RELEASE DATE: 01 Apr, 2013

EDITORIAL BY Amaru Villanueva Rance

‘Get some urine—your own urine—soak a cloth in it, and put it on the back of your head. It will soak up all the swelling’. Wherever you turn in Bolivia, people seem to be brimming with medical advice for almost every ailment, be it physical or spiritual. It seems befitting that La Paz sits on what in Incan times was known as the Kollasuyo, the ‘land of medicine’. In this issue, we explore some of the different forms adopted by local healing practices.

There’s no single custom known as ‘traditional medicine’, though perhaps the most prominent local representatives are Kallawayas, indigenous to the village of Curva. We meet several of these medicine men to learn about their past, present, and future , and take a look at how this approach to healing is even used to treat mental illness. Such is their enduring popularity that even the government are trying to make their services available as part of the public healthcare system. Yet local medicine is also practiced by women healers, and even shows a sign of the exotic, such as those found in a Doña Natalia’s storage room in the Witches’ Market: ‘dried starfish, ostrich feathers and eggs, a stuffed cat, dried glittery frogs, sea urchins, coloured mushrooms, shells and coral, bones and numerous herbs drying in the shade’. We also meet an expert fracture healer, Doña Andrea, who, using lizard and snake patches, has been healing broken bones for decades.

Many of today’s maladies often call to be treated through unconventional means. Spiritual healers increasingly turn to powerful hallucinogens to tackle deep-seated traumas and even the odd midlife crisis. Or take the promise from evangelical preachers that God and faith can miraculously cure the most extreme of medical illnesses, all of which evaporate in a frenzied spasm (usually provided the appropriate donation is given)

Foreign medical practices are also finding their place within Bolivian society. Homeopathy is gaining adherents due to its holistic understanding of illness and increasing availability. Plastic surgery’s double-edged scalpel helps people with accidents and disfigurements feel more comfortable in their own skin, but some fear that through its merciless marketing, if often shapes conceptions of beauty as much as it shapes bodies and faces.

On our front and back covers we’ve tried to bring into focus what it means to live in a country where seemingly irreconcilable medical approaches can be used by a single patient. Bolivians are certainly not lacking in choice when it comes to healing.


Healing in Small Doses

17 Apr, 2013 | Alan Pierce

Traditional and Western medicine have a strong foothold in Bolivia, so where does a growing alternative medicine like Homeopathy fit in? Photo: Alan Pierce From traditional healing, to Weste...

Open Your Head

17 Apr, 2013 | Carlos (Kaamil) Shah

Once the domain of Peruvian shamans, hallucinogenic ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular in Bolivia. Illustration: Marco Antonio Guzman Rocabado (Marco Toxico)  Any mention of hall...

Land Of Healers

17 Apr, 2013 | Felicia Lloyd

Felicia Lloyd Speaks to Grover Quispe, a Local Kallawaya, to Understand the Past, Present and Future of Traditional Medicine Photo: Carlos Diez de Medina Llamas, lakes, less-than-safe public tran...

Every Day Miracles

17 Apr, 2013 | Matthew Payton

Porque Nada es Imposible Para Dios Matthew Payton looks at the reality behind the miracle cures offered by Bolivia’s burgeoning evangelical movements Evangelical churches in La Paz do not exact...

Suspended in Madness

17 Apr, 2013 | Selene Pinto

In the city of La Paz, Andean cosmology has its own conception regarding the treatment of madness. In the waiting room of la Caja Nacional de Salud (a psychiatric hospital) the clock on the wall shows...

Bolivia Under The Knife

17 Apr, 2013 | Ana Ryan Flinn

Photo: Amaru Villanueva Rance The increased availability and acceptance of cosmetic surgery in Bolivia dangles ideals of Western perfection tantalisingly on the periphery of the population’s reac...

A Healing Conundrum

17 Apr, 2013 | Robert Noyes

The government claims traditional medicine is predominant in Bolivia while a research institute denounces the eradication of these practices. Robert Noyes sets out to weigh up the evidence. Pho...

If It Cures, It Cures

16 Apr, 2013 | Sophia Howe

Sophia Howe meets some of Bolivia’s traditional medicine practitioners, some of whom only use natural herbs and ancestral knowledge; others decidedly more exotic in their practices and ingredients....

What You Want is What You Get

17 Apr, 2013 | Robert Noyes

Self-medication remains one of the most affordable and widely-used forms of healthcare in Bolivia. Rob Noyes explores the dangers that lurk behind the convenience. On the steep inclines of th...