Yesterday I was sitting on my porch when I received a call from a fellow trainee, telling me a group of them were in my homestay village. Sure enough, about 3 seconds later my little brother, Sheka Boi (that's his nickname, his real name is Alferardo), runs up to tell me that Peace Corps is here. News travels fast in this town, especially when it regards a troupe of bakaa (foreigners = white people). So, I walk to the street (because there's only one) and the health group of the trainees has arrived to visit with the local traditional healer in my village, Winston. I've met him a few times. He's a man in his late 30s who owns one of the little local stores, the one that's never actually open and sells mostly notebooks, thread and beer.
We all go down to the river and sit in a circle. Surrounding us are what I've known to be the traditional entrance-points to a village, placed at any place someone can enter, usually at the river. They are made up of 2 vertical sticks with dried palm leaves draped between them. It looks like an old, not very festive end-point of some kind of race.
Winston arrives in traditional healing garb. He has a pangi around his waist and another larger one tied like a toga around one shoulder. A third small one is tied around like a bandanna/scarf. All three are a matching rich blue color with white pieces of cloth sewn into them. The white cloth are shaped like the things he uses for healing, like a pot on a fire or instruments he uses when singing.
He told us a fair amount about traditional healing, although I'm sure we just scratched the surface. He heals things like broken bones, snake bites and other physical ailments. But then he also deals with issues concerning the soul, which is called yeye. Another word for some kind of soul thing is winti. The winti can present itself (possess?) to himself and others, which usually makes them speak in tongues and do unusual things. He is possessed by the winti so he can understand the language his patients speak when they are possesssed.
The spirit first possessed him and he knew he was a traditional healer when he was 13. The healing abilitiy passes through the maternal line, so it'll pass to his sister's children. It passes to someone when the current healer either dies or is too old to properly heal.
He has 4 buildings he works in. One is where the winti resides. There are 2 buildings for patients to stay, because they stay there until they are healed, which may take some time. There is one for men and one for women. The 4th is for larger gatherings, like dances. No one is allowed to enter any of the buildings if they are menstruating or if they've had sex in the last 3 days. He said people respect this because bad things happen if they don't, like a woman who enters on her period will have a continuous period for months and months on end. This culture definitely does not like menstruation.
The winti will not allow payment to the healer and his ancestors weren't allowed to accept any. However, he explained to the winti that times have changed and that everything required in life now requires money. The winti deliberated on this and finally decided that he could accept money, but he couldn't accept it personally and no one could accept it in his healing buildings. So, someone else usually is paid elsewhere for him.
There were 2 women with him during this talk. One was this very old woman who is always super raunchy. She has asked me every dirty horrible secret about my sex life. She wants to hook me up with a local so bad I think it makes her hurt. She's just going to have to hurt. Yesterday earlier in the day I went to visit her and she had a shirt on (kind of unusual), but there was a very large hole at one of her boobs and an entire breast was hanging out of it. Pretty great. When we first got to the healing session and sat down she went around and hugged each person and gave them each a name in Okanisi. Her job is basically to translate when Winston is possessed by the winti and speaks in tongues, because he is not aware of what he is doing.
The other woman, probably in her 40s, is basically his secretary. She handles the money, arranges things, and makes sure the house and surroundings are physically appealing to the spirits.
Later he sang a song that's supposed to summon the winti to present itself. It was pretty cool. He was a good singer. I don't think I would want to see it at night though, I think it would totally scare the crap out of me. The instructor, who is a Surinamese woman, kept on getting freaked out talking to him. She said she's terrified of this stuff.
While we were listening to the talk a group of tucans were playing in a nearby tree. And then, a bit later, we saw a caiman in the water. It seemed like some kind of fake tourist attraction, it was so perfect. Traditional healer. Check. Tucans. Check. Caiman. Check.
One last thing. The other day I ate a piranha head for dinner. It just looked like a fish head (apparently the favored part of the fish, the cheeks are excellent), and then I flipped it over and the huge razor sharp teeth were there. It was pretty big too.
This was long, but I thought the traditional healer stuff was pretty awesome.