Indigenous and popular medicine is a cultural field that has gathered positive experiences of hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced, first-hand, the benefits of using herbs and plants. Numerous communities, especially indigenous ones, still apply some of the traditional remedies used by their ancestors.
The ancestral knowledge on medicinal properties of herbs and plants has been collected over hundreds of years, and are a result of trial and error. Indigenous communities have managed to hone their knowledge on which leaves, flowers, stems and peels are most effective.
The same applies with afro caribbean communities, as their remedies and knowledge has been scantility compiled. Such information has been either ignored or misused by allopathic medicine. Most of the remedies known nowadays have been collected by anthropologists - not doctors.
Aloe vera has been used by afro caribbean and indigenous communities alike.
In Costa Rica, little is known about the pre columbian indigenous practices associated with medicine and wellness. This is due to the poor state of some of the bone remains, which is a product of the acidity, precipitation and erosion. As time progressed, archeologists found remains in better conditions and with less ailments. The state of bone remains and their density, specifically, were signs of dietary improvement.
How Indigenous Medicine Works
The Bribri and Cabécar people define sickness as an "ungood state", which correspond to "ke bua" in bribri and "ka boe" in cabécar. This is opposed to a "good state", also known as "bua" in bribri and "boe" in cabécar. Events such as the flu, arthritis and cancer are defined as "ungood" and require a specialist or sukia.
People in "ungood" states petition to be evaluated by a specialist or sukia at twilight. The specialist examines the patient, singing a series of chants that will help determine if the "ungood event" is real. Such chants will also guide the specialist towards a diagnosis, indicating along the way what type of specialist should treat this state.
If there is a positive outcome (meaning, the state has been considered real and has a name), the person is moved to the sukia's place for treatment. This specialist gathers plants and herbs suitable for the diagnostic provided and passes them over and around the person's body. The entire rite involves several steps, and includes the presence of plants, animals and other materials.
Cacao, and all its products, are popular in Afro Caribbean communities for their great benefits on the skin.
The entire ritual lasts until the next morning. The first rays of morning sun on the now restored patient are nothing else than a victory of ancestral knowledge.
On Afro Caribbean Knowledge
When Antillean migrants arrived in Costa Rica, they brought along their knowledge and traditions. One of these traditions was having a "medicine man" or "obeah-man", a person that has certain healing powers. This person, in a similar way to the sukia, had a profound understanding of medicinal plants and herbs.
However, both men and women knew how to apply plants and herbs for everyday ailments. Women, in particular, were the ones who used home remedies or "bush medicine" on a daily basis. One of the most popular forms of medicine was the infusion or teas. Various types of medicine herbs were boiled, diluted, sweetened with raw cane sugar and then drunk several times throughout the day.
African, Antillan and indigenous knowledge and practices began to blend together during the colonial era. A lot of practices, particularly those involving herbal remedies, are still used by a lot of people in the Atlantic area.
Coconut: Fundamental ingredient in skincare and natural remedies.
- Chang, G. (1984) Remedios caseros y comidas tradicionales afrolimonenses. Ministerio de Cultura. Editorial del Ministerio de Educación Pública. San José, Costa Rica.
- Coordinación Educativa y Cultura Centroamericana. "Nuestra Medicina Tradicional". San José, Costa Rica.
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