Andamar Pradipta, M.A.

Modern Medicine vs Local Cultures

You have heard about them, you have heard about their exploits, but do you actually believe in what people say they can do to and for you? The existence of dukuns in Indonesia has been somewhat of a debate: do they actually have the supernatural powers to help us with our health issues? However, this question is only asked by those who live in a social bubble in which the knowledge of modern medicine prevails. In Indonesia, there are some people who still go and see dukuns to help them with their health issues, and this phenomenon baffles those who have spent most of their professional life in the medical sciences community.

In every culture, there are always these figures who belong to the group categorized as ‘witch doctors’ or ‘shamans’. Dukuns are perceived to have been operating within the same domain: respected figures working outside of the healthcare system who cure patients via supernatural means. Although dukuns are believed to also possess the powers to help people with non-health related issues (including but not limited to providing solutions for those who seek economic and political powers), as seen in the case of Kabupaten Aceh Tengah, people in the Gayo community have been hiring dukuns’ services mostly to rid them of their illnesses (Bakti et al., 2018).

In some parts of Indonesia, dukuns are regarded highly within the community due to their extensive knowledge of cures and treatments that have been traditionally used over different generations. A research by Fitriani and Eriyanti (2020) in Dusun Lebak Tenam, Jambi, shows that the dukuns there bear more credibility than health professionals who studied modern medicine. The dukuns of this particular community do not claim to have been using supernatural treatments, but rather those rooted in ‘traditional’ herbal medication. The people within the community there believe that dukuns have more experiences than the midwives as proven by their decades of success in treating the sick. This perception has resulted in the underutilization of modern medicine in Dusun Lebak Tenam. Moreover, dukuns there, for generations, have had cultural bonds with the people as if these dukuns are part of almost every household in Lebak Tenam.

The role of dukuns can never be detached from a society that has socially and culturally embedded dukuns in their members’ lives for generations. Dukun practices are shrouded in cultural contraptions, and this applies to not only how dukuns can still gain their credibility, but also how they acquire the knowledge required to turn themselves as both social and entrepreneurial assets. For a dukun, a prevailing shaman-friendly culture remains their greatest weapon for maintaining their position in the society: a dukun acquires their knowledge either through a learning process or by inheriting it from their parents (Kasniyah, 2002, as cited in Arini et al., 2016), and all of this will not be possible without the ability of one culture to compel its adherents to listen to a dukun.

Discourses in the contemporary world have generally overlooked culture as an important point of discussion, whereas its importance should not be denied (Momir et al., 2015). Governments should no longer look past culture when discussing the development of healthcare. Numerous communities in Indonesia demand a smoother transition in regards to how they handle their health and well-being—between mainly utilizing dukun services to putting more trust in modern medication.

Indonesia International Institute for Life Sciences (i3L) has been at the forefront in leading a revolution in healthcare development. Its top researchers have identified culture as one of the biggest contributing factors in the betterment of the country’s well-being is all-inclusive. Indonesia is a country with a vast array of variations in cultures, and i3L has set out to improve the health of different regions in Indonesia by employing a more cross-cultural approach. A new day is ahead of us, and i3L will be there paving the way for a healthier Indonesia.



Arini, R., Alimi, M., & Gunawan G. (2016). The role of dukun suwuk and dukun prewangan in curing diseases in Kediri community. International Journal of Indonesian Society and Culture, 8(2), 328-338.

Bakti, I., Alwi, A., & Saifullah, S. (2018). Eksistensi dukun di Tanah Gayo. Jurnal Sosiology USK, 12(2), 111-127.

Fitriani, N. & Eriyanti, F. (2020). Relasi pengetahuan dan kekuasaan dukun dalam pengobatan tradisional pada masyarakat dusun Lubuk Tenam Kecamatan Jujuhan Ilir Kabupaten Bungo Provinsi Jambi. Jurnal Riset Tindakan Indonesia, 5(1), 27-35.

Momir, B., Petroman, I., Constantin, E., Mirea, A., & Marin, D. (2015). The importance of cross-cultural knowledge. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 197(2015), 722-729.


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