Our last weekend excursion was to Capulalpam, which is known as “Pueblo Magico” or Magic Town. In the medical anthropology seminar I’m taking, we have been discussing medical practices of the indigenous groups of Oaxaca. Many people here have been using herbal remedies as opposed to prescribed pharmaceuticals for years. Not only are herbal remedies cheaper than pharmaceuticals, but also the people tend to view going to a doctor as a last resort. Everyone either knows or knows someone who knows an herbal remedy for most maladies; for those who don’t it is not uncommon walking down the street to see vendors selling the latest herbal cure.
Capulalpam is famous for its traditional medicine clinic which is why Capulalpam is sometimes called Pueblo Magico, and my class was lucky enough to get to visit. The traditional medicine clinic has everything from medicinal plant therapy to massages to the infamous temazcal. The temazcal is basically like a sweat lodge that “gives physical and spiritual purification using the four elements of fire, air, water and earth to give relief from the stresses of daily life”. We had the opportunity to undergo a group temazcal, however I chose to skip the experience, so I can’t tell you personally what it’s like, but after talking to some of my friends who participated it seems like it is a very purifying experience that forces you to face a lot of stress that could contribute to physical sickness.
After our visit to the traditional medicine clinic we endured another somewhat, less-grueling hike to the site where they are currently building a new and updated traditional medicine. The new clinic is supposed to better serve the community, since the one my class visited is barely used by anyone anymore, with the exception of tourists. The contractor on site believes the building will be ready for use by December, and hopefully it will be beneficial to Oaxacans who come in need of treatment.
Before visiting Oaxaca, I kind of thought herbal medicine was a joke. I wondered why anyone would supplement something they could get from a licensed pharmacist, but people have been using herbal remedies for years. In fact in every ancient civilization people have had to learn what would heal them with whatever resources they had available to them. This information was then passed down to the next generation, so obviously there is some validity in folk medicine.
This visit was just yet another wake-up call, in addition to the several I’ve received during this trip that I need to get rid of my bias towards things that are different than what I’ve always known. I need to be more open and aware of the ideas of other cultures because I can stand to learn so much!