By Stephen Frankel, Gilbert Lewis
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Extra resources for A Continuing Trial of Treatment: Medical Pluralism in Papua New Guinea
Smallpox At some time between 1880 and 1900 smallpox spread throughout much of lowland New Guinea. It is at present not possible to give an exact date. In 1890 smallpox appeared at Stephensport, south of Madang, carried there by a Malay stoker on a German ship. The New Guinea Company reported that it "first attacked the Melanesians with great severity and then spread in waves", but claim the disease did not reach Madang or New Britain (Sack and Clarke 1979). However, Parkinson reports a smallpox epidemic which he estimates killed "one quarter" of 42 BRYANT J.
New methods and ideas are fitted in or adopted. The syncretism shows more as a mixture of things of mixed origins than as a new coherent synthesis. Ideas, institutional organization and techniques are different aspects of the thing we loosely speak of as a Western system of medicine. Objects and techniques, bits of the foreign technology, a needle and syringes, bottles of tablets, these can easily enter as artifacts in isolation, to be used sometimes almost in ignorance of their properties and their use in the system from which they come.
The convenience of thinking in terms of simple dichotomies is always a temptation. It seems to clarify issues, but the simplification distorts them. It is misleading to speak of "system" when referring to local modes of treatment for the sick. The local forms are not usually formulated as a unified system of theory, practice and medical institutions. The local forms are not matched against Western medicine as one system against another. The view of pluralism as an ideology expressed by Chambers (1983) is based on an agnostic openness to evidence and argument.