Understanding health and illness: research at the interface between science and indigenous knowledge

Int J Epidemiol. 2004 Oct;33(5):1138-43. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyh250. Epub 2004 Jun 24.


Indigenous knowledge cannot be verified by scientific criteria nor can science be adequately assessed according to the tenets of indigenous knowledge. Each is built on distinctive philosophies, methodologies, and criteria. While there is considerable debate around their relative merits, contests about the validities of the two systems tend to serve as distractions from explorations of the interface, and the subsequent opportunities for creating new knowledge that reflects the dual persuasions. Maori researchers in Aotearoa/New Zealand have been able to apply the methods and values of both systems in order to reach more comprehensive understandings of health and illness. Two case studies are used to demonstrate how the incorporation of indigenous beliefs into research protocols and measurements can enhance health research and understandings of health and illness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional
  • Middle Aged
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander / psychology
  • New Zealand
  • Research Design