Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Healing
How can traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing nourish your soul?
Ngangkaṟi Healing is a form of traditional Aboriginal healing which addresses a person’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing to bring harmony to the body. Healers use touch and listening to understand a person’s state of being, and techniques involving massage, breath, ceremony and traditional plants or mixtures to release blockages and heal ailments.
Indigenous Aboriginal people are the oldest known civilisation on earth, and traditional Aboriginal healing has a similarly rich and lengthy history. Rooted in the Indigenous belief system, Ngangkaṟi Healing understands that sickness has a spiritual component, which means they approach healing from a holistic perspective and utilise healing techniques not known to Western medicine. Some of the main techniques for healing include pampuni (a touch or massage technique), bush medicine, smoking ceremonies and spirit realignment.
Some traditional medical settings in South Australia and Central Australia are beginning to invite Ngangkaṟi Healers to work alongside doctors in their hospitals. In South Australia, the Mental Health Act 2009 recognises the importance of Ngangkaṟi Healers and specifies that mental health services for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people can “when practicable and appropriate, involve collaboration with health workers and traditional healers from their communities”.
The Ngangkaṟi are the traditional healers Anangu of the Western Desert in Central Australia, which includes the Pitjantjatjara, Ngaanyatjarra and Yankunytjatjara peoples’. 'Ngangkaṟi' means healer in the Pitjantjatjara language, with healers born into this ability through ancestral lines and healing knowledge passed down through the generations.
The Aṉangu Ngangkaṟi Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (ANTAC) is the first organisation of Aboriginal traditional healers in Australia, and it makes Ngangkaṟi Services accessible to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. All members are accredited through a strict accreditation process in accordance with Ngangkari’s Law that is at the core of the Ngangkaṟi’s traditional medical knowledge system, and listed in the Register of Ngangkaṟi. The Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women's Council (NPYWC) is another body that facilitates the provision of Ngangkaṟi Healing services in local communities, clinics and hospitals.
Benefits of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing is strongly focused on connection to Country and embedded in the rich diversity of local cultural practice across Australia. It differs widely, depending on varieties of bush medicine available, technique and name by local language groups.
While there are no scientific studies of Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island healing, it is increasingly being accepted by the mainstream healthcare system as a complementary and alternative medicine.
For instance, ANTAC now offers its services in regional clinics and at South Australia’s Royal Adelaide Hospital. In those clinics, some who have used Ngangkaṟi Healing for pain management have reported relief from their symptoms. An additional benefit of having Ngangkaṟi Healers in hospital settings is their ability to help Aboriginal people feel more at ease in a medical establishment. Akeyulerre Healing Centre in Alice Springs provides bush rubs and other free healing treatments to their communities, subsidised by their collection and sale of bush medicines to the wider public.
Healers work under their own unique names and techniques based on language groups, bush medicines available and local conditions.
Due to their understanding of the spirit-body connection, Ngangkaṟi Healers specialise in treating psychological issues, and some have reported a release from fear and a sense of being 'brand new' after treatment. Two Ngangkaṟi healers were recognised in 2009 by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and in 2011 by the World Council for Psychotherapy for their contributions to mental health in the Aboriginal communities of Central Australia.
Ngangkaṟi Healers accept the role of Western medicine, and some see it as the responsibility of Western systems to treat problems brought about by European settlement and not previously known to Indigenous communities – such as those caused by diets high in processed sugar and flour. Their focus is to treat people suffering from mental distress or physical conditions such as knee pain, repetitive strain injuries, joint pain, trauma, and pregnancy-related issues.
Apart from mental and physical conditions, a key benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing is its ability to help Indigenous people right their spirit and reconnect with their culture, which is the lifeblood of their spiritual being. These healing modalities are increasingly being offered to those outside local communities.
Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island healing may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Back pain
- Joint issues
- Mental health
- Neck pain
- Pain relief
- Pregnancy, birth and antenatal support
- PTSD and trauma
- Shoulder and elbow issues
- Stress and tension
- Tennis elbow and repetitive strain injury (RSI)
What to expect from a Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing session
The assessment process for a Ngangkaṟi healing session is very different from a traditional medical examination. Instead of simply assessing the site of the problem, the Ngangkaṟi healers are likely to assess your whole body. Unlike traditional medical examinations which rely largely on your narration of the problem, Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healers will also observe, listen and use touch to assess the issue.
This will allow them to determine whether there are blockages in your body that are contributing to the presenting condition, and use techniques such as massage, rubbing, blowing or bush medicine to treat the issue. Your healer may also speak to you of emotional or spiritual blockages they are perceiving, as Ngangkaṟi healers understand that mental and physical disorders may be due to the spirit being out of alignment, which can occur due to trauma.
People who have received Ngangkaṟi healing often describe themselves as feeling lighter, stronger and happier after their healing session.
As with any traditional and complementary medicine, it is always advisable to consult a medical professional before commencing any treatment. If you have an injury or an underlying health issue, speak to your Ngangkaṟi healer, who will be happy to address these concerns and personalise the treatment session to your individual situation.