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Medical Ethnobiology of the Highland Maya of Chiapas, Mexico: The Gastrointestinal Diseases

Medical Ethnobiology of the Highland Maya of Chiapas, Mexico: The Gastrointestinal Diseases

Elois Ann Berlin
Brent Berlin
Xavier Lozoya
Dennis E. Breedlove
Mariana Meckes
Maria-Luisa Villarreal
Jaime Tortoriello
Jorge R. Ricárdez
Luisa Maffi
María de Guadalupe Rodríguez
Dorothy Castille
Robert M. Laughlin
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 592
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  • Book Info
    Medical Ethnobiology of the Highland Maya of Chiapas, Mexico: The Gastrointestinal Diseases
    Book Description:

    Whereas most previous work on Maya healing has focused on ritual and symbolism, this book presents evidence that confirms the scientific foundations of traditional Maya medicine. Data drawn from analysis of the medical practices of two Mayan-speaking peoples, the Tzeltal and Tzotzil, reveal that they have developed a large number of herbal remedies based on a highly sophisticated understanding of the physiology and symptomatology of common diseases and on an in-depth knowledge of medicinal plants. Here Elois Ann Berlin and Brent Berlin, along with their many collaborators, provide detailed information on Maya disease classification, symptomatology, and treatment of the most significant health conditions affecting the Highland Maya, the gastrointestinal diseases.

    The authors base their work on broad-ranging comparative ethno-medical and ethnobotanical data collected over seven years of original field research. In describing the Mayas' understanding and treatment of gastrointestinal diseases, Berlin and Berlin show that the plants used as remedies arecondition specific.> Moreover, laboratory studies demonstrate that the most commonly agreed upon herbal remedies are potentially effective against the pathogenic agents underlying specific diseases and that they strongly affect the physiological processes associated with intestinal peristalsis. These findings suggest that the traditional Maya medical system is the result of long-term explicit empirical experimentation with the effects of herbal remedies on bodily function.

    Originally published in 1996.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7288-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. List of Plates
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  7. Contributors
    (pp. xxxi-2)
  8. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-90)

    Work over the past several decades in the emerging field of ethnobiology, and research in medical ethnobotany in particular, has demonstrated that ethnobiological knowledge of traditional peoples conforms in many respects to basic scientific principles (Berlin 1973, Berlin 1978, Berlin 1992, Berlin and Patton 1979, Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven 1974, Raven, Berlin, and Breedlove 1971, Quiros et al. 1990, Toledo 1988) and that recognition of the curative properties of medicinal plants is not simply unsubstantiated folklore. Since the late 1970s traditional herbal medicine has been given major emphasis by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural...

  9. CHAPTER 2 The Diarrheas
    (pp. 91-280)

    The verbal nountza’nel(from the roottza’‘feces’) is the term for defecation in general. In the context of illness, however, it is more appropriately glossed as ‘diarrhea’ (of unspecified type). We considered use of the phrase ‘abnormal feces’ to more accurately reflect Maya terminology and to indicate that the focus of the term is the character of the stool. However, since our Maya collaborators normally translate the forms presented here as classes of ‘diarrhea’, and since the discussion would be made awkward by the use of ‘abnormal feces’, we employ the term ‘diarrhea’ for conditions of this group....

  10. CHAPTER 3 The Abdominal Pains
    (pp. 281-399)

    The abdominal pains comprise a small group of conceptually related conditions within the Maya ethnomedical system. Figure 3.1 graphically demonstrates the conditions of the group and their relative relationships according to the highland Maya classification. As the name implies, the primary criterion for ethnomedical diagnosis is the location of the pain.

    The core group is comprised of three conditions: abdominal pain, epigastric pain, and ‘mother of man’. Abdominal pain involves the entire abdomen. Epigastric pain is limited to the stomach and lower to midthoracic regions. The third condition refers to an abdominal organ (me’ winik[Tzeltal] ≈me’ vinik[Tzotzil]...

  11. CHAPTER 4 The Worms
    (pp. 400-437)

    The worms constitute a well-defined set of conditions that are conceptually quite distinct from all other gastrointestinal problems. This group is closely related to other gastroenteric conditions because of shared symptomatology. However, the distinct presentation of readily identifiable organisms in the feces makes this one of the most clearly defined groups in the Maya ethnomedical system. Figure 4.1 graphically represents the worms, their relative relationship within this ethnomedical group, and the closely affiliated conditions. Three kinds of worms are generally distinguished: regular worms, flatheaded worms, and tiny worms.

    The regular worms are the type specific of the worms. They are...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Summary and Conclusions
    (pp. 438-454)

    The gastrointestinal diseases represent the most significant set of health conditions recognized by the highland Maya. The conceptual relationship among the members of this set are shown by similarities in signs and symptoms and by the region of the body affected. Further support of the interrelatedness of the members of this group comes from an analysis of their sequential relationships, that is, when one illness type develops from or leads to another condition in the group. Figure 5.1 diagrams these relationships among the gastrointestinal conditions, based on the Explanatory Models responses concerning sequelae to a primary condition, or conditions that...

  13. Appendix: Pharmacological Activity of Plant Species Used as Admixtures
    (pp. 455-470)
  14. Glossary of Technical Terms
    (pp. 471-484)
  15. References
    (pp. 485-500)
  16. Index of Maya Terms
    (pp. 501-512)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 513-558)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 559-559)