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Sep 28, 2001

A traditional healer’s story

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Growing old is a fact of life, but with the years come the wisdom of experience. Tonight, we air the first of five documentaries on older Belizeans whose life stories are filled with lessons for us all. Hortence Robinson has been a traditional healer for more than fifty years. This is her story.

Hortence Robinson, Traditional Healer

“I do believe it’s a gift.”

Rudy Castillo, Narrator

For more than half a century, Hortence Robinson has been healing the sick using little more than what grows on trees. When she learnt her craft, traditional healers represented the familiar face of medicine in Belize. But with the growth of western medicine, local bush doctors were relegated to the position of mere quacks. Their remedies and methods were seen as unsophisticated, superstitious, having no basis in scientific fact. Now, the knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation, is enjoying a rebirth, thanks to stalwart herbalists like Hortence.

Raised in Mexico, she lived among the Ikaiche Indians, learning much of what she practices today.

Hortence Robinson

“I learnt to walk and talk and everything among the Indians that they brought out from Ikaiche to San Francisco Botes. I start to learn these remedies from home and from the Indians.”

Unlinked to technological breakthroughs that have advanced western medicine, traditional healing’s main boosts in the 20th Century has been its survival. It has lasted because its secrets have been preserved in the heads of practitioners like Hortence.

Hortence Robinson

“I was a child that if you said, “Let’s go collect herbs” we go with the people collecting herbs and to each herb they collected I was “What you want it for? What will you do with it? What you use it for?” And they keep telling me; they weren’t selfish.”

It seems an unlikely combination, but Hortence’s daughter is a trained midwife. So mother and daughter work at either end of the same field. Ancient and modern medicine live, not always comfortably under the same roof.

Hortence Robinson

“It was difficult between me and her then, before. But when she realised that we need both…we need medication from the doctor, we need advice from the doctor because they are trained. They are certified in what they do, and we are sure of what we can take care of and I think both can be together.”

Though Hortence is prepared to wave the white flag at modern medicine and work alongside rather than against, she does take pride that few of her patients have needed a second opinion from a more conventional doctor.

Hortence Robinson

“And up to now, I only know one person that really had to take an operation, after using the herbs. But it was too far gone for both cures; from the medical doctor or from herbs.”

While Hortence cultivates some of the herbs she uses, others she still has to collect, out in the bush or by the side of the road. Everyday plants that most of us trample underfoot are to Hortence a cure for sores, the symptoms of tuberculosis or skin cancer. However as Belize develops, much of the lands where the herbs grow is being levelled for real estate or turned over for farming.

Hortence Robinson

“So we go and ask permission to go in the land before they clear it and collect the baby plants and have somewhere to preserve it.”

Just as many people sneer the old before profiting from their years of experience, people are now beginning to open their eyes and see beyond the novelty of modern medicine. They have realised that there is a reason why certain things have stuck around for so long.

The stories are narrated by Rudy Castillo and produced in 1994.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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