Tiger-charming, ritual healing and mental illness in the Sundarbans region of deltaic Bengal

Event Date: 

Thursday, July 26, 2018 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm

Event Location: 

  • HSSB 2001A

Event Contact: 

Presentation by Annu Jalais, PhD (National University of Singapore)

Mental illness and suicides are very widespread in deltaic Bengal – especially in the Sundarbans region. One of the ways in which mental illness is triggered amongst the islanders of the region is through the purported “fear” one “catches” after having seen or been in some sort of “interaction” with nonhuman entities. Following those who have worked on various forms of human-animal environments, I choose the word “nonhuman” (which includes animals, spirits, certain trees, gusts of wind) as it better allows me to talk of the natural world from the Sundarbans islanders’ point of view. When someone “catches fear”, that person is seen as needing prompt intervention lest it ends up disturbing the victim’s mental well-being and potentially even causing death. A ritual healer, customarily a person who works in the forest as a “tiger-charmer”, usually provides the “cure”. Research suggests that ritual healing may actually be therapeutically effective. However, for one to be able to explain how it works, one needs to take into account a particular cosmological worldview where humans and nonhumans are part of a common world. This is gaining importance in the domain of ecopsychiatry and this presentation offers an ethnographic contribution towards a greater understanding of it in the Sundarbans.