Exhibition shows wisdom of Balinese traditional medicine
Centuries-old lontar manuscripts containing ancient information on traditional medicines, known as lontar usadha, are now being exhibited as part of the annual Bali Arts Festival. The exhibition is being held on the 2nd floor of Studio Patung (Sculpture Studio) near Gedung Kriya Arts Center on Jl. Nusa Indah, from June 10 through July 9.
With the rapid developments in modern medical science, Balinese people have gradually moved on and forgotten their own medical wisdom passed on from one generation to the next over hundreds of years.
The exhibition is being held to remind people of these precious treasures the island still has — many of which have been stored in dusty libraries and boxes.
Lontar (palmyra leaf) manuscripts are an ancient Balinese literary tradition. Most of the ancient literary texts were recorded on dried and treated palm leaves in the old Javanese language of Kawi or in Sanskrit. The lontar manuscripts range from ordinary information to Bali’s most sacred writings, including texts on religion, medicine, rituals, law codes, arts and architecture.
“These are the lontar usadha collections from the Bali Cultural office, which has 80 lontar usadha in its library,” Bemby Bantara Narendra, the organizer, said on Monday. However, the exhibition is only displaying 30 of them.
In addition to lontar usadha, the exhibition is also highlighting the lontar writing process, as well as the process of digitizing lontar manuscripts.
“We want people to understand the process of digitizing lontar manuscripts,” explained Ron Jenkins, professor of theater at Wesleyan University, who led the digitizing team.
A total of 3,000 lontar manuscripts have been digitized and uploaded onto the website of the Internet Archive Foundation’s digital library in a project supported by the San Francisco-based Internet Archive Foundation and Bali Cultural Office. The digitizing process is part of the Bali administration’s attempt to give easy access to the lontar. To learn more about Balinese lontar in the Foundation’s digital library, go to archive.org/details/Bali on the Internet.
The organizer will also help people have their lontar digitized. “If people have lontar in their homes, we are ready to help them with the digitizing,” Jenkins said.
During the exhibition, several discussions and traditional medical treatment sessions are being offered free of charge. “We hope we can reintroduce people to usadha, one of our ancient traditions,” Narendra said.
Ida Bagus Suatama, a balian usadha (traditional healer), said that usadha is a safer way of medical treatment than the more modern ways.
“It is time for the authorities to protect and give attention to traditional medicinal treatments, including usadha,” Suatama said. The authorities, he said, could for instance establish an usadha clinic and even a hospital. “So far, the recognition of traditional medicine is far from what we are expecting.” Suatama also said that the government’s recognition was important to regulate irresponsible people who claimed to be traditional healers. “They [the traditional healers] have misused our ancient medicinal knowledge for their own benefit. They have also cheated their patients,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Udayana University School of Medicine has already included usadha into its mainstream curriculum.