The science of medicine has been developed in all civilizations to preserve health and life. Its evolution required long processes of experimentation with the properties of natural elements and in this way identifying cures for each illness.
In the Akateko, Chuj, and Q’anjob’al nations, situated in the northern department of Huehuetenango, as in the whole of the Maya territory, the majority of this ancestral medical knowledge has been preserved. This includes various specialties: the use of plants, animals, fruits, rocks as well as physical therapy, hydro therapy and therapeutic touch, amongst others.
There has been much lost from these disciplines, but at the limits of western science, this ancestral knowledge begins, and in various spaces there is a combination of both. For example, in Jolom Konob, the capital of the Q’anjob’al Maya Nations, known now as the municipality of Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, there is a birth house in one of the communities that includes services using modern and ancestral technology.
This is why Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim’s health project in Maya Territory will not only bring western doctors to underserved indigenous communities in Northwestern Guatemala, but will also promote the use of Maya medicine along with western medicine. Through centuries of colonization, indigenous medicine has been disparaged, and its practitioners persecuted. Yet it continues to thrive.
And in fact, in Q’anjob’al, Chuj and Akateko territory, ancestral medicine has seen a new resurgence because of the increase in illnesses among vulnerable populations and the absence of the state in attending to them. Each mother and father in each home knows how to cure at least ten illnesses or disorders with natural elements. They also know community members, Mayan doctors, who have received their wisdom from their parents and ancestors, and who offer their services to the community.
In addition, seven out of ten births in this region are attended to by indigenous midwives, called comadronas or parteras, while only two out of ten decide that they need a hospital and one out of ten, a doctor. This reality shows how crucial this ancient medical knowledge is and how much confidence people in this region have in it.
The COVID-19 pandemic in many ways has been a mirror that has shown people the fact that the Guatemalan state is in no condition to attend to basic needs, and people have found themselves abandoned in an incredibly difficult situation. As infections in the region began to rise, from the people came a proposition–using a combination of medicinal plants to treat and survive this new and unknown illness, like people survived measles, smallpox and other endemic diseases.
The Plurinational Government of the Akateko, Chuj and Q’anjob’al people worked with the Health Ministry to put together a manual of how to treat mild cases of COVID-19 using plants and foods that most people could easily access.
This ancestral knowledge, especially of medicine, is fundamentalto save lives and strengthening it is imperative because it is the only way to ensure the health of people in this isolated region. Will you support our work to preserve this knowledge, combine it with western medicine and bring it to thousands? We can’t do it without you. Please consider donating today.