The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The Past as Prologue: Changing Disease Ideologies Surrounding HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe


Anthropology, University of South Carolina

Saturday Morning, 200DE Add to calendar

The lion’s share (some 67%) of those currently living with HIV/AIDS resides on the African continent where the advent of the disease has simultaneously challenged as well as undergirded existing explanatory models. Based on interviews with Zimbabwean traditional healers (n=200), archival research, and analysis of secondhand literatureIV/AIDS on the African continent, this poster takes a historical approach to understanding how contemporary conceptions of the disease fit into longstanding explanatory models of disease that are at once material and social. As such, this poster explores changing cultural definitions of illness and disease and, by extension, the individual’s place in society, the human body and its parts, and healing practices. Seen in this way, changing disease ideologies/etiologies surrounding HIV/AIDS emerge from (and respond to) systemic practices and processes of political and economic control and provide interpretations of a rapidly changing world.

Data demonstrate, for example, that healers link HIV/AIDS to past disease outbreaks such as the 1918 influenza pandemic as well as biological warfare during Zimbabwe and South Africa’s battles for independence. The disease has also been linked to historical indigenous afflictions such as runyoka and rukombe—both of which are “sent” sicknesses that require the intervention of traditional healers. Other examples throughout Zimbabwean history will also be discussed. This research suggests ways of identifying disease in the past that integrates multiple lines of evidence—particularly archival and life histories—that may assist bioarchaeologists in cultural interpretations and physical manifestations of disease and disability in the archaeological record.

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