Holiday in New Mexico

New Mexico Folk Medicine

As a condition of New Mexico’s centuries-old isolation from New Spain, selfreliance became the traditional way people of that region understood healing and ritual. The most notable outgrowth of this self-sufficiency was the reliance on traditional healers, or curanderos. Usually women (curanderas), these traditional healers combined knowledge of locally available herbs with a spiritualized approach to physical healing. Many of these skills were learned or adopted by genizaro or Pueblo Native Americans, and then adapted to the Spanish context or combined with potential knowledge of broader curandero traditions from Mexico. In either case, curanderas then and now have viewed physical ailments not as merely corporeal but also as spiritual corruptions or imbalances; as a result, cures performed by curanderas have always attempted to diagnose the underlying psychic or spiritual reason for illness.

In addition to a long-standing reverence for curanderas, which remains today, other folk healers were given particularly important roles in New Mexico. Midwives (parteras) were especially important in a region that had always had a traditional shortage of physicians. Herbal specialists also received wide esteem. The cultural traditions of folk remedies and folk healers are given a beautiful depiction in Adolfo Anaya’s classic novel, Bless Me, Ultima.

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