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Quests for therapy in northern Uganda: healing at Laropi revisited

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This article presents a case of diachronic ethnography. It examines quests for therapy among the Madi people of northern Uganda. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in and around the small trading centre of Laropi; originally in the late 1980s and again in 2008. By revisiting the same field site at different points in time, and by drawing on related ethnographic material collected in the 1950s and 70s, we are able to examine how such quests have altered and to discuss factors influencing these changes. We also comment on shifts in conceptual approaches of medical anthropology that have influenced perceptions and analysis. Laropi lies close to the border with Sudan and its inhabitants have experienced much upheaval and political isolation. We examine how this has influenced understandings and responses to ill-health and misfortune. Particularly important in recent years has been the increasing availability and accessibility of biomedicine, which the population have embraced and indigenized as a mark of progress and political recognition. On the face of it, this has rendered recourse to more "traditional" forms of healing obsolete. However, as we describe, the situation is more ambiguous. Notions of witchcraft, spirit possession and ancestor veneration are more pervasive than they might seem.

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