Medicine Men, Machetes and Centuries of Healing (Op-Ed)
Mark Plotkin, President, Amazon Conservation Team | April 08, 2014 02:43am ET
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What’s wrong with your foot?” asked the medicine man as I ducked into his grass hut to escape the tropical downpour. He could see that I walked with a slight limp.
Like many an aging athlete, I had injured myself while training for a hike. I knew I had to condition myself to be able to walk 50 miles carrying a backpack at 9,000 feet. So strenuous was the training that I hurt my foot and had to hobble into the offices of physicians, orthopedists and chiropractors — in short, anyone who might heal my affliction. I tried massage, ice packs, heating pads and whirlpool baths. I took aspirin, ibuprofen, anti-inflammatories, prescription pain pills and a cortisone injection in search of relief. The pain was reduced to the point where it became bearable, and I completed the hike. But I felt my injury every step of the way. In the ongoing debate over the enormous health-care costs in the United States, Americans can learn much by looking southward at the tropical American countries where shamans reside and practice their healing.
Like physicians, shamans are not infallible and vary in abilities. I knew this shaman — Amasina of the Trio tribe in southern Suriname — to be a master of his craft. He looked up from a fire he was stoking, over which he was boiling local herbs in a battered old aluminum pot. The smell of the plant potion filled the dwelling as I entered. Amasina wasted no time on pleasantries, even though he had not seen me for almost a year.
“Take off your shoe,” he ordered, and I complied. He examined my foot carefully, and then issued another order: “Give me your machete!”
I removed the machete from my belt and passed it to him. With one clean stroke, he sliced a fuzzy fern off the bark of a nearby palm tree, carried it back to the hut and threw it directly into the flames. After less than a minute, the shaman snatched the fern from the fire and applied it to the base of my foot, causing me to howl with pain.
When both my foot and the fern had cooled, however, the pain had disappeared. He then threw the fern in another pot of water, warmed it over the fire, and had me drink the entire potion.
The pain in my foot went away. And for seven months, there was no pain. Then I returned to the jungle for another successful treatment.
To some, the term “shaman” may conjure up images of tricksters more than healers. But authentic shamans are masters of a sacred craft, living repositories of centuries of therapeutic wisdom.
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Would you say that the “First World” suffers from the hubris of thinking we know it all?
How little we do know!
I watched my late wife suffer and die while the “modern medic men” had no clue.
One of the docs has the humility to say to me after she passed: “Case like Ev’s, remind me how little I know.”
And, I realized we don’t know what we don’t know.
I ofter cite the JoHari window. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window So when I face a problem with someone, I first seek to find out what they “see” and then wonder what is in Quadrant Four — the stuff that neither of us “sees”.
One wonders how much these shamans know that could help and save.
Humbles me to think of that.
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