German Doctor Exposes Shamanic Practices in RI, Unexpectedly…


Jakarta, CNBC Indonesia – Before medical knowledge developed, Indonesian people commonly went to shamans to consult about health problems. Later, the shaman will chant various mantras and give the patient herbal medicines.

Practices like this apparently succeeded in attracting the attention of a doctor from Germany, Friedrich August Carl. In 1823, Carl was assigned by the Dutch East Indies Ministry of Health to become a doctor in Semarang.


When he was on duty for the first time, he was surprised that people, whether local residents or Europeans, trusted shamans more to deal with health problems. And, interestingly, many of them actually recovered after coming to the shaman.

Of course, Carl wondered: why did it work, even though the treatment did not match the medical science he had studied. After all, in the Dutch East Indies there was a lack of modern medicine, unlike in Europe.

Questions like this are actually thought about by many other European doctors. In fact, European doctors have long felt rivaled by shamans. According to Hans Pols in Caring for the Nation (2018), this competition arises because of the problem of access to treatment.

Usually doctors are only available in urban areas, far from where the majority of residents in rural areas live. Apart from that, doctor fees are more expensive. Not to mention, residents are still shrouded in fear about the series of modern treatments which are still very unfamiliar. With these considerations in mind, practically the majority of people prefer to seek treatment from a shaman.

However, Carl, based on immense curiosity, managed to observe the shaman's practices closely.

As explained by Hans Pols in “European Physicians and Botanists, Indigenous Herbal Medicine in the Dutch East Indies, and Colonial Networks of Mediation” (2008)Carl saw a shaman in his practice trying to guess the disease based on symptoms, then giving spells and herbal medicine.

For Carl, this series of treatment relies on herbal medicine. So, the mantras are only accompanying and the key is the use of herbal medicine obtained from local plants.

However, these herbal medicines are only based on habits and experience, not insight and knowledge, so they need to be validated by scientific research.

On this basis, Carl also researched herbal medicines used by shamans or the general public output scientific research.

The German doctor then looked for information about herbal medicine. He asked a lot of questions from ordinary people, traders, patients and his own wife. Not only that, he also made himself and the patient the object of experimentation until it was proven successful.

Long story short, the long journey to uncover the practices of shamans and the use of herbal medicines yielded positive results. He recorded it all into a work entitled Pratische Waarnemingen Over Eenige Javaansche Geneesmiddelen (Practical Observations on Some Javanese Medicines).

Still quoting Hans Pols, this work records all existing herbal medicines and compares them with modern medicines. Apart from that, he also categorized medicines based on diseases according to modern medical science.

Carl's success then made many doctors in the Dutch East Indies use herbal medicine as a form of treatment. It becomes easier for them to find solutions to modern disease treatment using herbal medicine.

Moving on from here, the name Friedrich August Carl rose to fame at the end of the 19th century. He is also listed as the first doctor to create and practice Indonesian-style herbal medicine guidelines.

[Gambas:Video CNBC]

(mfa/sef)