his chronic rheumatic problem. In one side of the building, herbs were boiled in giant pots and the steam, believed to have therapeutic properties, was sent through crude pipes to a patient sitting inside a chamber. It was a steam bath. Different herbs were used for different diseases.

According to Rajan Vaidyar, they come mainly for sinusitis and skin diseases. Our medicine is effective. So more and more people come here.

He is not the sole beneficiary of the programme. Nearly 40 others, mostly tribals, work for him. Antony, a post-graduate in commerce, is his accountant. He has women working in his packing department. And there are tribals who go into the forests to collect medicinal plants.

Besides Rajan Vaidyar, his batch-mates Chandu, Rajan and Mohanan are also successful practioners of tribal medicine. Another 20 tribal youth are in their second year of the training programme under senior tribal physicians at Valad in Wayanad, Attappady in Palakkad, Marayur in Idukki and Ilachiyam in Thiruvananthapuram.

The training is funded by the department and conducted by the Indian Indigenous People Service Society, a non-governmental organisation engaged in the promotion of traditional tribal knowledge system.

Viswanathan Nair, anthropologist and president of the Indian Indigenous People Service Society, believes that the new generation of tribal healers is the torch-bearer of an ancient medical system which has many efficacious medicines.

Some are sceptical

Rajan Vaidyar and some other tribal healers may have gained public acceptance, but there are physicians who are sceptical about the efficacy of tribal medicines. The Kozhikode district secretary of Indian Medical Association, K.V. Prabhakaran, believes that since the action, more specifically side-effects, of tribal medicines has not been scientifically studied, it is not advisable to rush to tribal healers for all ailments. But he agreed that sometimes these medicines turn out to be efficacious for some patients. But Dr. Viswanathan Nair points out that many States having large populations of tribal people encourage tribal healers in various ways.

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