Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer

By Rosita Arvigo with Nadine Epstein and Marilyn Yaquinto

Place: Publisher & Year: San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994

Genres: Non-fiction, ethnobotany, anthropology, autobiography, biography, traditional medicine

ISBN: 9780062502551

Intended audience: Adult

Number of pages: 190

Setting: San Ignacio, Belize

Time period: 1980’s (1981- 1993, most of the book’s story is 1981-1987)

Plot summary: When Rosita moves to San Ignacio, Belize with her husband and daughter, they have dreams of establishing a farm along with their medical practices, but find life quite challenging.  When Rosita meets Don Elijio Panti, a well known Mayan healer in the area, she asks to become his apprentice.  She has a thirst for knowledge about the local plants and his healing techniques; she also recognizes that Don Elijio’s knowledge was in danger of becoming lost to the world if he didn’t pass it on to someone else.  Don Elijio, however, politely denies her request thinking that the Mayan spirits would not accept a gringa.  She also had no sastun.  In spite of his rejection, Rosita regularly visits Don Elijio, helping and learning from him.  Eventually, Rosita receives a sastun, and her apprenticeship begins in full.

Appeal factors:

Pacing: The slower beginning introduces the reader to both San Ignacio and the surrounding area and characters.  Once these have been well established (around chapter 5 – p. 40), the pace increases rapidly.

Characterization: The story is told in first person through Rosita’s eyes.  We learn of her struggles and fears and are heartened by her successes.  The other primary character is Don Elijio a truly amazing man.

Frame: The jungle (Central American rainforest) sets the scene for this story.  It is both fearsome, and beautiful.  It is a source of life and medicine, but also evil spirits.  Additionally, it is being destroyed at alarming rates.

Story Line: A wonderful story about one woman following her heart to learn more about plants and ends up helping found a national plant reserve and research center.  Rosita’s efforts to save both traditional healing knowledge and ecosystems will be appreciated for many generations.

Subject headings:

From Library of Congress:
Mayas –Ethnobotany.
Mayas –Medicine.
Traditional medicine –Belize –Cayo District.
Ethnobotany –Belize –Cayo District.
Maya healers –Belize –Cayo District.
Medicinal plants –Belize –Cayo District.
Rain forest ecology –Belize –Cayo District.

Similar authors:

Mark J. Plotkin, PhD Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice
Alberto Villoldo & Erik Jendresen Dance of the Four Winds: Secrets of the Inca Medicine Wheel
Hernan Garcia, Antonio Sierra, Hilberto Balam, & Jeff Conant (Translator) Wind in the Blood: Mayan Healing & Chinese Medicine
Elena Avila & Joy Parker Woman Who Glows in the Dark: A Curandera Reveals Traditional Aztec Secrets of Physical and Spiritual Health

Personal notes: [Annotated 11/22/08]

Other: Diversity – Mayans, traditional healers, naprapaths

The book has a map of the area in the beginning and both a “Glossary of  Mayan Words” and “A Basic Catalog of Medicinal Rainforest Plants” in the back.

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