In search of old ways, Andean healer brings medicine to reservation

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ALPINE, Calif. – The gym at the Viejas Reservation was soundless except for soft shrills coming from a small gap between Don Martín’s lips. For the 100 people listening, the healer’s incessant chant was occasionally engulfed by the swift whooshes coming from a two-foot condor feather being swung by the shaman’s apprentice.

Tears fell from Kristie Orosco’s face. The Kumeyaay woman would later say she felt her ancestors near and a revelation that the old medicine ways were returning.

For four days in early April, the Andean shaman (known as a curandero in Mesoamerica) healed and enlightened a following of Indians and non-Natives on the mountainous reservation, about 30 miles east of San Diego.

With eyes closed, Don Martín expounded in Spanish and Quecha, (the ancient language of the Incas) on the cycle of reciprocity among human beings and Mother Earth. He warned of the affliction, el susto, (the fright) that makes people depressed, arrogant and otherwise corrupt and comes from exterior forces that penetrate the soul.




It was the first time Don (an honorary title used in Hispanic cultures) Martín Pinedo visited a North American Indian reservation and begins an effort, Viejas leaders say, to reconnect them with healing ways not practiced in generations.

“I was stunned. He talks about things I heard as a child growing up on the

reservation,” said Anthony Pico, a former Viejas chairman.

Spanish Catholic missionaries worked to convert the Kumeyaay from 1769 to 1834 when the missions were secularized under Mexican law. By the late 18th century, 21 Spanish Catholic missions and four Spanish presidios (military forts) had been established from San Diego to Northern California.

“If you look at documents of the missionaries, they talk specifically of the spiritual and temporal conquest of the Indians,” said Steve Newcomb, indigenous law research coordinator at the Sycuan Education Department. “It was a direct attack on the core of Native peoples (in California).”

And while ongoing efforts to revitalize language and culture have had some success, Kumeyaay people still rely on western medicine.

“One of the things we have not been able to bring back in southern California, I would say, is our old medicine practices because of the genocide,” Pico said.

That could change. Pico, who was responsible for bringing the renowned curandero, said he plans to host him regularly and eventually fuse Kumeyaay components with his teachings. The eagle could replace the condor. The sage leaf is interchangeable with the coca leaf.

“Your intent is what’s important. We could use our own language here, our own mountains to pray to,” Pico said.

With eyes closed, Don Martín expounded in Spanish and Quecha, (the ancient language of the Incas) on the cycle of reciprocity among human beings and Mother Earth. He warned of the affliction, el susto, (the fright) that makes people depressed, arrogant and otherwise corrupt and comes from exterior forces that penetrate the soul.

“Don’t be sad because you make me sad. Smile, it’s part of the medicine,” he said.

 

Photo by Victor Morales Kristie Orosco, (right) closed her eyes during the condor meditation at Viejas Reservation. An Andean shaman guided a group of about 100 through the 45-minute session.

He prophesized that life-changing ways would begin to renew the Earth around 2012.

Using up to 50 items such as seeds, grains and candies, he performed despachos, a gift ceremony acknowledging the life-giving elements of the Earth.

Tishmall Turner, Luiseño, came to hear Don Martín with her mother. They were among the people waiting in line to receive a cleansing.

“Yes they are other customs, but really it’s the same philosophy, our philosophy,” she said.

Don Martín’s practices seemed natural to the Indians attending the sessions. The 45-minute condor meditation culminated with emotional hugs among some of them.

“I am so happy we got to have this today, happy for our people,” Orosco said.

And although the medicine brought by Don Martín originated about 7,000 miles in the Apu Pachatusan, one of the sacred Andean mountains of Peru, continuities exist both in their cosmology and geography. The Kumeyaays have lived for thousands of years around the area now known as the Cleveland National Forest that extends from the Sierra Madre mountain range, one of two that connects North and South America and the Andes Mountains.

One component of Andean cosmology prophesizes that the north American eagle will fly with the south American condor unifying both.

“He is a mountain shaman, so it’s very powerful that he came and helped connect those two places,” said Dr. Michael R. Verrilli, an osteopathic physician who maintains a practice of shamanic healing in Massachusetts and has known Don Martín for 11 years.

Marco Nunez, Don Martín’s apprentice acknowledged the aboriginal connection.

“We are happy to be here with them (and) to help recapture their medicine,” he said in Spanish.