^IN PARAGUAY, FOLK HEALERS
CONFRONT MODERN MEDICINE@<
^By ZOLTAN ISTVAN@<
^National Geographic Channel@<
^c.2003 National Geographic Channel@<
^(Distributed by The New York Times
¶ Before dawn, Nidia Ferreira opens her small
shop, Pepe, and
a shipment of medicinal plants delivered to her
¶ Pepe is on J.A. Flores Street in Mercado
Cuatro, the main
in Asuncion, Paraguay. Down the block are
more than 100 other sellers
as medicine women _ folk healers. The street
tables and baskets brim
plants and herbs from all over Paraguay.
¶ "Hundreds of different types of medicine
plants are sold here every
day," Ferreira says. "Sellers often come here by
bus for a few days,
go back to their homes in the countryside."
¶ Business is good. But folk healing is in
transition in Paraguay.
¶ Medicinal plants are in vogue _ so much so
that some plants are
near-extinction because of the demand. At the
same time, Paraguayans
converting to modern medicine.
¶ In Paraguay's Yvytyrusu National Reserve, a
walkabout with Sunilda
medicine woman leads to a plant called Cola de
Raton (Rat's Tail),
¶ Sunilda is the main provider for her family.
But, partly because of
competition from other medicine women, she
faces a scarcity of the
that she has picked for a lifetime.
¶ "Every day I have to search farther from my
house than before just
find the plants I'm after," Sunilda says. "The
deeper into the forest I
the more poisonous snakes there are, too."
¶ The plants suffer from the demand, says
Gesine Hansel, a
researcher in Yvytyrusu for Alter Vida, a
organization. Hansel wrote a master's thesis at
Gottingen University on
marketing of Paraguay's medicinal plants.
¶ "If too many women pick the plants just to
be sold in markets, the
plants will go extinct in this area," Hansel says.
approach must be taken if the medicine women
want to have an income
these plants in five years."
¶ Curaei Vendramini, a medicine woman in
the problem and may have a solution.
¶ Rather than picking plants in the forest, she
has succeeded at
many of them in her garden _ creating a nursery.
Now she bottles plant
extracts for her patients and for the market.
¶ "Nurseries will be the future for many
medicine women _ especially
all the plants in the forest get picked too much,"
¶ Flovio Burizuelo, a respected holistic doctor
RIGHT WORD in the
Mercado Cuatro, applauds the nursery idea but
worries about a larger
¶ "Shamans and medicine women are
increasingly trying and favoring
medicine, such as antibiotics," Burizuelo says.
"This could have
consequences for traditional and natural healing
methods _ and for the
medicine-woman culture as a whole."
¶ In the isolated village of Pt. Colon in
northeastern Paraguay, Ana
Jesus Benitez, a medicine woman from the
indigenous tribe Enxet,
why perspectives are changing.
¶ "Last week the village chief's 7-year old
daughter died from a
Benitez says. "We gave her medicinal plants but
they weren't strong
to save her. We needed modern medicines and
¶ Only 20 years ago, doctors and what people
called "strange painted
tablets" were looked down upon. Now few
Paraguayans want to be without
¶ "I first tried the 'head-ache' pills (aspirin) 10
years ago," says
elderly medicine woman in the Mbaracayu
Biosphere Reserve who gives her
name only as Ida. "They work much better for
my arthritis than the kapi
I cook with my tea."
¶ Ida's neighbor, Fernanda Ayala, also a
medicine woman, defends the
¶ Ayala and her husband, Gervasio Noceda, a
shaman who contributed to
Spanish book "Medicine Plants of the Guarini
Community of Tekoha
are skeptical of doctors and modern medicines.
"Guarini" refers to an
indigenous people of Paraguay; Tekoha Ryapu
is a village.
¶ "We want to stay open to changes in
techniques for healing," says
Ayala, who learned about medicinal plants from
her mother and
"But the only real medicines that can be trusted
are natural ones that
and can be picked."
¶ Ayala may be swayed soon, though. Her
son, one of the few educated
people in the vicinity, is the administrator of
Tekoha Ryapu, and he
advocates the use of modern medicine.