Within the Caribbean historical heritage, the folklore of popular medicine — with its curative and healing practices — has an inescapable cultural identity. Its reverberation is often one of the unifying factors in the region, despite its cultural makeup forged from a diversity of races, languages and customs. Natural medicine — also called curanderismo — arose from the migrant populations and their practices, but also from the mixture of their legends, fantasies and realities.
Its origins were ancestral practices based mainly on herbal medicine and the wisdom passed down orally from generation to generation. It was believed that the healers had a divine gift for curing illness through the use of herbs, massages and mystic rituals. The healers, supported by prayers and spells, had the ability to bring the body into balance and improve the health of almost any patient.
The central theory of this curative practice is that a higher power put all of the curative herbs on earth and selected certain people to channel this healing grace. This healing art is part of Caribbean tradition like other curative practices, such as spiritualism, mysticism, the carvings of saints and spiritualists. The most popular among these were the herbalists, the midwives and the massagers.
Although the various curative practices use different methods, there is a generalized tendency to believe that the illness forms on the exterior and penetrates the man or woman in the form of a spirit. The healer’s work is to try to cleanse the affected person. Similarly, African-American religions present the concept of illness in which the magical world has enormous sway. For example, illness and death, especially for young people, is not seen as a natural part of life, but as something that is done to the ill person to cause him harm.
According to specialists, the healer listens to the patient’s problems and his or her reputation is based on considering psychological and moral aspects, as well as the physiological, to provide concrete solutions to situations in everyday life. Healers provide their consultations in a room set aside for that use, and although they generally do not charge for consultations, they do charge for certain services. In all cases, most people pay them something because the healers are usually heads of family and are treated with great consideration and respect.
Within the practice there is confusion about the term brujo. In popular use, the word has various meanings. On one hand, it can mean simply “healer,” but in can also include the possibility of one who manipulates reality from a position of power, which can have negative effects for those involved.
Through the writings of Christian priests, we know that the Taino peoples on the larger islands of the Caribbean were the first practitioners of healing rituals that included the consumption of hallucinogenic plants and powders to achieve the spiritual visions associated with the healing arts.
Today, thermal baths, algae treatments, the use of herbs and botanical oils, animal sacrifices, spiritualism and other rituals share the ways of healing arts with ancient roots.
Author: Dalila Rodríguez
Published: May 20, 2012.
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