Maya Medicine

The Museo de la Medicina Maya is located in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas. On Avenida Salomón González Blanco 10 this site is marked by an arch leading into what appears to be a small hamlet. The area is populated with indigenous Tzotzil Maya. This museum catalogues methods used by the Tzotzil people and includes an open pharmacy where tourists and locals can still purchase herbal cures for most benign illnesses. These illnesses include stomach aches, ear aches, diarrhea, and other common ailments associated with daily living in Mexico.

Tzotzil Maya had five categories of medical specialization. These included: A Pulsador, Rezador de Los Cerros, Huesero, Partera, and a Hierbero.[1] One could compare the pulsador to our American EMT. The key part of this word is pulse. They took the pulses and diagnosed their patients for further treatment.[2] The pulsador would also comfort the sick. Pulsadores learned to read pulses and analyze their patient’s heartbeats to diagnose them. The Rezador de Los Cerros, or H-men, ask the Earth for its spiritual healing powers to cure the sick with the herbs it produces. H-men act as both priests and botanists, learning all aspects of the nature around them to cure the sick. Their specialties lie mostly in treating headaches, stomaches, and other aches and pains.

H-men diagnose through Baraja playing cards to show them what caused the patient’s illness. They use a process called Yupe which is comparable to the Chinese acupuncture technique to cleanse their patients of bad energy. A viper tooth is taken and pressed into specific points on the body and blood is drawn to release the bad fluids from the body. Don Gallo, one of the last modern H-men, explains how these methods were passed on from ancient Maya medicine.[3] Hueseros, from their definition, perform bone setting for their patients.[4] They function as helpers for patients who experience bodily injury. Hueseros believe that physical contact provides them with direct knowledge of their injuries.[5] Parteras attend to women’s reproductive health like a modern gynecologist.[6] These different categories are the result of knowledge gathered through oral tradition and the conquest. It is a known fact that medical traditions were also gathered in the various colonies created during the conquest.[7] This fact guides our understanding of the Maya medical tradition in the present day.

Maya medicine greatly benefited from the plethora of species available in the Yucatan. Chiapas is home to around 1,600 species of medicinal plants used in traditional Maya medicine.[8] Tzotzil medical specialists also used animals and insects for medicinal purposes. Some of the animals processed include the Colibri, Abeja, Ardilla, Araña negra, and Armadillos. Plants are categorized based on their name, location, uses, preparation, administration, and a list of other ingredients that the patient should not consume after ingesting or applying the medicine.