Reviews

The result of a long field work, this well-informed paper, based on telling case studies, surveys the evolution of the career and role of traditional physicians in post-Soviet Uzbekistan.  Recalling opportunely the esoteric and magical content of the pre-Islamic Arabic notion of tibb [ط ب ب], the author nonetheless stresses the difference that have appeared in the course of history between the ‘personalistic’ system (based on magical and religious considerations: the register of a wide typology of healers) and the ‘etiologic naturalist system’ common to both traditional (whether Hypocratic or Galenic) and modern medicine.  The author stresses that traditional physicians and healers have remained significant therapeutic protagonists in Central Asia even after the forbidding of their activity in the USSR in 1926—consulted as they were in parallel with the system of public health.  This heterogenic practice, a characteristic of twentieth-century Central Asian cultures, has been largely conditioned by social and generational differences.  “The medical practices are intermingled with varied sets or subsets of beliefs that also have their logic in their own systems of reference (magic, religion, cult of ancestors) [76].”  Unfortunately, in this article the Russian and vernacular (viz., Uzbek and Tajik) technical vocabularies have been mutually admixed without clear distinction (the gyrovagues, kalandary—Persian: qalandars—being adorned with a unjustified Russian plural, whence a special category, the Russian term lekar’ [for ‘healer’, but which kind of?) appears uncommented, contributing to confusion.  More comparison would have been welcome between the career of traditional physicians and that of healers, beginning with the initial respective recognition of special gifts for both (unfortunately summarised by the Russian word ekstrasens as far as the former is concerned):  This specific aspect of the study has been provisionally let aside, the author focusing her attention on the current institutionalisation of traditional medicine, in the framework of a selective political valuation of national tradition.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-7.4.G-675