Tribal memory coming alive in new healing garden
Ascencion Solorsano de Cervantes was the last member of the Amah Mutsun tribe versed in the traditional ways of medicine. People from hundreds of miles away sought her care.
In the summer of 1929 at age 83, Solorsano, the last fluent speaker of the tribal language, and a longtime resident of Gilroy, Calif., felt death approaching. To prepare, she moved to her daughter's Monterey, Calif., home, bought a new black silk dress for burial and called her family close to say goodbye.
It takes a certain type of boldness for a group of anthropologists to accuse their colleagues around the world of ignoring fully half of human experience.
But with their call for anthropology to “at last tackle ‘the other half of the world’” by launching a new field of study — nocturnity, or the role of the night in human affairs — that is just what ten mostly French scholars have done in a leading journal.
The patterns of sacred colors pressed in glass on the doors of St. Alexius’ Meditation Room are rounded, reminiscent of Chippewa art and decoration, as well as geometric motifs, like the Lakotas’.
The colors and patterns also are appropriate for a room used by Muslim medical staff for prayer, since there is no depiction of the human form, which is forbidden in Islam.
While visiting an Indian reservation, I learned about a rash of suicides.
It happened at around the same time that I was wading in the river there. Returning to the restaurant where I’d first learned about the river, I shared my experience with the Native American owner.
“On my way to the falls,” I said, “I flowed with the current, and experienced all that was pleasant on the river. Then, on my way back, I had to fight the current, and there were moments when I thought I would be overpowered.
The question took me aback, as it would any American psychiatrist wary of self-disclosure. But this was Iraq, where religion is central to people’s lives and identities. So after a slight pause, I responded with a halfhearted affirmative to the mullah I had come to see.
Mullah Eskandar was a faith healer — a youngish, tanned, bearded man in a flowing white dishdasha and a matching skullcap. Seated on a rug in his reception area with an oversize poster of the sacred Kaaba in Mecca, he emanated authority and sageness despite his relative youth.