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July 2021

Soc Sci Med. 1987 ; 24(12): 1051-60.

Lay theory of healing in northwestern New Spain.

Kay M.

Northwestern New Spain experienced not only a territorial and a spiritual conquest, but a medical conquest. This medical conquest came from a tradition, established after the conquest of central New Spain, that had fused classical medicine of the Old World with medicine of indigenous groups, in the writings of European doctors and scientists as well as graduates of Mexican colleges. The medical conquest of Sonora was accomplished by laymen, explorers and missionaries who carried the theory of healing resulting from these syncretic processes into the northern lands, adding new materials that they learned from indigenous peoples there. When the Indians were ill with epidemic disease or injuries, they were cared for by missionaries brought up on European domestic medicine. The theory of illness and its cure held by the lay healers became predominantly that of the conquest culture. The conquerers', missionaries' and colonists' interpretations of native plant, animal and mineral remedies that they learned from northwestern native medicine were colored by their own concepts of disease and healing, resulting in an epistemology which continues to guide lay or domestic medicine not only in Sonora but also in the rest of the American Mexican west today.


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