Folk Illnesses and Remedies of the Spanish-speaking World[[#SPAN 150 | Fall 2012]]

Chrislyn Kircher


The families in most Spanish-speaking regions are huge on traditions, and do not favor modern health practices. Instead, they prefer at-home remedies, such as teas and herbs, or traditional practices. In fact, going to the hospital is a last resort for the people in these regions. There are many different folk healers in the Spanish-speaking world; these healers have been educated in traditional healing methods, and are consulted before doctors for treating illnesses.spanish_speaking_countries_in_the_world.gif

In Mexico and Central and South America, traditional healers, or "curanderos" perform traditional remedies on the temporarily ill. A “curandero” is an unlicensed and spiritual healer that people go to for psychological, social, spiritual, and physical healing. There are various types of "curanderos," such as: "yerberos," "hueseros/sobaderos," "parteras," and "oracionistas." "Yerberos" work mostly with herbal remedies. "Hueseros/sobaderos" work primarily with bone, muscle, and other physical issues. "Parteras" are those who help women with childbirth. "Oracionistas" work mostly with prayer. These different healers have rather specific healing methods, but they are not stuck with just one form of healing. For instance, "Parteras" may also supply herbal remedies to assist women in labor. One traditional healer most commonly found in Caribbean cultures is a "santero." This name comes from the healing process of "Santeria" that combines calling upon Catholic saints, who were said to have healing powers, and the summoning of ancient African gods. This form of healing is also considered a religion in many parts of the Caribbean. Another "curandero" from these regions is an "espiritista." This healer uses a mixture of herbal supplements and the summoning of the dead in order to heal the sick. "Curanderos" of the Spanish-speaking world heal many illnesses, such as susto, caida de mollera, mal de ojo, and mal aire, as well as many others.

Susto, or fright, is a disease that involves the spiritual being actually leaving the body due to a frightening experience. The symptoms include depression, diarrhea, nausea, anorexia, muscle tics, insomnia, and anxiety. If this sickness is left uncured and progresses, it becomes "espanto" and can cause diabetes, miscarriages, or even death. In order to cure this disease, a healer must bring the essential spirit back to the body through traditional techniques. The most common technique is by performing a ritual sweeping, or barrida. In order to perform this remedy, the “curandero” must gather herbs and bundle them therefore he can sweep the bundle over the body of the ill and rid them of their negative vibrations; some “curanderos” use an egg to perform this technique. During the sweeping, the healer recites prayers in order to invite the lost spirit back to the body. Another technique is actually scaring the spirit back into the body.
caidademollera2.jpgCaida de Mollera, meaning ‘fallen fontanel,’ is thought to occur when babies have been shaken, dropped, or weaned from the bottle too quickly. In this condition, the roof of the mouth, or palate, is lower than it should be. Some of the symptoms to this disease are dehydration, difficulty with sucking and nursing, fever, diarrhea, sunken eyes, vomiting, and crying. Some traditional remedies for this condition include holding the baby upside down over water, holding the baby upside down and tapping the feet or pushing the roof of the mouth back up to
its normal position, patting salt on the top of the baby’s head, and sucking on the anterior fontanel. Children with this problem are considered to have neglectful mothers. The actual cause of Caida de Mollera consists of any illness that brings about extreme weight loss.

Mal de Ojo, which translates to ‘evil eye,’ is a folk illness that comes from the belief of the power of negative forces that are thought to cause sickness and disease. Symptoms include not being able to sleep, crying, abdominal pain, vomiting, irritability, and more. This condition is said to be caused due to a person giving a child a strong, jealous, or admirable look without touching the child; it is thought that this kind of look heats the child’s blood. The most common treatment for this condition is the limpia, in which a “curandero” does a sweeping of the child’s body from head to toe with an egg, making the motion of drawing a cross while reciting prayers. After performing this three times, the egg is cracked and the yolk is placed into a container with water that stays under the child’s bed overnight in order to determine whether the child is cured-if the yolk has solidified or turns to a kind of milky-white color, then the child is believed to be cured. A few ways to prevent Mal de Ojo is by wearing a bracelet or necklace containing a seed-like charm, such as the Ojo de Venado, which translates to ‘deer eye’. maldeojo2.jpg

Mal Aire, which literally translates to ‘bad air,’ is a folk illness believed to be caused by bad air in the night-usually brought on by temperature change-that can enter one’s body. This air causes problems such as chest pain, pneumonia, and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include dizziness, earaches, fever, cramps, and facial twitching. Treatment of this sickness is different for children and adults. malaire.jpgChildren most commonly experience earaches when they catch this sickness, and it has been recommended that smoke be blown into the child’s ear in order to cure Mal Aire. A good and common way to do this is by rolling a newspaper up into a cone-like shape, putting the tip of the cone into the affected ear, and igniting the outer-end of the cone with flames, then blowing the smoke into the child’s ear. For adults, however, muscle spasms are the most common symptom, and in order to stop them, folk healers use a method called cupping. In this method, a cup is heated and placed on the area that has been affected that creates a kind of sucking, which then allows the muscles to relax.


To conclude, members of the Spanish-speaking world rely on traditional remedies and folk healers to cure illnesses like the ones mentioned above. These folk sicknesses have been brought on due to some kind of supernatural, emotional, natural, or environmental sources, and must be treated as such. In modern practices, these types of illnesses would be considered to originate from other sources, which would downplay the beliefs of the people in the Spanish-speaking world.

Works Cited
Acosta, David. "Latino Remedios That Every Healthcare Provider Should Know About." Traditional Illnesses and Approaches to Treatment (2010): 1. Web. 24 Nov. 2010.
"Wikipedia." Curandero (2012): 1. Web. 1 Dec. 2012.
Sunstrom, Rachel. "Medical Spanish: Cultural Education for Healthcare Workers." Cultural Differences (2006): 1. Web. 2006.