B&W Social Documentary Photography – Maya Healers

Healer and midwife Josefina Vazquez de Gonzalez examining a pregnant woman.
San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

This social documentary photography was submitted to Edge of Humanity Magazine by Documentary Photographer/Writer Fran Antmann.

 

Click on any image to see Fran’s gallery of projects.

 

From forthcoming book “Maya Healers: A Thousand Dreams” by Fran Antmann.

 

Maya Healers: A Thousand Dreams explores the power and mystery of ancient indigenous healing practices among the Maya people who live along the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

The photographs speak to the close relationship of these indigenous communities with the natural and spiritual worlds – lives bound up with the lake, its winds and the mist that rings its volcanoes. The smoke rising from the shamans’ ritual fires are also evidence of the sacred.

 

Josefina Vazquez de Gonzalez, healer, giving an herbal remedy to baby Yaretzi Quiacin Tzunúo. San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Josefina Vazquez de Gonzalez, healer, giving an herbal remedy to baby Yaretzi Quiacin Tzunúo.
San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

 

 

During the summers over the course of six years, I accompanied healers and bonesetters to small windowless spaces where ancient rituals are practiced over dirt floors. I listened to the voices of those who are believed to have connections with the supernatural and derive their knowledge from dreams. These healers (curanderos) and bonesetters (hueseros) practice a craft that is outside the realm of western medicine and are the first and often, the only source of medical care.

 

Patients from distant villages around Lake Atitlán waiting to be seen by a healer in San Pedro. Even though the practice of healing is common throughout Guatemala, the healers and bonesetters of San Pedro are particularly renowned.

Patients from distant villages around Lake Atitlán waiting to be seen by a healer in San Pedro. Even though the practice of healing is common throughout Guatemala, the healers and bonesetters of San Pedro are particularly renowned.

Berta Navichoc, bonesetter, treating Pedro Sicay Mendoza’s broken arm. Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Berta Navichoc, bonesetter, treating Pedro Sicay Mendoza’s broken arm.
Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Berta Navichoc, bonesetter, healing Marta Mendoza Damian. Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Berta Navichoc, bonesetter, healing Marta Mendoza Damian.
Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Berta Navichoc, healing Marta Mendoza Damian after she was badly hurt in an accident. Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Berta Navichoc, healing Marta Mendoza Damian after she was badly hurt in an accident. Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

 

One does not choose to become a healer or bonesetter. It is a calling revealed at birth and through dreams. The healer, usually a woman, carries the sacred bone (hueso) in the folds of her apron.  Her hand rhythmically moves back and forth across the wound.  It is not only the hand of the healer, but the mystic bone as well, that finds the critical juncture and exerts an electric energy to fix the break and absorb the pain. The patient, surrounded by family and friends pray in Tz’utujiil, a Maya dialect for his soul, for his cure, for the bonesetter’s hands to heal him. This sacred process binds healer and patient, family and community.

 

Berta Navichoc, healing Pedro Pablo Mendoza, who is surrounded by his family. Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Berta Navichoc, healing Pedro Pablo Mendoza, who is surrounded by his family. Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala

Shaman preparing a ceremonial offering at Pascual Abaj, a sacred Maya site. The Maya priest (shaman) feeds the fire with aromatic offerings. Through the fire, he communicates with the ancestors and the forces of Nature, asking them to accept his offerings and grant his requests. Chichicastanengo, Guatemala

Shaman preparing a ceremonial offering at Pascual Abaj, a sacred Maya site. The Maya priest (shaman) feeds the fire with aromatic offerings. Through the fire, he communicates with the ancestors and the forces of Nature, asking them to accept his offerings and grant his requests.
Chichicastanengo, Guatemala

Family prays before the sacrificial fire at Pascual Abaj. Chichicastanengo, Guatemala

Family prays before the sacrificial fire at Pascual Abaj.
Chichicastanengo, Guatemala

 

These rituals survive despite the 30-year genocide of the Maya people perpetrated until 1996 by government and paramilitary forces.  Ancient healing practices were forbidden as part of the government campaign to destroy Maya culture. Yet they survived underground and are now part of a resurgent Maya identity. They celebrate the endurance of the Maya in the aftermath of trauma and violence and are part of a larger process of healing.

 

Shaman Samuel with the sacred Maya calendar of fiestas and rituals used in Maya ceremonies. The elaborate computation of the calendar requires the expert knowledge of the Daykeepers. San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

Shaman Samuel with the sacred Maya calendar of fiestas and rituals used in Maya ceremonies. The elaborate computation of the calendar requires the expert knowledge of the Daykeepers.
San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

Procession of women on their way to church for the funeral of Antonio Chavajay Pop. San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

Procession of women on their way to church for the funeral of Antonio Chavajay Pop.
San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

 

See also:

Open Veins

Suriname

By Fran Antmann

 


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