“Shamanism” or Ancestral Medicine: Colombia’s Controversial Culture Over Health Reform


When Martha arrives at the office, the first thing she does is water the plants. When she inquired about the services of the Bosa Victim Assistance Center in southwestern Bogota, she greeted Herbs before anyone interrupted her. “I love them, I care for them, I talk to them,” she says. Martha Renteria is a healer and midwife. These terms have recently sparked controversy in Colombia after it was announced that some lineages of ancestral medicine would be included in health policy reforms proposed by the Gustavo Petro government.

In response to a petition put forward by liberal Senator Alejandro Carlos Chacón, outgoing Health Minister Carolina Colcho indicated the same. It was one of her last acts during her tenure. Issues raised in parliament over the president’s reform agenda resulted in the dismissal of six of her other ministers from their positions during her second major reform of the Petro government.

References to “shamanism” have unsettled some opponents of reform, fueled memes, and become fertile ground for rumors. “Massage therapists instead of orthopedic surgeons who attend broken bones, or veterinarians for open heart surgery. A mad asylum,” said opposition lawmaker Maria Fernanda Cabal. He is one of the most prominent politicians allied with former President Alvaro Uribe’s project.

The debate may be in the public eye now, but it’s nothing new. In fact, experts say it’s virtually obsolete. In 1978, when the World Health Organization issued the Alma-Ata Declaration on Primary Health Care, the importance of including traditional and indigenous knowledge in the health care system was established. These forms of knowledge, which have nothing to do with alternative medicine, such as homeopathy, floral essences and bioenergy, were the primary forms of medicine long before the spread of Western medicine around the world. Their practitioners continue to care for people in remote areas.

“This is a global call. In the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it is already a constitutional mandate. I think Colombia lacks that,” said a doctor at the University of Rosario and a modern Western says German Zuluaga, who has made a career of combining medicine and ancestral practices.

“The issue is being discussed in a really fundamental way, from superficial political explanations. on the other hand, to promote the 2014 decree that established an obligation to recognize traditional indigenous systems,” says Zuluaga. Currently in Colombia, five Indigenous Health Promotion Companies (EPSI) are working with communities to develop intercultural care models.

Zuluaga says he was once skeptical too. He was trained in classical Western medicine, and upon completing his studies, he was sent for an internship in Caqueta, the gateway to the Amazon rainforest. There he met an indigenous healer and doctor. “It was a big surprise, because I gradually realized that he was very proficient in medicine, even though I had doubts about his knowledge. understood and accepted [traditional] Medicine is very wise and deeply knowledgeable. ”

That unexpected encounter marked the rest of his professional life. He led a research group at the University of Rosario, scientifically proving the efficacy of many traditional remedies. It is.”

Zuluaga’s doctoral dissertation shows that asthmatics who were forced to use inhalers for years by Western medical technology were cured in months by traditional medicine. Western medicine excels when it comes to surgery, hip replacements, heart transplants, and serious accidents, but it is very limited when it comes to managing chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and osteoarthritis. Patients with psychiatric problems do not find good answers in Western medicine.”

He points out that these patients are treated with medications that they must take every day, leading to a serious public health problem of overmedication. The National Pharmacology Symposium said on the issue: And everyone is prescribed the same treatment.

But critics of the former minister have asked how the government can regulate the customs of their ancestors. How can traditional doctors be distinguished from charlatans? However, it is not specified that the 2014 decree already sets the rules of the game through the creation of the Indigenous System of Intercultural Health (SISPI).

Kilombos, the beginning of a hybrid model

Since 2014, Bogotá’s ancestral medical model has given us a hint of how traditional practices work in the institutional context. District Health Secretary and physician Alejandro Gómez said this coexistence can only be achieved through respect and recognition. “Given the challenges we face, we cannot pretend that there is only one kind of knowledge and only Western doctors know about healing.”

Regarding certification, Gómez explains: You cannot request a degree certificate that does not exist. We meet with traditional authorities. Only those whom the community recognizes as midwives, as ancestral physicians, can participate in this kind of community health system,” he says. “Of course there is the risk of hoaxes, but so is Western medicine.”

In this regard, he says, Bogota has made great strides. Of those, he is classified as 32 ancestral physicians, 25 midwives, 39 community his managers, and 29 medical technicians. ”

Perhaps the most representative model of ancestral medicine in the city is the quilombo, a center where people can receive treatments based on traditional Afro knowledge. The first to be put into operation was Quilombo Nyala Sharay, where Martha Renteria waters the plants. She rests only when she notices that “her daughters” are beginning to give off her scent which indicates to her that she is now satisfied.

The strong scent of chlorophyll greets visitors. Here, Rentería prepares the oils, pills, and her ancestral concoctions that she prescribes. Instrumental music from the Pacific Ocean is heard in the background and the sound of the marimba prepares the patient to begin the healing process.

Martha Renteria waters medicinal plants that she uses to treat various ailments.Natalia Angarita

“80 to 85 percent of the people we serve here are victims of conflict,” says Martha. “You hear everything. [a kind of energy cleansing]Then the body, medicinal plants, vaporization, bathing, and Marinillo [a natural ovule] Make her feel good, because rape does a lot of internal damage. These are traces that never go away. ”

“The good thing about this Kirobo is that we are scholars. For example, we look for the cause of disease. Every illness has an emotional cause, so find that cause,” she says. These experiences led her to develop new concepts. It’s an “ethno-psycho-ancestral,” a mixture of Afro-medicine, botanicals, and listening in which she seeks to provide holistic treatments for her patients. A University of Javeriana psychology student doing an internship in Kimbo documented in a paper how the center helped improve the lives of victims of the conflict.

“War makes you sick,” says Martha. “You want me to listen, I want you to listen patiently. That’s what my students do on Thursdays and Fridays. Then I clean them up.” [with medicinal plants], I let them down. Those who hear it also get sick, because something terrible can happen. Rape hurts not only the female victim, but anyone who listens. ”

Women are the central axis of Afro medicine. “Who accompanied the women when they enslaved the blacks? Women! In Afro ancestral medicine, the guardians are the women,” she says. I learned what I know. “I have many family members who are healers [in Tumaco, on Colombia’s Pacific coast]My grandmother was a midwife and was very careful and responsible. We were all born at home. She was a very smart woman. She rubbed and made a cream. I watched her and learned it from her. Today Martha’s own granddaughter watches her and imitates her massage.

Martha is not against Western medicine. “In Bogota, when I look after a pregnant woman, I exercise with love, care, camaraderie and solidarity, and watch how the pregnancy progresses. Then we have to send her for testing, she has to be taken care of and medically managed like a western woman.”

But what she finds difficult is her relationship with the institution. There is still the question of how to reconcile two very different universes. One ancestral and one modern. One is based on experiments and the other is based on laboratory tests. One is related to plants and land, the other to chemists and the pharmaceutical industry.

The entry of ancestral medicine into the more orthodox medical system means that it somehow follows the rules of the system. “There are endless forms to fill out,” says Martha. She also criticizes the prevalence of “senior nurse-led care.” Without her, Kimbo cannot see the patient, but without her midwives and healers, Kimbo continues to function with a manager who is ignorant of ancestral medicine. ”

For Martha, integration into the public health system has made Kirobo “almost the same.” This means going full speed ahead without the proper listening that is required in the healing process. ” She decided to declare herself autonomous outside the system. The word kirobo refers to just that. This is her one of the names of a free community founded by Africans and their descendants who escaped slavery.

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