OSEA Maya Health, Healing and Belief Research Project is an ongoing ethnography training program that investigates issues at the intersections of Medical Anthropology Anthropology of Food, Anthropology of Experience, Anthropology of Spirituality-Religion. Anthropology field study abroad. Ethnography research projects for pre-med students gaining experience in cross-cultural medical systems. ethnographic methods courses, field study abroad, ethnographic field school, archaeolgoy of ethnography, ethnographic archaeology, Maya culture, maya Riviera, Maya cilization, Yucatan, Mexico, Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Maya Cruzob, Maya Language, Spanish schools in Mexico, anthropology, cultural anthropology, interdisciplinary anthropology, Emerging Scholars, new research, tourism conference, tourism studies, anthropology of tourism, The Open School of Ethnography and Anthropology: Ethnography of the Future / Interdisciplinary Cultural Anthropology / Study Abroad.

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Overview:    OSEA Maya Health, Healing & Belief Research

Ideal for ethnography field school participants engaged in fields and issues based in medical anthropology, anthropology of food, religious studies of belief and healing,, public health, community service learning, global health, social medicine, CAM, alternative healing, politics of health, political economy of healing and curing, medical pluralism.

OSEA Ethnography Field School participants design and conduct research in one of three ethnographic research areas:

      ♦ Tourism Ethnography         ♦ Emergent Cultures / Maya Cosmopolitanism         ♦ Health, Healing & Belief


Health, Healing & Belief is an area of research in the OSEA Ethnography Field School

Ethnography participants choosing to do research in the area of Health, Healing & Belief do individual or team research in an ongoing ethnographic study of medical pluralism in the context of tourism driven globalization. OSEA research in this area investigates how Maya negotiate their own shifting beliefs and attitudes about the efficacy of Maya healing practices and Western allopathic medicine as expressed through a wide range of possible issues and concerns, ranging from specific illnesses such as dengue, diabetes or rheumatism and particular healing practices such as yerbateras/herbalists, midwifes, bone setters, and ritual specialists to issue focussed studies such as how class, gender/sex, or religion articulate to health/sickness/curing or related to suffering and self, anthropology of food, or political economy of health.

Specifically, the research program focuses on how Maya individuals and families envision health through practices of food preparation, consumption, and natural home remedies, choose among different types of healing and medical practitioners when ill, and experience illness in terms of spiritual and/or biomedical dis-ease.


Health, Healing and Belief is a field of ongoing investigation charted by the intersections of:

             ➀ medical anthropology

             ➁ anthropology of food

             ➂ anthropology of experience

             ➃ anthropology of spirituality-religion



Student Researchers are trained to design and conduct ethnographic fieldwork on issues that they find significant based on their own life history and perspectives.

We help you shape your questions and interests into research.

⇨ Healing and Curing Practices: Students do ethnography of healing through observation and interviewing of healers (herbalists, midwifes, bone-setters, massage therapists, allopathic doctors, and spiritualist healers or Hméen). Students seeking to work with spiritual healers must have High Intermediate or Advanced Spanish Fluency and high level of cultural competency in one or more of spiritualism, Maya culture or herbalism. This is ideal for pre-Med, social medicince and public health students who seek to gain experience working with biomedical practitioners contexts of rural clinics and medical pluralism. Students can do shadowing participant observation in private and government clinics combined with participant observation with Maya healers such as bone-setters, massage therapists, herbalists, and ritual-spiritualist healers.

⇨ Health and Food:  Students do ethnography of food through fieldwork on food culture as expressed through rituals, practices and beliefs manifested in the production, preparation, consumption, and sociality of food. How is food central to culture, cultural identity, notions of self and other, political economy of tourism, the economic livlihood of families not only as meals to be consumed but as workers in a food service economy based in tourism? how is food a total social fact that threads through not only everyday dynamics of sex/gender, age and class, but questions of health, sickness, suffering, and well being. What is the meaning of food?

⇨ Sickness, Self, and Belief:  Students do oral history and ethnographic interviewing to elicit, document and analyze stories about illness that reveal choices, attitudes and beliefs about the efficacy of western medicine versus Maya spiritual healing moving towards questions of medical pluralism toward inquiries into pluralism of beliefs, formation of self identify through pain/suffering and illness. Stories, narratives, life histories of how persons negotiate illness, curing/healing and the re-making of the meaning of life are the core issues. What are the ways in which Maya people conceptualize and understand their own corporeality, spirit-being, soul, self, and kinship based personhood? Significant area of questioning in this area of research is how do persons negotiate ideas about spirits, souls, and self that are derived from different "cultures" such as traditional Maya society, Evangelical religions, Catholicism, secularism, and Euro-Western fascination with a Romanticized pure "Maya" culture?



