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Spirits Captured in Stone: Shamanism and Traditional Medicine Among the Taman of Borneo

Jay H. Bernstein
ISBN: 978-1-55587-691-3
ISBN: 978-1-55587-692-0
1997/209 pages

"Bernstein has written an excellent book. It is full of insight, carefully researched, and casts a particular light on Taman culture."—Victor T. King, Borneo Research Bulletin

"Bernstein makes an important contribution to the ethnographic literature of what some may see as a disappearing world of traditional societies located in out-of-the-way places."—Steve Ferzacca, American Ethnologist

"Not only does it present an incisive analysis of a socio-cultural group of which we have little knowledge, [but] it is particularly rich in ethnographic detail ... providing valuable comparative material for Southeast Asian scholars."—Amanda Harris, RIMA

"Bernstein's important book is full of insight, is carefully researched and casts particular light on Taman culture. Bernstein's data are so admirably detailed that they permit us to recast our interpretations in slightly different terms.—ASEASUK News

"Rich in ethnographic detail, it additionally raises issues that transcend the Taman, making it of interest not only to Borneo and Indonesian specialists, but to all, including general readers, who are seriously concerned with shamanism and ritual healing."—Clifford Sather, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

"Well-written and thought provoking. It will capture the attention of anyone interested in shamanism, comparative religion, and Indonesian anthropology."—David Hicks

"The author has carefully integrated ethnographic detail into a debate about cultural relativism and the advantages of accepting indigenous truth claims and beliefs in local context. The book is empirically strong, ethnographically rich, and written in clear prose. "—Gretchen G. Weix


This fascinating case study focuses on shamanism and the healing practices of the Taman, a formerly tribal society indigenous to the interior of Borneo. The Taman typically associate illness with an encounter with spirits that both seduce and torment a person in dreams or waking life. Rather than use medicines to counter the effect of these discomforting visitors, the shamans—called baliens—use stones that are said to contain the convergence of wild spirits that have come into being during the initiation ceremony.

Jay Bernstein argues that shamanism continues to flourish not merely because of tradition, but because it meets real needs for therapy that are not otherwise satisfied. He stresses the exchange of objects in shamanic ceremonies and argues for the relevance of psychology and symbolic and social processes in explaining the identity of shamans. Finally, he situates Taman shamanism in the context of the pluralistic medical system of interior Borneo, which includes the traditions of the nearby Malay Muslims and Iban Dayaks.

Written in a style that will engage the interest of both scholars and beginning students, Spirits Captured in Stone is a valuable contribution to contemporary debates in cultural and medical anthropology; the anthropology of religion, as well as magic and ritual; folklore; and Southeast Asian ethnography.


Jay H. Bernstein, now deceased,published widely on the medicine and ethnobotany of the Taman.


  • Introduction.
  • The Taman People: Their Customs and Social Structure.
  • Therapeutics, Pharmacopoeia, and Medical Pluralism.
  • Explanations of Illness and Their Conceptual Foundations.
  • Becoming a Balien.
  • The Work and Equipment of the Balien.
  • Balienism in Society.
  • Conclusion.