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‘Ancestral medicine offers a renewed hope for life,’ says Afro-Ecuadorian healer

María Eugenia Quiñónez Castillo. Photo used with permission.

In Ecuador, ancestral or traditional medicine is the medicine of the different Indigenous peoples and nationalities who live there. While the Ecuadorian Constitution guarantees its recognition, respect, and promotion, Afro-Ecuadorian ancestral healer María Eugenia Quiñónez Castillo explains that there is still a long way to go to reach a real convergence of wisdom and practices in the country. In this interview, she took time off working at the La Fe (Faith) Ancestral Medical Center and teaching at the Los Andes Higher Technological Institute for Social Studies (ILADES) to invite people to have a deeper understanding of ancestral medicine.

Belén: Can you please tell me a little about yourself and your work?

María Eugenia: Yo soy una mujer que se siente feliz de haber vivido, y quiero dar esta felicidad a otras personas. Soy sanadora ancestral del pueblo afroecuatoriano y llevo muchos años en este recorrido. En realidad, he estado en este camino casi toda mi vida. Yo digo que empecé mi carrera a los cuatro años en Esmeraldas, mi provincia natal ubicada en la costa ecuatoriana. Cuando mis amigos o hermanos se golpeaban o estaban enfermos, yo les sanaba con las hierbas y plantas que estaban a mi alcance, siguiendo el ejemplo de mi mamá y mi papá porque ellos también son sanadores. Ellos me decían que yo tengo el don de sanar, como dice la Biblia en Corintios 12: 4,7-10, y me ayudaron a despertar este don espiritual en mí. Luego me preparé académicamente, pero mis padres fueron mis primeros y mejores maestros. Y es que la maravillosa universidad de la vida es donde los sanadores ancestrales aprendemos lo que nadie más nos enseña. Después yo usé este conocimiento para sanar a mis siete hijos cuando ellos se enfermaban, y ahora ellos también hacen lo mismo porque nuestra medicina está basada en sabiduría que se transmite de generación en generación.

María Eugenia: I am a woman who feels happy to have lived, and I want to give this happiness to other people. I am an Afro-Ecuadorian ancestral healer and I have been on this journey for many years actually, almost all my life. I would say that I started my career at the age of four in Esmeraldas, my native province on the Ecuadorian coast. When my friends or siblings were hurt or sick, I healed them with the herbs and plants that were within my reach, following the example of my mom and dad because they are also healers. They told me that I have the gift of healing, as the Bible says in Corinthians 12: 4,7-10, and they helped me awaken this spiritual gift in me. Then I studied at the university, but my parents were my first and best teachers. And it is at the wonderful university of life where we ancestral healers learn what no one else teaches us. Later, I used this knowledge to heal my seven children when they got sick, and now they do the same because our medicine is based on wisdom that is passed down from generation to generation.

María Eugenia Quiñónez Castillo. Photo used with permission.

Belén: And what is this medicine based on?

María Eugenia: La medicina ancestral nace con la creación divina y es la esperanza de salud y vida. Lo certifica la Biblia en Jeremías 6:16. El amor con que Dios hizo la creación y la fe en el creador ofrece la mejor esperanza de vida porque es la certeza de lo que se espera y la convicción de lo que no se ve (Hebreos 11:1). Por mi gran misión y por mi gran amor, yo recibo a mis pacientes en mi casa. Ellos aquí viven una nueva vida y adquieren una nueva familia porque toda mi familia es familia de la persona que llega acá. Aquí compartimos la misma casa, compartimos la misma mesa, compartimos bailes, música, risas, y gozamos. Es otro tipo de vivencias.  ¿Qué médico occidental invita a sus pacientes a vivir en su casa hasta que se sanen? Cuando usted está con un médico ancestral, toda la casa es suya también. Mientras me quede un aliento de vida, difundiré esta esperanza y la compartiré con en el mundo entero.

