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Encounters with Talsa: Worship and Healing Practices for Measles among a Rural-Urban Migrant Santal Tribal Community in Orissa, India

Suchismita Mishra, Deepak K Behera, Bontha V. Babu and Yadlapalli S. Kusuma


Published: 2012/06/01


Measles, in biomedical terms, is a common childhood viral disease with 164 thousand deaths globally per year, and it manifests through symptoms of cough, fever, body ache and blotchy red rashes. The present paper reports the rituals and practices related to prevention and treatment of measles (talsa) among Santals of Orissa who have migrated from their native tribal villages to the urban city of Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa State in India. It is based on ethnographic data collected from Santal households and traditional healers inhabiting four Santal dominated slums in Bhubaneswar City. The data relate to beliefs about illness etiologies, and folk systems of health beliefs more generally. The present ethnographic study investigates objectively a living worldview by stressing illness experiences and management. The people believe that measles occurs every year, especially if their village deity is displeased – perhaps because they have not given satisfactory offerings to the deity. They also think that it occurs due to extreme heat, which the body cannot bear. The blotchy rashes on the skin are believed to come from the bone by breaking the bones, so it appears on the body. To prevent measles in their area, the majhialam (village head, here the head of the slum in which Santals are living) performs a ritual and subsequently every household sacrifices a chick or a goat. On occurrence of even a single case of measles, another ritual is performed to prevent the spread of the disease. The paper describes these rituals and their linkage with the belief system.

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