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Father Bernabe Cobo - Inca Religion and Customs - The healing of the Medicine man



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Father Bernabe Cobo - Inca Religion and Customs [translated by Roland Hamilton]

I will [now] discuss what pertains to the art of medicine, their doctors, and their methods of curing. Although they were a barbarous people with little knowledge, still, since love of life is natural to all men, it caused these Indians to look for ways to preserve and protect it from harm. Normally their doctors were old and experienced……………….

Thy have may herbs to cure illnesses.  They had more knowledge of wounds and sores which are clearly visible, and of particular herbs to cure them.

They never used compound medications. For all of their remedies they used simple herbs, and among them there are some great herbalists to be found; from them we have learned the healing powers of many plants that we use now in our healing. Also with simples they commonly made fomentations and fumigants which they apply to fevers and other ailments………….

Normally they were successful in curing wounds. For this purpose they knew extraordinary herbs that were very effective. In order to make this clear, I will tell of an unusual cure that an Indian performed in the city of Chuquiabo [La Paz]; this was reported by a gentleman named Diego Avalos, who lived in that city, in certain papers of his that came into my possession, and it is as follows.

There was an Indian boy who had a bad fall; this boy was the son of Alonso Quisumayta (from the descendants of the Incas), cacique of the encomienda and repartimiento of the above-mentioned Diego Avalos. The boy broke his leg in the middle of his shin; the break was such that the bone broke through the skin, and it was thrust into the ground, where a great deal of the marrow was lost. This promised to be very difficult to cure, but since the boy was the son of an important cacique of royal lineage, Diego Avalos had the surgeons called to cure the boy with great care.

When the surgeons saw the harm that had been done to the patient's leg, they decided to cut it off and take a chance on this approach because otherwise they were sure that the boy would die. But since this remedy had seldom been successful in this kingdom, those involved expressed diverse opinions, and the boy's father decided against it.

The father ordered his men to call an old Indian whose occupation was that of healing among the Indians, and he asked the old Indian what cure he might suggest for his son.

The old Indian stepped a little way off the road (they were outside of town), and he picked out a certain herb which he immediately smashed between two stones so that it could not be recognized, and it never was.

When he arrived where the sick boy was, he squeezed the herb, and with the juice of the herb, he moistened some wool thread; this he tied around the base of the bone that was sticking out through the skin, promising that the patient would certainly recover his health.

The next day, with Diego de Avalos and other people present, the Indian returned to cure the patient, and they all saw what happened with great surprise. The wool thread with the juice of the herb was so potent that it had cut the bone off, without causing any pain, according to what the patient said. And the old herbalist applied the same herb mixed with others to it; very soon the leg was cured, leaving only a small hole in the shin as a scar where the bone came out. But the boy was as healthy and nimble as if no such misfortune had happened to him.

Diego de Avalos was left with such a strong desire to find out about that herb, and he promised that Indian such good pay, with flattery and kindness, that he promised to show it to him. Although he did make the promise, he never kept it. He kept putting the man off with a variety of excuses until winter came with its frost that made the fields wither, which the Indian considered sufficient reason to not keep his promise.

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