There are many aspects to this term; it is amazingly extensive with cultural elements, oral history and traditions, but I want to concentrate on something that now seems to be a “gem to be acquired” by the same ones that put it down over 40 years ago.
I will share my own story. I was born in New York and eventually my parents decided “I needed to learn Spanish in the island (Borikén/Puerto Rico)”, yes, that was their lame excuse to leave me behind with my grandparents during one of our trips. My Manhattan’s tall buildings were exchanged for a humble farm that cultivated everything but rice. A beautiful sugarcane field was our commercial source. The coffee field was for the consumption of the family. We had fruits, spices, bananas of every kind, we had jaguas (há-goo-as), guamá, caimitos, mamey, guayaba, among many other autochthonous fruits (look at the names, mostly Taíno), and every herb capable of curing or alleviating any ailment.
At the beginning I went along with grandma’s remedies, but eventually I became infested and I started doubting the effectiveness of their knowledge on healing with their “archaic ways of healing”. These were times of doctors and medicines and everyone had the habit of asking what you had been given to help your illness. Of course, I was a child, the elements of peer pressure were already present and I did not want to confess that grandma had made me special teas or placed some leaves of whatever it was to bring swelling down when that was the case. I learned to feel shame in their ways. I had already lived it and seen the others’ reactions. When I helped grandma clean and organize the triangle-shaped shelves, I always placed the alcoholado with herbs on the back of the shelf, in case we had company. I remember that whenever grandpa had his kidney problems, I had to go to a particular garden that had a variety of healing herbs for all kinds of ailments and grandpa would drink from that water saved for him in that large pitcher with herbs.
Whenever he came from the sugarcane field and was bitten by a venomous centipede, grandma would send for these huge leaves that had to be placed over the affected area.
My grandma from Mayagüez also made special teas whenever we were sick. Those were the ways! Oh! But I was from the growing generation that believed and bought into pharmaceuticals and who presented people like my grandparents and their ways as primitive and ignorant. Believe me , I had to go to that garden so many times, and look for jaguas by the tree for that special water they too, made me drink. Unfortunately for me, I learned very little compared to all they knew and had to offer.
The thing is that I was not the only one hopping onto this van wagon of so-called progress. An entire generation was being influenced and pharmaceuticals started making lots of money. People began to prefer the pill vs. the tea, the topical cream vs. the leaf on the affected site. We became the pill generation. Trusting our doctors and taking whatever they prescribed, while something else became damaged, so that they could sell you yet another pill and so on. People started dying of cancers, or as they said in the island: “unexpectedly”. But hey, they had been on five different pills for their condition!
I still remember how in the 70’s it seemed like everyone was dying from cancer. In my family, the Pelli’s and the Negron’s, both strong people, were falling like mangoes off a tree. Ah! The advancements and progress over those primitive ways!
Argh! It angers me to remember grandpa’s stories of meals of funche (corn meal) and bacalao (cod fish), or simply a coconut when there was nothing else and times were hard. Him and my great grandmother lived an entire century, when now the average life expectancy in the U.S. for example is of 89.5 years, but what they don’t share is the quality of those 89.5 years, of blood diluted with what I call the “pharma-plasmas” that instead of giving you life, extend your misery.
A lot of Indigenous Peoples lost their ways and habits of sustenance. I still enjoyed eating what we grew and grandpa’s agricultural system and wisdom, but eventually a lot of that changed as grandpa aged. Actually, both grandpas aged and canned food and packaged things seemed more advanced and practical than going to “La Plaza del Mercado”, (Farmer’s Market), which had impressed me so much when I arrived from New York. It was filled with people, chatter, fruits and vegetables, poultry, all so very fresh. I still remember the smell and the activity. Oh! Now, it is all fancied-up, but it is dead; it lost its life and there are so very few people that I prefer staying away and preserving the joyous memories of my childhood.
Chef Boy-ar-dee, Spam, canned tuna replaced the cod fish, going to the farm to pull some yucca, or the wonderful trip to the fish market, as local fishermen arrived in their “yolas” with their catch (unpretentious small-type-boats), and watching the beautiful ocean while at it.
However, the rules of the game changed, and some fool realized that the old way was not that primitive after all. People were healthier, stronger, and their foods had all these properties so beneficial to the human body. They also realized that the old remedies worked, and as they thought about it, dollar signs multiplied over their heads, and with this grave mentality that anything that belongs to anyone indigenous is a “free for grabs”, they did just that.
They started approaching people to learn about remedies. Knowledge that was shared with good intention, but the receiver was already thinking of the Sales & Marketing Strategies for it, of course, excluding the indigenous peoples from those who would benefit from it.
So they took again! It has not stopped!
Why? Why do Bolivians have to see their Quinoa leave their country, so that the fancy in my own city, New York, could benefit from it? The Quinoa is the most recent example. Bolivians used it in an array of dishes and forms. Now they can hardly acquire the nourishment that was part of their diet for centuries if not longer. Remember “Uña de Gato”? Same thing, mass production and mass profits.
Why is organic food unaffordable to Pepe González? It is all about the money, and if you have it, you can eat organic. If you are part of the bigger mass that has to stretch the dollar and make miracles with it, you have to buy the high-fat, high-salt, canned food , which is what you will be able to afford and eventually, get so sick the pharmaceutical can squeeze you out some more while you get on some type of pill.
Territories “officially declared” as Indigenous lands are being taken over, and as opposed to the continuance of the agricultural system that has sustained its peoples, what’s being planted is one type of tree, i.e. Eucalyptus, which drains the terrain of water, hence leaving adjacent villages without the precious liquid that sustains us all.
I have listened to “experts” (people that think know a lot), try to educate and encourage Indigenous Peoples to plant their food. Ok, REWIND!!!!! They are now coming to tell them to plant, so that they can eat healthier? Meaning no Spam, no foods high on fats and salt, no canned foods? Go Organic? So, isn’t this about going back to basics, going back to what had been the normal way of sustenance before these global invasions?
Yesterday, while at a doctor’s office, I had no choice but to amuse myself by reading every poster on the wall; all advertising some pill, of course, with the disclaimers of all the things that could go wrong, or the areas that may become affected by taking that medication, including death. Absurd!
I have learned to appreciate the teas and the leaves. They still work! Conventional medicine has gotten to a point where saying: “It could be this or it might be that, or I don’t know”, have become the new norm, while simultaneously handing you a prescription. However, if someone chooses to seek alternative methods, they are quick to frown or even drop them as patients not before telling them off. When someone has made a claim to have either gotten better or cured from an illness by using these methods, they are quick to criticize, mock or blatantly discredit and/or deny that such has occurred.
I have had my share of medical challenges, I still live with them. I have heard the I don’t know’s, the maybe it’s this, or maybe it’s that, and at my weakest moments and frustration, the memory of my grandmothers pop to mind and I am so sure, that had they been alive, one of them would have had some special tea, or placed their hands on me in that peculiar way I saw one do to so many people that sought her help, that perhaps would have cured me a long time ago, instead of having to serve a Life Sentence with Pharmaceuticals.