What does healing look like in the context of Afro-indigenous traditions? Within the Christian colonial framework, healing is sometimes conceptualized as an end-point, something we achieve through medical, religious or psychological or other kinds of interventions. You are ill, then you are no longer ill. You are healed, cured, or saved. But what happens when salvation, cure or perfect health is neither desired nor achievable? What happens when the conditions with which you live are permanent? When the conditions in which your family lives are permanent? Or when change is not an end-point, but rather, a cycle of deepening and growing and expanding? What if all we have is the set of tools, herramientas, with which we can do our best to achieve our destines?
There are many powerful theoretical and theological questions that emerged from our conversations with our elders.
The first set of relationships we had to untangle were those between the living and the living, the living and the dead, the living and the ancestors, the living and the elementals, the dead and the ancestors, the dead and the elementals, the ancestors and the elementals – and then all of these in relationship to creation itself.
The second set of relationships we had to attempt to understand were the relationships between people and place, people and land, people and waters, people and plants, people and animals, and the broader relationships between peoples (pueblos).
The third set of relationships we had to untangle in our own understandings of “healing” was a healer’s relationship to the body, to health, to illness, to life and to death. Each of these relationships have detailed theological and cultural frameworks that challenge what we understand our “being” to be. Sometimes, illness is not located in the physical body, but rather within a set of ill relationships between the living and the dead. Sometimes, envy is enough to produce a health crisis. But what is envy? Is it an energy? A spirit? A being? The answer to that depended on the healer.
Then, and only then, could we begin conversations about how to help someone recover from hepatitis, or another elder’s work to stop sexual violence, or approaches to mediating mental illness and pain. In one case, a headache was explained to us as a block that was produced by a lack of light to the person’s crown. This lack of light was produced by the person being surrounded by those who did not wish them well, by envious people, by people with poor intentions. In another case, mental illness – severe depression – was explained to us as a person having their “head robbed,” and was remedied through a misa espiritistain which the dead and ancestors intervened to locate the person who had caused the harm. Tuberculosis was explained as a bacteria, but the bacteria had penetrated the lungs not by physical exposure, but rather because the person’s spirit was debilitated. To remove the tuberculosis from the body, the person had to prepare a concoction withhojas machucadasand milk, every day, but also receive healing at the hands of the curandera who had provided the original diagnosis and treatment. That healing included prayer over the person’s body, and a constant vigilance over their herbal preparations. A woman’s case of syphilis, it was explained, is treatable with a botella (a combination of herbs), but only if the person also prays to Santa Marta to help her conquer the ill wishes sent to her via her sexual partners. These are only some of the stories we heard.
Here, we provide some brief glimpses into our elders’ worlds, glimpses that we understand lead into other ways of being and knowing.
Who We Are
Luis Fidel and Adela heal their community with herbal medicines and prayer.
Daniela prepares botellas with herbs that cure many ailments, including syphilis.
Doña Lydia is a leader of the peasant’s movement that shares traditional uses of plants.
Tuwaliri Paketzalli has recreated a medicinal forest in her mountain home.
Abbebe Oshun offers people multiple healing modalities in her home.
Milady and Amelia are keepers of the regla de osha and palo monte tradition.
Jannes Martinez opens ground for regla de osha in Seattle.
Myrna and Raheni share herbal and traditional medicine in the islands and the U.S