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A curandero (Spanish: [kuɾanˈdeɾo], f. curandera) or curandeiro (Portuguese: [kuɾɐ̃ˈdejɾu], f. curandeira) is a traditional Native healer, shaman or Witch doctor found in the United States and Mexico. Historically, in the United States, curanderos were only found in concentrated Amerindian populations. In the mid– to late–1970s the rise in ethnic minority and immigrant populations grew in tandem with the public presence of curanderos in areas outside of the historical geographic regions of the United States which had large Indigenous populations.[1][2][3] The curandero dedicates their life to the administration of remedies for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual illnesses based on their evaluation.[4][5][6][7] Since the 1990s, it is more commonplace to see Curanderos in 'northern'-tier cities in the United States.[8] The acceptance of traditional services of Curanderismo is noted by US regional health care plans accepting services of curanderos as part of their insurance benefits and coverage.[9] The role of a curandero or curandera can also incorporate the roles of psychiatrist along with that of doctor and healer. Some curanderos, such as Don Pedrito, the Healer of Los Olmos, make use of simple herbs, waters, and even mud to effect their cures. Others additionally employ Catholic elements, such as holy water and saint pictures. The use of Roman Catholic prayers and other borrowings and lendings are often found alongside native religious elements. Many curanderos emphasize their native spirituality in healing while being practicing Roman Catholics.


They are often respected members of the community. Literally translated as "healer" from Spanish. Their powers are considered supernatural, as it is commonly believed that many illnesses are caused by lost malevolent spirits, a lesson from God, or curse.


There are many different types of curanderos. "Yerberos" are primarily herbalists. "Hueseros and Sobaderos" are bone/muscle therapists who emphasize physical ailments. "Parteras" are midwives. "Oracionistas" work primarily through the power of prayer.

Among these broader terms there are several sub specialties. For instance, Yerberos who work primarily with tobacco to heal patients are known as tabaqueros. Healers who work primarily with ayahuasca are known as ayahuasqueros. Healers who work with peyote are known as peyoteros.

Although many curanderos do have a specialty and may identify with it, that does not mean that these healing modalities are necessarily strict and do not overlap. As an example, an oracionista may also be a powerful yerbera and so on.

Further information[edit]

The Moche people of ancient Peru often depicted curanderos in their art.[10]

In the Andes, one of the instruments of the curandero is the chonta, a lance carved from the chonta palm, Bactris gasipaes, thought to be imbued with magical powers. The palm grows only in the Amazon basin, and is the object of a brisk commerce. The Jivaro people of the Amazon Rainforest use the hardwood of the chonta to carve their spears.[11] The shaman is also known as chonteador, and his most important wand is the "chonta defensa"; if he dies without disciples, the chonta is thrown, wrapped in rubands and weighted with stones, to the bottom of an andine lake; its power will reemerge when a new shaman will take office. The shamans also use wands of huatulco wood, Loxopterygium huasango.[12]

In fiction[edit]

Curanderos, probably because of the mystery and intrigue that surrounds them, are frequently included in fictional works:

  • ″Woman Who Glows in the Dark″, by Elena Avilla
  • The House of Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer features a character named Celia who is a curandera.
  • Dark Obsession, by Terri Molina features a character named Ramon Chavez who is warned of danger by the spirit of a curandera, and contains a healing experience based on real life.[13]
  • The Codex, by Douglas Preston features two curanderos: Don Alfonso Boswas and Borabay. A North American character, Sally Colorado, is also honoured with the nickname, Curandera.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Salazar, CL; Levin, J (2013). "Religious features of curanderismo training and practice". Explore 9 (3): 150–8. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2013.02.003. PMID 23643370. 
  2. ^ Folk Medicine and Traditional Healing, National Center for Farmworker Health, Inc. August 2011
  3. ^ Lopez, Rebecca A. (2005). "Use of Alternative Folk Medicine by Mexican American Women". Journal of Immigrant Health 7 (1): 23–31. doi:10.1007/s10903-005-1387-8. PMID 15744474. 
  4. ^ Padilla, R; Gomez, V; Biggerstaff, SL; Mehler, PS (2001). "Use of curanderismo in a public health care system". Archives of Internal Medicine 161 (10): 1336–40. doi:10.1001/archinte.161.10.1336. PMID 11371263. 
  5. ^ Davis, RE; Peterson, KE; Rothschild, SK; Resnicow, K (2011). "Pushing the envelope for cultural appropriateness: Does evidence support cultural tailoring in type 2 diabetes interventions for Mexican American adults?". The Diabetes educator 37 (2): 227–38. doi:10.1177/0145721710395329. PMC 3209710. PMID 21343599. 
  6. ^ Reyes-Ortiz, CA; Rodriguez, M; Markides, KS (2009). "The role of spirituality healing with perceptions of the medical encounter among Latinos". Journal of general internal medicine. 24 Suppl 3 (Suppl 3): 542–7. doi:10.1007/s11606-009-1067-9. PMC 2764036. PMID 19842004. 
  7. ^ Sleath, BL; Williams Jr, JW (2004). "Hispanic ethnicity, language, and depression: Physician-patient communication and patient use of alternative treatments". International journal of psychiatry in medicine 34 (3): 235–46. doi:10.2190/vqu1-qywt-xw6y-4m14. PMID 15666958. 
  8. ^ The Oregonian (2010-04-03). "Traditional curanderos in Oregon a lifeline for the Latino version of health care providers". Retrieved 2014-01-05. 
  9. ^ Salazar, CL; Levin, J (2013). "Religious features of curanderismo training and practice". Explore 9 (3): 150–8. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2013.02.003. PMID 23643370.  pg.152
  10. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru: treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
  11. ^ Karsten, Rafael. Blood, Revenge, War and Victory Feasts Among the Jibara Indians of Eastern Ecuador. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2004. ISBN 978-1-4179-3181-1. Page 6.
  12. ^ M. Polia, The priest of the nameless hill, Le Scienze, october 2002
  13. ^ Terri Molina. Dark Obsession, published by Crimson Romance 2012


Further reading[edit]

  • Riding, Alan. Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans. New York: Vintage, 2000.
  • Trotter II, Robert T. and Juan Antonio Chavira. Curanderismo: Mexican American Folk Healing. University of Georgia Press, Second Edition, October 1997.