María Eugenia: Ancestral medicine is born with divine creation and is the hope for health and life, as it says in the Bible in Jeremiah 6:16. The love with which God made creation, and the faith in the creator offer the best hope of life because they represent the certainty of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Due to my great mission and my great love, I receive my patients in my home. They live a new life here and gain a new family because all my family is also family for the person who arrives here. Here we share the same house, table, dances, music, laughter, and we enjoy it. It is a different kind of experience. What Western doctor invites their patients to live in their house until they are healed? When you are with an ancestral doctor, the whole house is yours, too. As long as I have a breath of life left, I will spread this hope and share it with the whole world.

Belén: And what are other differences between Afro-Ecuadorian ancestral medicine and Western medicine?

María Eugenia: La medicina occidental ofrece una cura rápida para aliviar síntomas o tratar males urgentes, como una fractura o un dolor de cabeza, por ejemplo, mientras que la medicina ancestral busca el origen de la enfermedad. En los primeros tiempos la espiritualidad y la ciencia estaban tomadas de la mano, pero después la medicina occidental las separó y se enfocó solamente en el ámbito físico. La medicina ancestral aborda la totalidad de la persona, abarcando el campo del cuerpo, la mente y el espíritu del ser humano; es una técnica no invasiva del cuerpo de la persona. Otra característica muy importante es que en la medicina ancestral sanamos con hierbas y plantas, con lo que viene de la Madre Tierra, porque ella tiene todo lo que necesitamos para sanarnos.

María Eugenia: Western medicine offers a quick cure to relieve symptoms or treat urgent ailments, such as a fracture or a headache, for example, while ancient medicine looks for the origin of the disease. In the early days, spirituality and science went hand in hand, but later Western medicine separated them and focused only on the physical realm. Ancestral medicine involves the whole individual, encompassing the body, mind and spirit; and it is non-invasive. Another very important characteristic is that in ancestral medicine we heal with herbs and plants, with what comes from Mother Earth, because she has everything we need to heal us.

María Eugenia Quiñónez Castillo. Photo used with permission

Belén: Are there any misconceptions about Afro-Ecuadorian ancestral medicine that you would like to clear up?

María Eugenia: Yo creo que las personas tienen miedo de la medicina ancestral porque nos alejaron y no la conocen, piensan que nosotros buscamos reemplazar una medicina por otra y no es así. Lo que buscamos es una convergencia de saberes. Son dos escuelas diferentes, pero igualmente válidas. ¿Por qué no las vamos a juntar? Es necesario que ambas avancen juntas para el bien de la humanidad y la felicidad. Ellos en su ciencia y nosotros en la espiritualidad, siendo humildes, debemos juntarlas para alcanzar una armonía en la salud integral.

María Eugenia: I think people are afraid of ancestral medicine because they have been alienated from it and they don't know much about it. They think that we seek to replace one medicine with another and that's not the case. What we seek is a convergence of knowledge. They are two different schools, but equally valid. Why don't we put them together? It is necessary that both advance together for the good of humanity and happiness. They in their science and us in spirituality, being humble, we must join together to achieve harmony in comprehensive health.

Belén: What is needed to achieve this convergence?

María Eugenia: Hace falta apertura para conocer los aportes de la medicina ancestral. Se debería enseñar saberes ancestrales en las escuelas, colegios y universidades para que los alumnos puedan aprender que hay varias competencias y diferentes maneras de vivir, sentir, pensar y sanar. Algunas personas consideran que la medicina ancestral es peligrosa o es brujería solo porque es diferente a lo que han están acostumbradas, pero si le vamos a temer al cuco, conozcámoslos primero, ¿no es verdad?

People need to be receptive in order to understand the contributions of ancestral medicine. Ancestral knowledge should be taught in schools, colleges, and universities so that students can learn that there are various skills and different ways of living, feeling, thinking, and healing. Some people consider ancient medicine to be dangerous or witchcraft just because it's different from what they're used to, but we first need to understand what we are fearful of, right?

Belén: Is there anything else you would like to add?

María Eugenia: Me gustaría hacer una invitación para que no nos quedemos solo con una alternativa, no nos conformemos solo con lo que nos han enseñado. Abrámonos a probar varias formas de vida y salud, y veamos cómo nos va.

María Eugenia: I would like to make an appeal so that we are not left with only one alternative, so that we are not satisfied only with what we have been taught. Let's open our minds and try different ways to live and heal, and see how we do.

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