Got a cold? How and why Indonesians trust coin rubbing on their bodies..

Traditions vs. medicine. Who wins?

Prof Johanna of Universitas Indonesia has a piece on how traditions win in Indonesia. People prefer to rub coins on their bodies to the extent it leaves red marks on their bodies:

Coin rubbing is a form of folk medication practised in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian and East Asian countries, such as Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, South Korea and southern China. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the practice is called cao gio and in China gua sha. In Indonesia, this practice is known as kerokan, which comes from the Javanese word meaning to scrape.

Indonesian folk medicine is influenced by a Chinese philosophy of health and illness. Chinese traditional medicine has influenced Southeast Asia since the fifth century.

According to Chinese beliefs, health is a state of spiritual and physical harmony with nature. A healthy body is in a state of balance between yinand yang, which are generally translated as hot (yang) and cold (yin), but these refer to qualities, not temperatures.

In some societies, responses to illness are grounded in a system of beliefs and practices, which have their own logical structure. From a scientific standpoint, beliefs about the source of illness might be irrational, but the treatments are a logical consequence of those beliefs.

In the case of kerokan, Indonesian people believe the practice is done to release excess cold wind which is considered responsible for the illness. In Indonesia the symptoms of the common cold are referred to as masuk angin, which literally translates as “the entrance of wind”.

It is said that the reddish mark symbolises the disappearance of the cold wind from the body. It is not entirely true, as a healthy person will get the same reddish mark if his/her skin is being rubbed. People also believe that if the sick person sweats a lot and lets out a fart, this is a sign of the cold wind leaving the body.

If the skin has recovered from the reddish marks, it is said that the wind has been dispersed. It may take two to three days for the skin to be recovered.

Scientifically, the idea sounds irrational because wind cannot enter or leave the body through the skin. It is also not wind inside the body that is responsible for the illness. However, many people believe in this practice and testify to the efficacy.


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