Cuy as Medicine

Traditional medicine is still commonly practiced by many people in rural Ecuador. Traditional medicine is administered by a shaman, typically a woman who has been taught the skills by her mother and her mother before her. Each passing the skills on through the generations. Patients do not have money, they can pay in many other forms such as food products, labor, or other gifts.

During the third week of June, two other students from my program Emily and Cody joined me in a visit to Jambi Huasi, a traditional medicine clinic in Otavalo, Ecuador. We only spent one day in the traditional clinic as our other days were spent in nontraditional medicine settings.  Although I did not understand what was said during the visits with patients because the shaman spoke in Quechua, the indigenous language to this area, I was able to witness a very unique and special ceremony which a large percentage of local people deem meaningful in their history, culture, and still in modern day.

The morning we arrived to Jambi Huasi we were introduced to the shaman that would be working there for the day. There was already a father with his son outside the room waiting to be seen. He was brought into the room and explained that his son had been sick for a little over a week and was displaying symptoms such as a body aches, coughing, and was sleeping more than usual.

After the father finished explaining his son’s symptoms, he handed the shaman two eggs. The shaman placed the uncracked eggs in a bowl and picked several rocks from a lovely collection of rocks she had on the table in the corner. She leaned over the bowl and spoke words in way that appeared as if she was blessing them. She then put oil on the rocks and eggs and the boys head and began rubbing first the rocks then the eggs on the boys head, arms, legs, and torso to absorb the bad energy. She then placed the bowl on the floor and held the boy over the bowl and was shaking the boy as if she was trying to shake the bad spirits out of him, all the while chanting at the same time.

After she finished with the eggs she cracked them in the bowl. The way in which the yolk cracked would be interpreted by the shaman. She would then know the sickness the individual had and if the eggs and rocks had worked at absorbing the bad energy. During this whole process the shaman is speaking in Quechua, rending the body of bad spirits and or energy.

After the boy and his father left we were excused for lunch and told that after we returned we would be able to see a Cuy ceremony. Cuy is the Spanish word for Guinea pig, an important and sacred animal to indigenous people of Ecuador and many other South American countries.

Returning after lunch, we were led into a different room this time, but similar to the first. The shaman already had Guinea pig selected. We were told that the Guinea pig had to be of the same sex as the patient being seen. The patient that afternoon was a young woman who told us prior to the ceremony she was in the middle of treatment for parasites.

The shaman first began by saying a few words in Quechua. Then proceeded to take the live Guinea pig and rub it over the woman’s body, arms, legs and torso. The shaman continued this process until the Cuy was no longer moving and squealing. The shaman than sat down over a bowl she had prepared earlier. With experienced hands she made one vertical and two horizontal incisions on the anterior side of the Cuy.

She quickly skinned the Cuy and began examining organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart, intestines and stomach. If there was anything wrong with the organs of the Cuy that would indicate the problem of the individual. After the Shaman finished examining the Cuy. We all noticed the intestines of Cuy moving in the bowl beneath. This Cuy had parasites.  The Shaman had inferred that because this Cuy had parasites the woman in the room with us must also have parasites, which in this case she did.

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