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Curandera performing a limpieza in Cuenca, Ecuador

A curandero (Spanish: [kuɾanˈdeɾo], f. curandera) or curandeiro (Portuguese: [kuɾɐ̃ˈdejɾu], f. curandeira) is a traditional Native healer, shaman or Witch doctor found in Latin America, the United States and Southern Europe. The curandero dedicates their life to the administration of remedies for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual illnesses based on their evaluation.[1][2][3][4] 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.

History in Latin America[edit]

The term curanderos can be traced all the way back to the Spanish colonization of Latin America. Curanderos are the result of the mixture of traditional indigenous medicinal practices and Catholic rituals. The influence of African rituals brought to Latin America by slaves is also important to note. [5] The term stems from the Spanish word for "to heal", curar. Curanderos go beyond Western medicine, by linking illness with evil spirits. This extends a curandero's duties to cover not only physical ailments but also psychological issues and even things like a failing marriage. The reason for this is that all of these issues are seen as a loss of spirit. [6] The belief is that the curanderos can enter different dimensions where they are able to find the solutions to a person's illness or problem. Furthermore, it is believed that God or the Higher Creator gives curanderos difficult and painful experiences so that they are better able to assist their patients. [7] In Colonial Latin America, female folk healers, or curanderas, were often conflated with brujas (witches), which refers to those who performed spellwork; although curanderas were persecuted during such times, these folk healers were likely persecuted because they were females in positions of authority, not because of their healing methods. [8] Today many women and men continue the tradition of being a curandero in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. [5]

History in the United States[edit]

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.[9] Since the 1990s, it is more commonplace to see curanderos in 'northern'-tier cities in the United States.[10]


There are many different types of curanderos. "Yerberos" are primarily herbalists. "Hueseros" are bone/muscle therapists who emphasize physical ailments. "Parteras" are midwives. "Oracionistas" work primarily through the power of prayer. Other types include "Sobadors" which are massagers and "Brujas" which are witches.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

In fiction[edit]

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

  • César Calvo, Las Tres Mitades de Ino Moxo y otros brujos de la Amazonías (Iquitos 1981), translated as The Three Halves of Ino Moxo. Teachings of the Wizard of the Upper Amazon. A novel by the Peruvian author based on the life of Manuel Córdova-Rios.
  • Bless Me, Ultima, by the Chicano author Rudolfo Anaya.
  • The life and writing of Don Miguel Ruiz has been also influenced by curanderismo, since his mother was a curandera.
  • The original screenplay for the film Viva Zapata! involved a curandera predicting the birth and death of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The original played much more heavily on the supernatural than the chosen script.
  • Curandero, a 2005 film by Eduardo Rodríguez.
  • Changes for Josefina, one of the American Girl series of books about 10-year-old Maria Josefina Montoya set outside Santa Fe in the mid-1820s, features Tía Magdalena as a curandera and the most respected woman in the protagonist's village. She is also featured in the American Girl novel Secrets in the Hills.
  • Eduardo The Healer, is a documentary that follows the life of a Peruvian curandero.
  • Forests of the Heart, by Charles de Lint features a curandera protagonist.
  • So Far From God, by Chicana author Ana Castillo, features the curandera character Doña Felicia.
  • (Notes from the trial of) La Curandera, a song by the band Clutch (band) off their 2004 album, Blast Tyrant. It features a fictional trial of a curandera for curing a demon.
  • Nightmare, by Joan Lowery Nixon
  • The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea tells the story of Teresita Urrea, a curandera at the end of the 1800s.
  • Woman Who Glows in the Dark: A Curandera Reveals Traditional Aztec Secrets of Physical and Spiritual Health (2000), by Elena Avila
  • 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.[15]
  • 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.
  • In the Medical Center (TV series) episode 'Tio Taco', Dr. Joe Gannon confronts Mondragon, a curandero, who tries to treat a woman with an internal hemorrhage.
  • Marta's Ride, by Gordon Rottman mentions curaneras attempting to save a possessed man.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ 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 3209710Freely accessible. PMID 21343599. 
  3. ^ 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 2764036Freely accessible. PMID 19842004. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ a b "Univision: Curanderos carry on traditions of Catholicism, African rites". 
  6. ^ "What are curanderos in Hispanic cultures? - News Taco". 
  7. ^ "What is a Curandera or Curandero?". 9 August 2013. 
  8. ^ "Can a Catholic be a witch? - OnFaith". 25 October 2010. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ The Oregonian (2010-04-03). "Traditional curanderos in Oregon a lifeline for the Latino version of health care providers". Retrieved 2014-01-05. 
  11. ^ La gente : hispano history and life in Colorado. C. de Baca, Vincent., Colorado Historical Society. Denver, Colo.: Colorado Historical Society. 1998. ISBN 9780870815386. OCLC 40678337. 
  12. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru: treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ M. Polia, The priest of the nameless hill, Le Scienze, october 2002
  15. ^ 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.