Dynamics of kinship and the uncertainties of life : spirit cults and healing management in northern Thailand
This thesis is about kinship, health and healing in a Northern Thai village. Although traditional spirit mediums and spirit cult observances in Chiang Mai city are in decline and have led to a breakdown of the matrilineal system, in the village of Baan Yang Luang in Mae Chaem district the belief in matrilineal spirits and ancestors is still maintained in interesting counterpoint to social change. The power of spirits is used to manage human suffering-whether sickness, death or agricultural failure. Kinship in Mae Chaem is based on the relationship between humans and ancestral spirits or lineage guardian spirits. Illness is thought to derive from conflicts among humans or between humans and spirits. Healing is attained by the reforming and reshaping of relationships, and by the reconciliation of conflicted parties. The thesis investigates how matrilineal spirit cults, personhood, and social relatedness are created, shaped and transformed through the struggles of illness and healing management. It examines the complex relations among illness, kinship and personhood in reincarnation, healing, lineage recruitment, sacrifice, and spirit worship. In conclusion, it explores the mutual relationship between the two processes: kinship transformation and healing management, both of which depend crucially on power relations within the society. People use the dynamic aspects of the kinship system to interpret and manage illness; at the same time, illness is used as a means to reform and maintain the fluidity of kin relationships. The dynamic systems of health and kinship enable people to create, choose, negotiate and participate in the transformation of social relations and identity, in order to cope with a changing society. Finally, I hope this study will shed light on how identity, kinship, personhood, and lay medical knowledge are conceived, created and sustained from an emic perspective.