As I sat naively on the dinosaur covered white paper of the examination table I swung my legs back and forth. “Now sweetie, the doctor is going to give you a shot to make sure you don’t get sick. It will only hurt for a second but I know you will be my brave little girl” my mother cooed. I smiled, trusting my mother and the doctor and held out my arm. Outside in the waiting room my younger brother sat patiently waiting for his turn to come and see the doctor and as he began to open up his coloring book a terrifying high pitched scream boomed through the office. From the moment the needle pricked my skin I knew that it would be my arch nemesis for the rest of my existence. I screamed at the top of my lungs in betrayal. In a fit of rage I ran out of the office screaming from the “pain” and announced to the entire waiting room full of small children that the doctor had tried to cut my arm off, creating a mass hysteria. Did it hurt? No. Does it hurt now? No. Does my mother still need to come with me and hold my hand? Yes.
As children we are taught to trust professionals. A doctor knows what is best to take care of you, a policeman will protect you from the bad guys, a firefighter will save your house. But what is it that makes us trust these professionals with our lives? What makes us allow strangers to insert sharp objects into our arms, or swallow foreign substances in the form of pills? A doctor tells you to do something, and you do it.
While many of the methods used by the dottores in “Kisses in the Nederends” by Epeli Hauofa may seem unorthodox and irrational to the western reader, we use the same blinded trust with our own doctors. The novel helps to demonstrate that there are a variety of universal ways in which people gain trust for their professionals, and highlights the inability of colonizing western medicine professionals to recognize and respect the traditional practices of medicine of the land. This is shown through the reversal of western feelings towards medicine as we see Oiele refusing to go to a hospital with modern medicine and instead try countless numbers of traditional doctors.
The first docttore that Oiele meets with is Marama who performs a ritual in which she invokes the spirit of the two who are ill to determine what the underlying issue is. She explains that his discomfort comes from the inhalation of his wife’s snores. After a uncomfortable episode of expulsing gas, Oiele listens to her and takes the medicine she prescribes, but does not gain comfort. Marama insists that he took the medication wrong and refers him to another doctoree Losana. Appearing slightly more legitimate than Marama, Losana attempts to cure Oiele by performing a ritual and inserting her finger into Oiele’s infected area. Once again, Oiele feels no relief. These first two docttores come from a lineage of healers, and are well respected in their villages. They were invited to attend a conference on the cooperation of modern and traditional medicine, and were recognized as legitimate health care professionals. Because of this recognition, many other people of the land saw an opportunity to be capitalized on and became either by chance or deception docttores. These docttores capitalized on the people’s trust being formed largely by oral traditions and word of mouth. Docttores were trusted based on how many people went to see them, and whether or not they were famous. Their credentials were based on who they claimed to have healed and helped in a higher social class, and not based on actual physical evidence. This method of healing raised the question as to how much of the healing process is in fact mental and based on your belief in the treatment.
While to a western reader it may seem ridiculous as Oiele travels from docttore to docttore one using a magical conch shell, another the shell of a turtle, do we not do the same things with our own doctors? If you meet with a doctor and he cannot help you, do you not travel on to the next? Are you not more willing to try different methods for healing as each previous method fails? If one doctor cannot heal you, do you then lose faith in all doctors? I felt that Hauofa was trying to show through Oiele’s travels the universal actions of all humans when in pain looking for help. While many western doctors and writers may have dismissed the medicine of witchdoctors as useless, we see the corruption in both the western perspectives on traditional medicine, and the necessity of traditional medicine to be aware of modern medicine as well.
Overall the first half of the novel presents an interesting look into the world of traditional medicine as it was becoming affected and impinged upon by modern medicine. It allows the reader to draw comparisons between the processes of trust in both traditional medicine and modern medicine and see the many similarities.