Where do we go from here?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

La Curandera, Part One

In my post yesterday about my afternoon at the Biopark, I mentioned the Curandera's Garden. This bas relief is the centerpiece of that garden, and one of my favorite elements in the Biopark landscape. It shows the Doña arriving at a household laid low by illness, being welcomed by the very worried Señora of the house, showing her where the patient waits. The Curandera is laden with bundles and bags containing the healing items, plants, and herbs of her trade.

So then, who is she, this woman laden also, as her face tells us, with the burden of her years, the sorrows and ills she has seen and cured, or not, during her life?  She is the the Hispanic American version of what in medieval Europe or Colonial New England would have been called a witch, has been and is still, in other societies, known as a shaman. She is a traditional healer, of both bodies and souls, called upon to treat both physical and spiritual maladies. She uses medicinal plants, herbs, and flowers, which she grows herself in rural areas, or anywhere she can have a plot of land.  In cities or towns she may purchase her materials at a botánica,  stores that sell medicinal herbs and items used in folk traditions like curanderismo, santería, macumba, still alive and well in contemporary North American areas with Latino and/or Caribbean populations. The curandera of early New Mexican tradition in the Biopark sculpture would have had an extensive garden containing such plants as the wild datura, maguey, prickly pear, various sages, apache plume, ocotillo, agaves, mints, uña de gato, buffalo gourd, mallows, indian tobacco, and many more. She would have grown, harvested, dried and prepared them herself or with her daughters.  Her patients would have suffered from bodily ailments, such as heart disease, gout, diabetes, menstrual pain, pregnancy complications, or from diseases of the spirit, such as depression, mal de ojo (the evil eye), susto (fright or most likely, panic attacks). or grief. For these spiritual maladies she might perform a limpia, a ritual cleansing of the soul to rid it of "lingering clouds" and "festering wounds" from the many slings and arrows of human life experience.

One of New Mexico's most popular native writers is Rudolfo Anaya, and his most popular book is his first, a novel called Bless Me, Ultima. It is the story of a young boy, Antonio, whose 1940's childhood and spiritual development is greatly influenced by a curandera known as Ultima who comes to live with his family in rural New Mexico. The link I've given here has an extensive summary of the book, but if you can find it outside of the Southwest, I advise that you simply read the book itself. Curanderísmo has never gone underground in Latin America, and in these days of expensive medical insurance/ care and waves of immigration from the south is thriving all over the USA. This article by Patricia Rivera from the Wilmington News Journal, Curanderas Offer Traditional Help, gives an interesting glimpse into how the ever-growing Latino population of Delaware is using Curandísmo instead of, or as a supplement to, modern Western medicine.

Although I have a wealth of further information and thoughts about this subject, instead of letting this turn into another of those lengthy posts that no one reads, I'm going to close out this first chapter, and return to Las Curanderas tomorrow. In the meantime, benditos sean. 

Post Script, March 1. 2010 - I really am going to continue writing about curanderísmo.  My research has gotten out of control, and I'm well on my way to a fullblown article,  maybe a Master's thesis. Gotta decide what I'm doing here.

No comments: