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Illness Is a Weapon
Indigenous Identity and Enduring Afflictions

Author(s): Eirik Saethre

Illness Is a Weapon presents an engaging portrayal of the everyday experience of disease in a remote Australian Aboriginal community. While chronic Aboriginal ill health has become an important national issue in Australia, Saethre breaks new ground by locating sickness within the daily lives of Indigenous people. Drawing on more than a decade of ethnographic research in the Northern Territory, Saethre explores the factors structuring ill health, the tactics individuals use to negotiate these realities, and the ways in which disease and medical narratives are employed to construct, manage, and challenge social relations. Reframing current debates, this book argues that disease and suffering have become powerful expressions of Indigenous identity. Through dialogues and interactions, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people engage in a reciprocal discussion about the past, present, and future of indigeneity.

Rarely are disease and suffering understood as a form of protest, and in Illness Is a Weapon, Saethre confronts the stark reality of the current contest between all parties in this struggle. As Saethre explains, "Cursing at nurses, refusing to take medication, and accepting acute illness as unremarkable are simultaneously acts of defiance and rejections of vulnerability."

Biography of Author(s)

Eirik Saethre is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and author of Illness Is a Weapon: Indigenous Identity and Enduring Afflictions (also published by Vanderbilt University Press).


  • "This fine-grained analysis of an extremely remote Aboriginal settlement in the Northern Territory, Australia, documents the difficulties of improving Indigenous health through educational programs that improve the knowledge of patients and healthcare providers without addressing the underlying conditions fostering ill-health, health disparities, and social inequality. Public health and medical professionals who work with Indigenous people anywhere in the world will learn valuable lessons from this book."
    --Jeffrey Collmann, Director, O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University