Sunday, June 10, 2012

Museum of Mayan Medicine


Arnulfo and three Mayan Crosses
The one place I've been wanting to go, but have only walked past it several times, has been the Museum of Mayan Medicine.  Thinking about it this morning, I thought I'd go over to see if Arnulfo wanted to accompany me. Minutes before walking out the door, the bell rang and it was Arnulfo, wanting to know if I'd like to go to the Museum. As they say, great minds think alike. (Of course we'd discussed doing it earlier in the week....)

It's located north of the Santo Domingo market on Solomon Gonzales Blanco, the road that becomes General Utrilla when it crosses over a nasty little river that is nothing but an open sewer. In many ways, as modern as Mexico is, the infrastructure for such things as sewage treatment is still back in the 1950s.

Getting there means walking past dozens of shops selling everything from veterinary supplies to charcoal briquettes, and a multitude of talleres (workshops) where cars, furniture, and electronics get repaired.

The museum grounds consist of a museum, a workshop and store where the dried herbs and various salves and concentrated concoctions are sold, offices, and gardens where many of the medicinal plants are grown. This is their official (pretty basic) website:  MuseoMedicinaMaya

A Temescal on the museum grounds a sweat lodge or
steam bath, for internal and external cleansing.

It was the first museum in Mexico that I've experienced, where we were offered translated packets in English, German, French, or Japanese. The fellow at the front desk gave each of us a packet of plasticized papers describing the Mayan healers, the ideas behind curing people of various malaise's including losing one's soul, and all the processes involved in curing someone.

There are five healers: the rezador who offers prayers to the mountains and the wind, the pulse reader who knows everything about you based on what she feels in your pulse, the partera is a midwife and doctor for women's afflictions, the huesero fixes bones, and the hierbero uses plants and makes concoctions for healing.

The woman I'm living with now, Margarita, is an American who's been in Mexico for almost twenty years. She fell and broke an ankle. The doctors at the hospital put her foot into a cast and sent her home. It hurt all the time and didn't seem to be healing. She went to a local huesero who took the cast off. Her foot was black and blue, clearly not in any state of health. He manipulated her ankle in ways that were quite painful, used a small glass heated up so that when applied to the skin it sucked up the blood and left red spots all over her foot, then he applied herbs and hot cloths to wrap it. She went back every few days for more treatment and the foot healed up perfectly.

Poster advocating alternatives
to drinking Coca Cola,
drink with conscience.
Thanks to my own experiences with Mexican street medicine (see post: StreetMedicine&IslandViews) I was willing to try a little Mayan cure myself. I've been fighting with a stomach bug that comes and goes, and wondered if they would have a cure, after all, it's a bug they probably have a lot of experience with. Sure enough, in the store, the curandera offered a little bottle of Microdosis Diabetik. Twenty drops, three times a day. She punctured a hole in the tip and I counted twenty drops onto my tongue. At least I think it was about twenty drops - after the first ten or so my tongue had lost all feeling and I could barely swallow that herb flavored turpentine. An hour later, Arnulfo and I had some lunch at our favorite little hole in the wall restaurant and I felt noticeably better, able to eat even a little chile sauce on the quesadilla.

In order to heal someone, a variety of things are put into use: candles of various colors, the Mayan Cross, prayers, incense, flowers, posh (sugar alcohol) and soft drinks. Coca Cola is the most popular because it's dark (that's significant for some reason) and full of bubbles that make you burp, thus expelling evil forces from your body. In Chamula, posh and Coke, plus candles are essential if you want to pray in the church. Naturally, some people overdo the posh part.....

In the museum there is a poster urging people to find an alternative to Coke for many reasons: it makes you fat, weakens your bones, rots your teeth, gives you gastritis so it's better to drink water, and the Coca Cola company is against the assassination of drug dealers!  Inside the display of a typical Mayan church, there is a case of Pepsi to be used in the rituals. Pepsi is the sanctioned alternative? I wonder if PepsiCo advocates the murder of drug dealers.....

The childbirth scene in the museum
The museum features a film about childbirth and shows a woman having a baby. It's an interesting and probably very practical method, not likely to ever be adopted by modern hospitals. The woman kneels in front of her husband who is sitting in a chair and he supports her so gravity assists in the birth. The midwife puts soft belts around her abdomen to apply gentle pressure to push the baby out. The woman still has on her long skirt and the midwife takes the baby out from under the skirt. There are rituals involving the umbilical cord, how to wash the baby properly so it doesn't lose the soul the midwife made for it earlier, and burying the placenta in certain ways to ensure the next baby is a girl or a boy. To assist in a more difficult birth, a chicken might be waved over the mother, or a machete passed around her abdomen in a symbolic Cesarean. A piece of amber is given to the child to protect it from evil eye. Each person also receives a nagual at birth, usually an animal spirit benefactor. Everyone needs a nagual's energy in order to live. As they grow older and the nagual dies, they will receive another. Some people with exceptionally strong healing powers may have up to thirteen naguals at a time. They are not always animals, sometimes a nagual is lightning, the wind, or even a meteor.

The museum has a display and explanation for the use of candles, how they are made, and what the colors signify. Everything in Mayan life has a practical side, and a ritualistic side. The connection between individuals is exceedingly important. Someone can give you the evil eye, be jealous of you and cause all kinds of illnesses, or not take care of you if you are injured and your soul gets left behind in that place.



Inside the temescal.

Typical interior of a Mayan church

People praying before three Mayan crosses


POST NOTE: four days later. I'm feeling much better. Not sure if the drops helped but they certainly did not hinder. A side effect is that horrid medicine shut down my appetite. So I suppose not eating may have starved the little buggers in my gut. I'll keep taking that medicine for a couple more days to see if the problem is really gone or not. The label said no caffeine so the first day without coffee, and the withdrawal headache was worse than the stomach bug ever was. Miserable. Took 24 hours to die down.