Maya Medicine: Traditional Healing in Yucatán

Maya Medicine: Traditional Healing in Yucatán

Maya Medicine: Traditional Healing in Yucatán

This account of the practice of traditional Maya medicine examines the work of curers in Pisté, Mexico, a small town in the Yucatán Peninsula near the ruins of Chichén Itzá. The traditions of plant use and ethnomedicine applied by these healers have been transmitted from one generation to the next since the colonial period throughout the state of Yucatán and the adjoining states of Campeche and Quintana Roo.

In addition to plants, traditional healers use Western medicine and traditional rituals that include magical elements, for curing in Yucatán is at once deeply spiritual and empirically oriented, addressing problems of the body, spirit, and mind. Curers either learn from elders or are recruited through revelatory dreams. The men who learn their skills through dreams communicate with supernatural beings by means of divining stones and crystals. Some of the locals acknowledge their medical skills; some disparage them as rustics or vilify them as witches. The curer may act as a doctor, priest, and psychiatrist.

This book traces the entire process of curing. The author collected plants with traditional healers and observed their techniques including prayer and massage as well as plant medicine, western medicine, and ritual practices. Plant medicine, she found, was the common denominator, and her book includes information on the plants she worked with and studied.

List Price: $ 30.00

Price: $ 30.00

1 Comment so far »

  1. E. N. Anderson said,

    Wrote on February 11, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Great Maya Herb Lore, November 12, 2003
    E. N. Anderson (Riverside, CA USA) –

    This little jewel of a book reports a fine research project on Yucatec Maya medicine in Piste, Yucatan state, Mexico. It’s a short work, marked by excellent and concise data presentation. Dr. Kunow gives fascinating profiles of her curer friends, a brief but neatly done guide to Maya medical wisdom, and a thorough survey of the herbal medicine she found. The only thing wrong here–enough to cost one star (I’d love to give five)–is a lack of real contribution to medical theory and practice. The book will enhance our knowledge of how traditional medicine works (not least because it’s one of the best ethnographies thereof ever published) and will contribute a lot to world medicine if anyone takes the herbal lore seriously, but the author doesn’t do this for us; someone else will have to. This is nothing against Dr. Kunow–one can’t do everything in every book.
    I have been doing similar work in Quintana Roo for some years now, and find fascinating differences and similarities. The general medical belief system is the same. Most of the major herbs are called by the same name and used in the same way. But the less important herbs often have slightly different names and quite different uses. Research by Anita Ankli, Gilberto Balam, and others has turned up such minor local differences all over the Yucatan Peninsula, and even in neighboring villages. Since many of the cures clearly work, often better than drugstore remedies, one wonders why there is so much difference. Lack of communication between local healers seems to be the reason.
    I am always impressed by the extent of Maya knowledge. Kunow records that they know that horses lose their tails when they eat leucaena foliage. I was intrigued when I first heard this one, and checked it out. It’s true. Leucaena contains a chemical, mimosine, which has that effect. Cattle can deal with it better, and don’t lose their hair. This is typical of the incredibly detailed knowledge that the Yucatec have of their environment. I won’t go into the medicine, but suffice it to say that it is superb, and will some day–I hope–produce cures for the world.

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