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October 2022

Rev Neurol. 1996 Jul; 24(131): 848-54.

[A transcultural view of neurological and mental pathology in a Tzeltal Maya community of the Altos Chiapas]

Carod FJ, Vázquez-Cabrera C.

Psicóloga Clinica Médicus Mundi-Zaragoza, San Cristobal de las Casas. Chiapas, México.

OBJECTIVES. This anthropological study forms part of field-work undertaken in Mahosik, a Tzeltal Maya community of 250 inhabitants in the Altos de Chiapas, to obtain insight into the neurological and psychosomatic pathology in an ethnic and cultural setting different to ours. MATERIAL AND METHOD. Accompanied by a Tzeltal translator we interviewed various witch-doctors and faith healers of the Tzeltal Maya tribe to find out their ideas about neurological and mental diseases and the treatments used. RESULTS. Headache or "k'ux jolol' is the fourth most common cause of consultation after acute respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders and fevers. To relieve it, the boiled leaves of the bush "payté' ("Tagetes neisonii') are used as a medicinal bath. Migraine, "yaxti-wanjol chawaj' is treated with the raw, crushed roots of the herbs "chopak pox' and "bakte pox' together with the practice of cutting the patient with a piece of glass in the temporal region, deep enough to make him bleed. Epilepsy or "tub tub ikal' is caused by an abuse suffered by the animal spirit which accompanies the individual, after a fight between the animal-companions or spirits which serve the forces of Good and Evil. The person with chronic crises is considered a witch. Depression or "melotan' is fairly common. This is treated with camomile tea containing an orange and a lime leaf. "Xiwel' or fear is one of the commonest psychosomatic disorders. The faith-healer has to return the lost spirit to its owner in a ceremony involving prayer, alcohol and the sacrifice of a fowl. Psychosis or "jowijel' may be due to alcohol, dog bite or witch craft and has no cure. Madness "chawaj' is caused by bewitchment during a nightmare. It is treated with the sap of "viborana' mixed with wild beans.


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