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interesting article about traditional Thailand Medicine practices
The Traditional Medicine of North
North Thailand Traditional
Medicine is a living tradition with its roots stretching back many
hundreds of years.
Its tradition is oral, with training passed from traditional healer to
student-healer with no formal institutionalised training. The current
Traditional medicine base is mainly rural and within the smaller
villages that make up larger centres such as Greater Chiang Mai.
It is different from the more formalised Thai Traditional Medicine which
is centred on Wat Po in Bangkok and which has, in more recent years,
attracted new students and certainly has the larger share of any
Paralleling the North Thai Traditional Medicine are the Traditional
Healers from the Hilltribes. They are comprised of different tribal
groups who have migrated to Thailand over the past few hundred years.
The traditional medicine traditions of the Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Karen and
Akha Hilltribes are also oral. Whilst each Hilltribe has their own
traditional medicine they all share some commonality with each other and
the Lanna Thai of North Thailand.
Traditional Medicine Specialities
Mor Muang is the general term for "local doctor" and encompasses
different traditional medicine specialities including Mor Ya
(Herbalist), Mor Pao (Bone Blower), Mor Suang (Spiritual Healer). A
predominantly male tradition outsiders have to be accepted by a "master"
and then pass an initiation ceremony before being accepted into that
specific traditional medicine discipline. Although an individual may be
multi skilled most individual healers focus on one particular speciality.
The Mor Ya (herbalist) covers the whole disease spectrum and formulates
scripts based upon herbs and other natural substances as a part of their
The Mor Pao (Bone Blower) specialises in wounds or broken bones. He
often manipulates the bones and applies splints or poultices to the area
around the fracture or wound and applies, by blowing, incantations to
the affected area.
The Mor Suang (Spiritual Healer) performs a series of ceremonies and
incantations through calling on the spiritual essence of the client and
connects with his spirit guides for assistance. Sometimes the healer may
include specific referral to another traditional healer speciality
and/or specific actions in order to alleviate the underlying cause of
Other traditional Lanna Thai traditional medicine practioners include:
Mor Nuad (Massage) whilst massage is an integral part of Thai
traditional medicine home remedies, most often within the family, there
are masseurs who have specialist styles and treatments. Both male and
female can be Mor Nuad.
Mor Tam Yae (Midwives) are predominantly female and specialise in
childbirth. The training is passed down through the family. In areas
easily within the reach of western medicine this traditional medicine is
Mor Cao Baan (Astrologers) are part of a mainly female healer tradition.
They divine the causation of a particular ailment and may apply specific
"rubbing" ceremonies to effect a cure or refer the client to another
traditional medicine specialist once the cause has been divined.
Although the names for the specialists may vary The North Thai
Hilltribes also feature many specialists similar to the Lanna Thai and
in addition there is a central role amongst many of the Hilltribes for
the village Shaman (Mor Pi) and Soul Retriever (Mor Kwan).
The Mor Pi (Shaman) is the village connection with the spirit world
where ancestors and spirits dwell. They are predominantly chosen by the
spirits themselves through some near death experience or divination by a
group of village elders. Mostly they use trance in order to connect with
their guiding ancestor spirits and the treatment is effected in the
spirit world and/or specific ceremonies are recommended to the client.
Whilst similar to the Mor Pi the Mor Kwan (soul retriever), rescues the
spirit of the client when it has been "stolen away" by a vengeful spirit
causing an illness. Very specific curative rights and ceremonies are
performed sometimes involving the whole family or village.
Concepts of Traditional Medicine Causality
The Traditional Healers have no tradition of surgery and therefore their
concepts of causality of disease differ strongly from those in the
western medical tradition. Wind and blood are two strong causative
factors and are often closely connected.
The wind (lom) surrounds us all and is easily affected. There may be too
much wind or too little and it may turn poisonous. Diseases that cause
fainting, uncontrolled movement and heart pain are indicative of too
much wind and are by far the most common. Certain foods and outside
odours are said to be the cause of too much wind. Too little wind
affects the mobility of limbs and is characterised by paralysis.
Blood (lyad) is recognised as the basic fluid of the body but as the
healers have no tradition of surgery, the circulatory system is not well
understood in a western sense. It may be normal, hot, cold, too much or
too little and can be said to be the cause of many wind diseases.
Many diseases are affected by poison (Pid). This could be the direct
poisoning from a venomous bite or ingestion of bad food but also the
less tangible aspect of "poison spirits". This poison also has an affect
on the blood and wind. Treatments are concentrated on isolating the
poison, restricting its spread, and on herbal treatments for expelling
it from the system. This may also involve a very prescribed diet. Diet
restrictions are very integral to the whole curative process.
Hot and Cold, the two opposites are important in classification of
illness as well as the types of cures to apply. The client's perceptions
of heat and cold are an important diagnostic tool for the healers. A
fever for example may turn out to be hot, cold or neither and the healer
proceeds with treatments indicated by these symptoms. The general rule
is hot diseases are treated with cold medicines and visa versa.
The opposites of left and right, male and female are also important in
diagnosis as well as the presence of "mother". The "mother" is a
physical entity that enters the body and must be located and "killed"
before a cure could be affected. Most important is withholding the food
that supports her and once again diet becomes very important.
Causality can be summarised as: Trauma, Ingestion of materials alien to
the body, Exterior contact with materials alien to the body, Bad food or
food inappropriate to the client's body, Noxious odours or fumes, Insect
and animal bites, Intestinal worms, Diseases caused by spirits,
Psychological factors, Black magic, Climate, Seasons, Age of client,
In North Thai Traditional Medicine the knowledge of disease has grown
out of experience and the knowledge used in their diagnosis and
treatment is mainly from a symptomatic base.
Traditional medicine was, in fact, outlawed as unscientific with the
advent of western medicine in Thailand a century ago. As a result, the
ancient knowledge was cast aside because practitioners were afraid of
being arrested as charlatans. It was only recently that the ban was
lifted and what had continued underground came slowly out into the open.
The tradition of knowledge is passed on by word of mouth with no
centralised teaching. Herbal remedies are closely held secrets, even to
the fact that when recipes are written down some of the most potent
ingredients might be deliberately left out. Students learned from one
"master", usually in a narrow degree of specialty, and then widened
their studies by working with more "masters" as time went on and
Will North Thai Traditional Medicine survive? In some middle class and
more educated circles traditional medicine has become "trendy" and has
received some support whilst in most Government Circles the support is
ambivalent at best. Some see traditional medicine as a way of extending
medical coverage without the cost or investment whilst in some areas
traditional clinics are growing up along side the western medical
From the client's point of view, more is better. More choice! The trend
points towards clients seeking treatment along the lines of first
visiting a pharmacy, second a western style medical clinic and third a
traditional healer. Anecdotal evidence shows clients using all forms of
medical help simultaneously
In the words of one healer, Phra Khru Uppakara Pattanakij, abbot of Nong
Yah Nang Temple: "We want to offer ordinary people more choices in
health care. And we can do this by respecting the wisdom of our
ancestors and keeping it alive by practising it.''
Although struggling, North Thai Traditional Medicine has every chance of
survival and strengthening. A great influence on its success will be the
healers and whether they can change some of their traditional secretive
practices in order to create a centralised healing knowledge base and
training program. We, in the west, have gone through a similar process
in our past and now alternative healing and traditional medicine is
gaining popularity each year. There is every reason to hope for a
similar response in North Thailand.
For full information on how you can visit and learn from the healers of
the healing and culture click on the following link:
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