University of the Philippines, Baguio City
Primary healthcare is an important facet of health delivery systems especially in developing countries like the Philippines where the rural sector constitutes the majority of the population and where primary healthcare delivery is inadequate. Social services hardly reach indigenous communities because the delivery of social services in developing countries conforms to the trickle down character of orthodox economic development paradigms. Thus, indigenous peoples (IPs) have to rely on their own health knowledge and practices.
Mainstreaming Indigenous Health Knowledge and Practices was conceived as a response to the urgent need to capture and document indigenous health knowledge and practices before the influx of modernity into indigenous communities undermines and obliterates these practices. One of the indigenous communities threatened by modernity are the Cordillera communities. These highland communities are increasingly drawn into the orbit of mainstream Philippine culture which draws heavily from Western culture.
In the area of health, the national government has instituted a health delivery system that principally purveys a Western medical approach. Unfortunately, government have been not too effective in the delivery of healthcare especially in far-flung communities, delaying the incursion of Western medicine into the Cordillera villages. However, medically sound indigenous health knowledge and practices still face the threat of oblivion as younger generations are secularized and modernized rather than socialized into their indigenous culture.
The study focuses on indigenous notions of health or kasalun-atan and women's life cycle with emphasis on women's health. This is especially relevant because as bearers of culture, women, especially indigenous women, have a comparative advantage over all others in the area of health knowledge and practices.
In this study, women's health includes such concepts as sexuality, reproductive health, childcare, nursing the sick, home remedies, and healing rituals. Women's health is explored in relation to gender division of labor and women's reproductive, productive, and community managing roles. Also covered are the larger socioeconomic, political, and cultural structures integral to the concept of health.
The study specifically aims to: (1) identify the concepts of health and illness of Kankana-ey women in Badeo, a Cordillera community; (2) identify the health knowledge and practices of indigenous women of that community;(3) validate these indigenous knowledge and practices; and (4) propagate the indigenous knowledge and practices as valid, feasible, and practical practices. Validation entails probing the participants' viewpoint on the soundness of the knowledge and practices and identifying the rational-scientific basis of these practices.
We deemed it necessary to employ various analytical lenses given the complexity of examining the phenomenon of health within a feminist participatory research. We analyzed this using the following approaches:
(1) the primary healthcare approach, con textualized against the larger backdrop of macro-social structures such as the role of multilateral finance and development institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), their structural adjustment policies that impact on the situation of people, particularly the health situation and programs of these countries;
(2) the indigenous peoples and their rights;
(3) indigenous health knowledge and practices;
(4) gender roles and women's multiple roles; and,
(5) the life cycle approach.
Data collection methods include key informant interviews, focus group discussions (FGD), life histories, and review of secondary data.
The study shows that aside from working in the talon and uma, engaging in por dia work, and busying themselves with their duties at home, Kankana-ey women are also healers. They are mambunongs or traditional healers, who perform prescribed rituals to ensure the health and well-being of members of the community.
The concept of health of the people of Badeo is integrally related to their cosmological belief system. They believe in the existence of unseen beings and spirits who possess the power to grant good fortune or to inflict evil such as diseases. Human beings can appease the spirits by way of rituals and sacrificial offerings of animals like pigs and chickens.
These indigenous health knowledge and practices continue to persist despite the inroads made by modern medicine. Many of these beliefs are valuable while some may be harmful. Often, it is difficult to distinguish harmful superstitious beliefs from useful and scientific ones. It would be helpful if researchers and health practitioners keep an open mind in assessing the value of these indigenous health knowledge and practices. We propose that conventional medicine and indigenous health knowledge and practices be recognized as components of a holistic health approach.