Staying in a small village in Bali afforded such a great window into the beautiful culture and traditions. Every day on a walk a Balinese lady would whizz past me on a bike or scooter, or sometimes just walking with a lot more purpose than me on holidays! She would always be carrying glass bottles of what looked like orange and yellow concoctions and I was intrigued to find out what these were. I had never seen anything like the brightly coloured bottled being taken around villages every day.
Of course these are the famous “Jamu healers” – women in each village or neighbourhood who make and deliver Jamu for their communities. There are men who sell Jamu too but traditionally they may only sell to men to avoid the embarrassment of talking about women’s health! The healers are actually so much more than just a Jamu seller, their religion and massage also hold a high place in their approach to health and held in great esteem within Balinese culture. The Balinese believe illness and disease is caused by imbalance. Unlike a western medicine that might kill an infection, Jamu works over a longer period of time to build up the immune system and correct ‘imbalances’ that lead to disease. This is why these traditional medicines have very few side effects.
Jamu actually refers to herbal medicines made usually by grinding roots, barks, seeds and fruits of plants to offer relief from a great many ailments. This is why not every Jamu will be the same colour or have the same ingredients. They are made to suit different ailments and illnesses.
Jamu recipes have been handed down from grandmothers and mothers to daughters for centuries and recipes vary slightly amongst different families and regions. A Jamu recipe and a box containing a selection of herbs and spices is also a prized wedding gift. The most common base ingredients are of course turmeric and ginger. Given the awesome everyday health benefits of these herbs most Balinese take at least this form of Jamu every day. The Jamu healer might be asked to help someone with other ailments so she makes a Jamu recipe according to this knowledge. The Jamu healer is a wise person and young women have long Jamu ‘apprenticeships’ – you can imagine it takes almost a lifetime to build up a knowledge like this!
One of the most important Jamu deliveries is to a woman after the birth of her child. Jamu is also a common gift for a new mother as it has wonderful healing properties that are believed to support milk supplies, healing of the birth canal, contraction of the uterus and give the new mother energy! This time after birth is seen as a sacred healing time for 4-6 weeks to support the mothers natural healing process.
When I think about Mothers Day, I am reminded of the roles of women like the Jamu healers from my experiences in Bali and other traditional cultures. In Western society we have been de-valuing these nurturing roles handed down through the generations and it has made us loose touch with our own health, family and community. The Jamu healers are wonderful examples of how women have been nurturing their entire communities and it’s something we should be thankful for every day, especially on Mothers Day!
That doesn’t mean to say all women are born nurturers – just like not every woman in Bali is the Jamu healer. But we can place more value on nurturing ourselves, our family, our mothers (and I don’t just mean our own mothers here but respecting the time of pregnancy and birth for all mothers) and our communities. Let’s value the nurturers in our lives every day, like we value our daily Jamu! It may not be our own mother who nurtures us, but if it is – why not thank her and nurture her back!