Many times, when we talk about the Maya, we think of an ancient and distant culture. We think of their impressive pyramidal structures, breathtaking architecture, and vast knowledge of the cosmos; their art, the very precise way of measuring time, and their medicine and understanding of plants.
Without a doubt, the Maya are one of the most admired ancient civilizations for their intellectual advancement. And while their vast legacy has been relegated for centuries, a great part of their knowledge is still alive and well-guarded by today’s Maya people.
One of these guardians lives barely 15 minutes from Mérida’s Periférico, in the small town of Xcunyá. Her name is Doña Anselma. She and her family, as part of the Kuchil Kaab cooperative, make and sell Melipona honey (from native stingless bees called Meliponas) and related products. You’ll find creams, soaps, makeup remover, and syrups made with natural ingredients and medicinal plants. Beyond their natural products and plants with healing properties, however, the real treasure lies within the people who make up the cooperative. They are the heirs and owners of this great knowledge in beekeeping and traditional medicine.
Anselma Chalé Euán inherited her knowledge of herbalism and traditional medicine from her grandparents, who also were traditional healers. In her botanical garden, Doña Anselma has hundreds of different medicinal plants and a ton of Melipona beehives. There, every day, she tends to her plants and bees and shares a close relationship with them. Doña Anselma knows, in ways that may even challenge modern medicine, that plants, bees, honey, and pollen have the power of healing. She knows the uses and properties of each and every one of them; and you may ask as well about the diseases, causes, and their treatment.
But traditional Maya medicine is more than a list of recipes; it’s more like a way of living and interacting with nature. Traditional Maya medicine is the reflection of a living culture and its worldview in Yucatán.
Talking to Doña Anselma is an opportunity to get a glimpse into her way of understanding the world. It’s a peek at the complexity of the relationships between plants and soil, pollinators, and the rest of the elements. It’s understanding that we’re part of that circle. In Kuchil Kaab, they protect, share, and celebrate millenary knowledge that continues to pave its way to claim its deserved place in our daily lives.
To learn more, I encourage you to visit the Kuchil Kaab cooperative in Xcunyá, north of Mérida, or on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm at the Slow Food Yucatán market (Av. Colón x Calle 33-D, García Ginerés).
By Andrea Figueroa
Photography by @aram.bobba and Kuchil Kaab for use in Yucatán Today.
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