Medical Pluralism in Pisté and Nearby Maya Communities

Pisté is the economic center of services for the tourism economy of Chichén Itzá. There are approximately 6 private clinics run as combined pharmacies and doctor consultation offices. Once of these is sponsored by the Evangelical Presbiterian Church. In addition there is a free government clinic that provides services to anyone, including tourists. This social security based clinic is the center for public health programs and practices that serve not only Pisté but also serves approximately fifteen other nearby smaller communities that do not have any biomedical practitioners on a permanent basis. In this micro-region of health services, there is an innumerable group of traditional Maya healing practitioners, including herbalists, bone setters, Maya massage therapists, midwifes, and hméen (ritual specialists), the majority of whom do not practice full time but only when called upon. In a larger encompassing area of communities from 40 minutes to an hour away are even greater number of traditional Maya healers.

Medical Pluralism is often defined from the perspective of the patient in terms of having a variety of medical options — such as biomedical, completementary and alternative medicines, traditional culture based healing &mdah; from which to choose in situations of un-health (sickness, illness, disease). Medical pluralism is frequently also references the ways in which any given medical practice is not culturally "pure" but already a mixed, hybridized adaptation of components from a wide-range of heterogeneous sources. Both kinds of medical pluralism exist in Yucatan, in both urban and more rural community contexts.



Ethnographic Note on "Maya Shamans"

Very often popular media and popular understandings refer to the Maya Hméen as "shamans" and to the existence of "shamanism" among the Maya. Anthropologists and other scholars who have extensive knowledge of Yucatán (with very few exceptions) refer to these persons as ritual specialists not as "shamans". There are no practices, beliefs or communities in contemporary Maya culture that approximates "shamanism" in the traditional, anthropological understanding of the term.

In pre-Columbian Classic Maya civilization, archaeologists have shown that the Divine Kings of the famous Maya kingdoms of Tikal, Palenque, Copan, and so forth were both warrior kings and priest-kings who channeled the divine, gods and other spirit entities. This archaeological literature refers to these kings as hybrid shaman-warriors. In contrast, the famous kingdoms of Yucatan however were ruled by kings that were not divine, but were rather humans who attained their position as nobility through kinship norms of lineage, descent, and affiliation. It seems clear that there was never anything close to what is called "shamanism" either in the elite ruling lineages or in the lower classes of Maya Yucatec society.

Spirit communication and channeling is a diagnostic feature of classical shamanism from Siberia as well as present in a wide array of cultural practices of healing and transformation associated with Indigenous and New Age communities throughout the world. "Shamanism" has come to be used to refer whether correctly or incorrectly to a wide variety of persons, practices, beliefs, and communities that in some sense reference interaction by the "shaman" with "spirits." Unfortunately, this is exceptionally sloppy, mix and match, misunderstandings of cultures, cultural communities, the political-economic contexts of societies, and the lived experience of real persons. Not all spirits are the same nor are all practices of engaging them by humans are the same. Understanding is created by differentiating cultural practices and understanding them in their specificity and particularity first, before making comparisons, and without erasing the specific uniqueness of each cultural world.

It is the analytical perspective of OSEA that the Maya Hméen are not "shamans" and that shamanism does not exist in contemporary Maya culture. Shamanism in Yucatán is primarily restricted to New Age spiritualism and practitioners, whether claiming to be Indigenous or not.



Check out the research projects in Health, Healing and Belief by previous OSEA participants

❑ Erica osea 2016 researched anthropology of food and identity in the local tourism industry of Chichén and Pisté

❑ Erika osea 2016 researched discourses of healing and suffering of dengue

❑ Isis osea 2015 researched the importance of corn in terms of the cultural meanings and political economy

❑ Julie osea 2016 researched elderly health care in Maya culture and communities.

❑ Alice osea 2016 did resaerch with parteras/midwifes to help prepare herself as a future biomedical doctor.

❑ Ariel 2016 researched the experience of anxiety as an illness in context of medical pluralism.

❑ Kate osea 2016 researched the experiences of suffering and self-making related to rheumatism.





External Resources for Pre-Med and Medical Anthropology Students

"What is Shadowing a Physician?" From Univ Washington Med School

Online Directory of Medical Anthropologists, SMA

Society for Medical Anthropology Resources page

The Politics of Healing. A History of Alternative Medicine in the USA

"What is Naturpathic Medicine?" from American Association of Naturpathic Physicians

Course Syllabi in Medical Anthropology, provided by Society Medical Anthropology, AAA

As an allopathic doctor, "Why learn Cross Cultural Perspective about Health and Healing?"

The Centre for the Cross-Cultural Study of Health and Healing

Jonathan Ellerby PhD Comments on Cross cultural Healing Perspectives

Definition of Naturpathy by the National Center for Complimentary and Altnerative Medicine, at the NIH
Naturopathy—also called naturopathic medicine—is a medical system that has evolved from a combination of traditional practices and health care approaches popular in Europe during the 19th century.

Naturpathy History from Wikipedia

Non-western Medicine. article by Peter Worsley

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)? by the National Center for CAM




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