Of rumps and pumps, or, where did the clysters go: notes on an anthropology and history of European and non-European medicine
Harish Naraindas (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Paper short abstract:
This is an attempt to rewrite the history and anthropology of European and non-European medicine and of orthodox and heterodox medicine on a single register. I intend to do this through a three-way comparison between naturopathy, biomedicine, ayurveda and yoga in the UK and India.
Paper long abstract:
When two well-heeled European women met in the eighteenth century, and the conversation turned to the 'secret of a good complexion', then the advice offered by one to the other was: 'have an enema'. If bloodletting was the rage in the 19th century (the number of leeches imported into France grew from 300,000 to 33 million between 1824 and 1837), the enema was the eighteenth century rage. Flavoured teas like lemon, orange, chamomile and peach, all in search of complexion and beauty, were had (literally) bottom up. But this scatological obsession was fashionable only because the enema was believed to be therapeutically efficacious and, along with bloodletting, the purge, the emetic and cupping, was a therapeutic mainstay from the time of Galen. Where did the enema and the clysters go? They were re-born as "colonic irrigation" across the Atlantic; they 'reappeared' in the European 'underground' under the aegis of Naturopathy as 'pure' water enemas; they continued to survive in the European 'overground' as household remedies, especially administered to children; and they may soon storm Europe and the world as strong (as opposed to the current association of herbal and alternate with being 'mild') oil and Kashayam enemas as part of an 'authentic' Kerala Ayurvedic panchakarma therapy. In this paper I would like to use the enema as an icon to argue that the distinction between European and Indian or Chinese medicine, at least as far as the 'pre-modern' is concerned, may be misplaced. While there is a virtual identity in terms of certain cardinal therapeutic procedures, it could be argued that the underlying theory, while not identical, bears a family resemblance, which allowed for a ready translatability. I would further like to argue that what appears to be a string of alternative European therapies was once the reigning orthodoxy recast. And non-European alternate practices like the panchakarma is virtually identical to what used to be the therapeutic mainstay in Europe. How are we to make sense of this? I suggest that we can make sense of this only if we attempt to break down the distinction between East and West and orthodox and heterodox both within and without Europe. I attempt to do this through a kind of three way comparison between naturopathy in the UK and India, between Naturopathy and biomedicine both in the UK and India, and between Naturopathy and Ayurveda and Yoga in India. I will do this by following the clyster around in the hope that it is not only good for one's complexion but also good to think with.
Medical anthropology, Europe and the world