Body and Soul: An Aboriginal View by W B McGregor

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Extracts from a review by W.B. McGregor in Anthropos 1999 1/3.

This extraordinary book describes the conceptualisation of the human body, soul, and health at the Kukatja people, who now live at Balgo, in the far north of Western Australia. It is without a doubt the best book I have read in the past two decades on any topic concerning Australian Aborigines. Packed with absolutely fascinating and new information, it also makes a challenging read; the effort required is, however, amply rewarded.

The book is aimed primarily at the medical practitioners working in the Aboriginal communities.

To date, this book represents the only attempt to put together an account of the views of an Aboriginal people concerning the body, its functioning, health, medical practices, and the soul or spirit, showing how these fit together as a coherent system of knowledge.

No one else has taken Peile’s step, and enquired into how the entire set of beliefs and practices fits together into a conceptualisation of the person – body and soul.

It is an absolute must for all medical practitioners in Aboriginal communities – though they must be aware that they should not assume specific beliefs will hold beyond the Kukatja. It is also essential reading for all anthropologists and linguists interested in Aboriginal Australia as well as those interested in ethnomedicine and ethnophysiology. I cannot recommend it too strongly.

The work represents the best linguistic and anthropological contributions of missionaries in Australia.

unreservedly agree with Harold Battersby, who remarks in the Foreword that the book ‘will survive criticisms to emerge as a medical anthropological classic’. WB McGregor

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