Hunter Gatherer Research

The role of the body in Kalahari San healing dances

Hunter Gatherer Research (2015), 1, (1), 29–60.

Abstract

Despite extensive interest of both scholars and the wider public in the Kalahari San healing dance, there has been little analysis of the dance that begins with the biological human body. In this paper I explore the role of the body in the dance by drawing on my own KhoeSan healing experience, professional knowledge as an osteopath and acupuncturist, wider anthropological work on possession dance and a tentative neurophysiological interpretation. My starting point is Bradford Keeney’s identification of shaking as a critical mechanism for ‘opening the body up to spirit’ (Keeney 2008). By contextualising San shaking in osteopathic and neurophysiological terms I develop the idea that San healers are applying the same sensory disposition that serves them so well as hunters and gatherers to their shamanic healing strategies. Using habits of ‘body listening’ San healers apply sophisticated techniques of manipulating the body and mind towards defined goals including the ability to heal, experience of extreme empathy, feelings of transcendence and the experience of transforming into animals. I suggest that the remarkable similarities between San healing and treatments found in osteopathy and acupuncture are not so surprising if we recognise that the human body provides not only the foundation of our experiences and definitions of sickness but our modes of therapeutic intervention.

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Low, Chris