Unknown Mexico, Volume 1 (of 2) eBook

Carl Sofus Lumholtz
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 450 pages of information about Unknown Mexico, Volume 1 (of 2).

These priest-doctors have their specialties.  Some sing only at rutuburi or yumari dances, others only at hikuli-feasts.  A few of them do not sing at all, but are merely healers, although far the greater number also sing at the feasts.  Those who make a specialty of the hikuli cult are considered the greatest healers.  They all conscientiously fast and pray, complying with the demands of the gods, which impose restrictions and abstinence, and they are therefore called “righteous men” (owiruami).  They are the wise men of the tribe; and as rain-makers, healers, and keepers of the heritage of tribal wisdom and traditions, their influence is powerful.

Their services are never rendered gratuitously; in fact, what with the payments they receive from singing at feasts and curing the sick, they generally manage to live better than the rest of the people.  Whenever a shaman is hungry, he goes to the house of some of his well-to-do clients and cures the family, receiving all the food he wants in payment for his efforts, for what would become of the people if the shaman should die?  The Devil would surely take them away at once.  Therefore the best parts of the meat from the animal killed for the feast is given to the shamans, and they generally get all the tesvino they can hold.  In winter time, when numerous feasts are being held, the shamans are nearly all the time under the influence of their native stimulants.  Yet this does not seem to harm them, nor does it in the estimation of the people detract from the efficacy of their singing; the curing is no less potent, even though the doctor can hardly keep from falling all over his patient.  It is always incumbent on the shamans to be peaceful, and they never fight at the feasts.

The singing shamans invariably have a primitive musical instrument, the rattle, with which they beat time to their singing and dancing.  Ordinarily it is made from a gourd filled with pebbles and mounted on a short stick which serves as a handle.  Another kind is made from coarse shavings glued together.  The latter variety is not infrequently decorated with daubs of red or some similar painting.  Sometimes at the feast the shaman, even nowadays, may be seen wearing a head-dress made of the plumes of birds.  Through the plumes the birds are thought to impart all that they know.  Besides, the plumes are supposed to keep the wind from entering the shaman’s body, and thus prevent him from falling ill.

When curing, the shamans may sometimes use rational means.  There is in existence around Norogachic for instance, a kind of sweating-bath, made by placing in a hole in the ground, just large enough for a man to sit in, several hot stones, pouring water on them, and covering them up with branches of the fragrant mountain cedar.  The steam passing through the latter is credited with curative power.

The Indians know several excellent medicinal herbs.  Palo amarillo is a kind of household remedy used extensively in every family.  There are many other highly valued herbs and trees, some of which have a wonderfully refreshing and invigorating aromatic scent.  Headache is cured by a green herb called pachoco, of which they smell until they begin to sneeze.  To cure constipation they boil ari with a grain of salt, or they heat stones and pour water over them and sit over the steam.

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Unknown Mexico, Volume 1 (of 2) from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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