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Treatment-seeking Behavior among the Nasioi people of Bougainville

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In Western and other modern nations, there exists a current trend that revives and promotes the use of traditional alternative forms of medicine.  These alternative medical practices that do not necessarily fall under the domain of the scientific conventional medicine includes yoga and meditation, hypnosis, acupuncture and most common of all, herbalism.  These alternative forms of medicine is often ingrained in the cultural traditions of the natives in practically all countries because they had been founded on ancestral tradition, ancient knowledge, religious beliefs and other originally conceived methods of healing and curing diseases. The province of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is no exception to people’s continued patronage and dependence on their traditional medical practices. Traditional medicine has had a long standing history with the people and continues to serve as a vital health care alternative for the people.  Under this premises, the PNG have conducted studies in line with its effort to integrate traditional medicine in its formal health system.

The study on the “Treatment-seeking Behavior among the Nasioi people of Bougainville” aims to establish the treatment-seeking behaviors of the Nasioi people in order to understand which traditional healthcare services do people prefers and to discover the factors that affect their decision making in favoring the type of treatments they obtain. It conducted interviews among the traditional medicine practitioners and the randomly selected villagers of the general communities in Nasioi speaking tribes of Tasipo and Bava Pirung of Bougainville in 2004.  The study will help provide a rationale for incorporating proven traditional medical practices in the country’s national health plans, which seeks to enhance the national healthcare system of the country which in turn ultimately translates to a better health and quality of life to Bougainvilleans and Papua New Guineans in general.

The Study

The study is a qualitative non experimental research that principally utilized the interview method to gather data and information from a sample of 200 Nasioi villages representing a cross-sectional population of Nasioi speaking natives in the province Bougainville. The province is located in the west of Solomon Islands archipelago and its residents are apparently distinct in terms of culture and ethnicity from that of mainland Papua New Guinea. Through the assistance of North Nasioi Council of Elders and Nasioi-speaking research assistants, the study was afforded an ethnographic research approach, which is critical for unbiased collection and interpretation of data.

The study established that Nasioi people adhered to both traditional and western medical practices. Western medicine had been integrated to traditional medicine but had not absolutely superseded or deposed traditional medical practices. There was correspondence and comparative resemblance between traditional beliefs on causes of illness and theoretical predilection for traditional or western medicine. The study basically reflected the Nasioi people’s confidence, faith and support in the efficiency and competence of both traditional and western medicine.

The traditional medicine of Nasioi people in the study specifically refers to herbal medicine which utilized plant and plant extracts for curing or healing (mostly relieving pain). The most common traditional herbal medicine use in Bougainville included:

Salat (for sprain relief), Pawpaw (for healing sores and stomach pains), koniak (for muscle and joint pains), aloe vera (for burns and wounds), different barks and tree saps, among others.

Traditional medicine is essentially more accessible and cheaper.  There are many traditional practitioners that are scattered in different areas and are closely living with the residents and dwelling in Bougainvillean neighborhoods or villages.  The popularity of traditional medicine can be accounted principally for its cheap cost and convenience to the people.  These traditional practices have been regarded to have lasted since time immemorial which reinforces the people’s belief of their effectiveness. In most instances, people who support alternative medical practices can personally attest of their therapeutic efficacy and benefits.

A fundamental component of the confidence that enfolds traditional medicine is the notion that spirituality and social relationships are connected and vital to one’s health. This comprehensive concept of health is typical to alternative medicine. The association and effect of the psycho social disposition in a person’s well being is now currently recognized by western medicine. The socio-spiritual factor to health and illness can be also attributed for the continued popularity of alternative medicine in Bougainville. While western and traditional medical practitioners are keen collaborating together to integrate their differing medical systems, the people in general express an extensive and overwhelming support for the integration of their traditional medical practices in formal health care system of nation. They believed that an integrated system would better serve the citizens in terms of convenience, accessibility and affordability.  Still, some other residents deemed that an integrated system would serve to venerate, preserve and protect a significant and substantial component of the people’s cultural heritage and traditions.


Traditional medicine is commonly recognized and performed in Bougainville. The use of medicinal herbs for treating common illness and pains especially in rural areas should be supported and promoted by the government for its convenience and affordability and its being an important part of the native’s cultural legacy. The important role of traditional medicine can also be stressed amidst the increasing costs of medical drugs, transportation and distribution problems in Papua New Guinea as well as insufficient facilities of rural health centers.  Under these premises, the traditional medicine in Bouganville and western medicine is not a matter of choice. Instead, it is a matter of integrating the traditional medical practices in the formal healthcare system of the nation not only because it is congruent with scientific medical practices and in parallel with the people’s concept of general health but more importantly, it is a cheap yet effective way of enhancing and improving healthcare service delivery for Papua New Guineans.

Works Cited:

Macfarlane, Joan Elizabeth E. and Michael Alpers. “Treatment-seeking Behavior among the Nasioi people of Bougainville: choosing between traditional and western medicine.” Ethnicity and Health 14: 147-168.

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