Morality, Illness, and Organization
The intrinsic organization of understandings focused around balance is not limited to those concerned with the body and its functioning. It is also found for understandings concerning social morality. A key requirement of proper social relationships is that they be balanced. This balance, like the one in the body, results from different but complementary contributions from the elements in the processes of interest.
The idea that there are important connections between understandings concerning misfortune, including illness, and the values held in the sufferers' group is well established (e.g., Douglas 1975:22–24). In the classical formulation, misfortune is experienced by those who suffer it in terms of the value system of their group (Weber 1922). The classical study of this in anthropology is, of course, Evans-Pritchard's (1937) study of the Azande. His central point is that an explanation of misfortune based on the physical facts alone is considered incomplete by the Azande, despite their being fully alive to natural causation. For them, the moral system embodied in the understandings about witches and their doings is essential to any such explanation.
The type of connection between the Swahili views about illness and their views about an area of considerable moral concern, that is, social relationships, is quite different from the Azande. For the Swahili, the occurrence of a type of misfortune, illness, is not caused by evildoers as it is for the
Azande. Instead, understandings from one domain of morality are related to understandings about an unrelated type of misfortune, illness, by a shared emphasis on a common desideratum: balance.
My objective here is to show how this cultural organization actually works and to examine the part it plays in the continuing ability of the various understandings involved to guide behavior. Only the herbal doctors and a relatively few serious amateurs share the understandings about body functioning. Nevertheless, it will be shown that, like the unshared medical understandings themselves, the connection between understandings about what is proper in social life and about the body's functioning affect most or all of the group's members.