SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico – Traditional medicine is an entrenched practice that has endured despite advances in modern medicine and here in Mexico’s deep south it is still common to find shamans and folk healers.
Antonio Gonzalez Lopez, a Tzeltal curandero (healer), told EFE that he acquired his knowledge and abilities through experience, learning how to interpret the gods’ signs to know what medicinal plants helped cure certain illnesses.
“I started to learn when I was very young. When I was 12 ... my younger brother got sick and my mother didn’t know anything about medicinal plants, so I went out to look for herbs,” Gonzalez said.
Healers are very well respected and solicited in their communities and many of them have provided their services for decades.
The knowledge that healers have gained here allows them to identify more than 250 plant species, with which they help their patients recover from physical or spiritual illnesses.
“Now I have more knowledge, I know about many species of plants. I know about many illnesses, what symptoms are related to each illness and which plants I will give to my patients,” Gonzalez said.
Agripino Iko Bautista, who works at the Mayan Medicine Museum in the state of Chiapas, explained that healing rituals always start with a request and an offering.
“Rituals done here always start with a request, then comes permission and an offering to mother earth,” he said, adding that healers usually carry out their rituals in the mountains or in other places that are considered sacred.
Traditional medicine has slowly been disappearing, although the Chiapas state government has recently put in place several measures to legitimize this practice, including recognizing and certifying healers as herbalists.