Kallawayas of Bolivia

The word Kallawaya is probably from the Aymara language and means "doctor." The kallawayas belong to an ancient tradition of holistic medicine in Bolivia that goes back to the pre-Incan period. They still heal the sick with traditional herbs and rituals. It is estimated that 40% of the population use this form of healing exclusively.

In the remote areas of the country, and to some extent in the cities as well, a person who feels ill most likely will resort to traditional remedies, which are both accessible and affordable. Treatment often consists of a tea infusion made from plants a farmer probably already has on hand. Most often the kallawayas are paid in kind, exchanging goods for treatment. Physicians rarely want to go into the countryside, while kallawayas may travel on foot through a large area several times a year as they have done for centuries.

The farmers are always on the look out for the kallawaya's brightly colored hand-woven poncho of vicuña and his lluchu (knit cap), traversing country paths with the aid of a walking stick. The Kallawaya is always welcomed and respected, for rural dwellers feel comfortable with their mode of treatment. After all, both farmer and doctor share the same indigenous roots and the same traditional world view. Even on the rare occasions where modern physicians and services are available, many Bolivians treat them with suspicion for they are viewed as too clinical and foreign to their culture. While western medicine focuses on the individual, the native doctor gives much more attention to the family, the community, and the psychological and socioeconomic concomitants of health, providing a holistic approach to treatment. This approach involves a lengthy discussion with the patient concerning the illness and an examination of the physical surroundings.

Work is now being done to preserve these traditions. In former times instruction was passed on from father to son, but schools now have been established to insure the continuation of the kallawaya approach to healing.

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