Soc Sci Med. 1987 ; 25(10): 1139-46.
The pneumatic theory of female Warao herbalists.
Fundacion La Salle de Ciencias Naturales, Instituto Caribe de Anthropologia Y Sociologia, Caracas, Venezuela.
Among the Warao Indians of eastern Venezuela herbalism is a nonritualized occupation practiced by women. As a medical practice herbalism complements the ritual occupation of shamanism practiced by men. But whereas Warao herbalism is governed by a theory of supernatural causation of illness mystically brought about by contagion, Warao shamanism is a theory of supernatural causation of illness attributed to spirit aggression and object intrusion. According to herbalist theory, pathogenesis results from odoriferous agents that invade the body regions (head, thorax, abdomen) of the victim. Here they expand in the form of fetid gas, producing clinical symptoms by affecting the organs and the soul of a particular region. Treatment of disease by herbal medicines is allopathic. Upon administration the remedy transforms into an aromatic gas which is denser, hence more powerful, than the noxious gas. This enables the therapeutic air to displace the pathogenic air. A cure is achieved after both gases have left the body, returning the patient to an inodorous state. This study presents physical, cultural and ideational data as they relate to health, disease and herbal medicine among the Warao. The status and role of the female herbalist are described. Warao herbal curers make use of more than 100 plant species from which they prepare 259 remedies. The collecting and processing of materia medica conform to a meticulous protocol which is transmitted from mother to daughter through informal methods of training. Treatment of 'symptom-oriented' diseases is effected through the administration of ablutants, ingestants and/or inhalants. While practicing medicine in a nonritual way Warao herbalists are nevertheless directly aligned with the Mother of the Forest.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)