Buenas Tardes dear reader. It is now 4:30 pm on Monday and it seems I have been on my feet the entire day except to eat lunch. As I told you before we did have a later start today. It was 10:00 am when most of us set out on foot to walk (some of us took a taxi) about 2 kilometers to visit the Center for the Development of Mayan Medicine (CEDEMM) which is overseen by the organization OMIECH, the Organization of Indigenous Doctors of the State of Chiapas. This center includes a museum, a medicinal plant garden and a pharmacy. It also includes a small chapel/place of healing where Maya healers can meet with people who come for healing.
The purpose of this center is to revive and honor traditional Mayan medicinal practices, recognizing them as legitimate healing methods and remedies. We learned about traditional indigenous Maya healers: Pulsars, Elders who pray, Midwives, Bone Healers, and Herbalists. We were so fortunate to meet Victorio, a healer who was at the center, and he graciously allowed us to ask a few questions. He told us how someone becomes a healer in a Maya community through a series of dreams that begin when one is a young child. The dream reoccurs when the person is a teenager and again when they are an adult. We asked what sort of dreams a healer has and he told us that the dream is of a person who comes them bringing tools of healing; candles, pine needles, and incense. This dream is a mandate and when one decides to listen to the dream and become a healer it is a lifelong commitment of healing for the communities. Victorio was 72 years old and had been a healer for 52 years. He is a mountaintop priest, a pulsor and an herbalist. Victorio told us that the dream to be a healer is a spiritual calling that comes through God, Jesus and the Saints.
There are 15 indigenous communities that are members of OMIECH. To be a member, the community must have an organic medicinal garden and must have a healer in the community.
In 1998 CEDEMM was working with some research organizations from the U.S. to possibly commercialize these traditional Maya medicines and to participate in a study to discover new medicines. The Center was in the process of trying to decide if this move would benefit the indigenous community or simply make the medicines too expensive for the people to obtain. Rather than wait for a solution, the research organizations simply went ahead and began enlisting indigenous communities to grow herbs to use for their own experimenting. They convinced the communities to ban CEDEMM and then began a battle over patents which lasted over two years. CEDEMM was able to stop them from continuing, but the legal action depleted the funds that were set aside for moving forward. This situation has also damaged the trust between the indigenous communities and CEDEMM.
Dear reader, this is one more part of the struggle for the indigenous communities to maintain their culture and life. I see this set back as one more effect that the dominant culture has on indigenous culture which, intentionally or not, serves to ignore its value and deserved place in our world.
Amigos, I must fly again. Again, this post spans two days! It is now 8:50 am on Tuesday! I still need to tell you about yesterday afternoon and especially about yesterday evening when we met with one of our dear friends and mighty poet who is committed to la lucha and expressed more hope than I have ever seen. Today we are off to visit Comitan, and archeological site and then to hopefully meet some women potters.