Best traditional healer in Guam
Best traditional healer in Guam is becoming increasingly harder to find. While this secrecy is partially owed to their reduction in number, there are other factors at play, according to Guma Yo’åmte President Zita Pangelinan and social work professor Tricia Lizama.
In 2010, Lizama wrote her PhD dissertation on the indigenous healing practices of the Chamoru people. “I wanted to know how the practice was being passed on, if it was,” the University of Guam professor stated.
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After months of research and interviews, Lizama discovered that the home- Best traditional healer in Guam was still in existence to some extent, although it looked quite different from her childhood recollection.
Hidden in plain sight
Growing up on Guam, Lizama knew about traditional healing practices through her older female relatives. “My grandma made medicine, and a lot of her sisters,” she said.
Lizama later found out that many of her peers had similar experiences within their own families as best traditional healer in Guam .
“As I started to do my research, people would say, ‘Yeah, my grandma made medicine,’” Lizama said. “Everybody’s grandma had certain kinds of medicine for the flu, for colds … It was something that everyone did.”
As commonplace as their practice was, very few of these yo’åmte, or traditional healers, would use that title. Lizama recalled that her grandmother and her grandmother’s sisters “would never identify themselves as healers.”
Lizama attributes this type of humility to Chamoru cultural values. “People don’t want to be known,” she said. “It’s this cultural value of boasting.”
Another reason a yo’åmte may be wary of publicity is that their practice has a poor reputation in certain social circles.
Attacked by both the church and military
According to Zita Pangelinan, who co-founded the island’s first Best traditional healer in Guam center after FestPac 2016, indigenous Chamoru medicine was attacked by both the church and the military.
Local healing practices were likened to “voodoo, witchcraft and superstition” in an attempt to “devalue the tradition,” Pangelinan stated.
Traditional healers faced another type of threat with the rise of western medicine and clinics.
According to Pangelinan, “there were laws and rules that our healers were to cease and desist any type of healing … otherwise, they were punished. And it was a real serious threat.”
Lizama recounted a story she’d read about one yo’åmte who “went underground” after being confronted for helping a woman’s daughter.
According to the story, when the girl’s hospital physician learned that she was also being taken to a traditional healer, “the doctor told security to go to the healer and tell her to stop practicing.” Afterwards, Lizama said, the yo’åmte “would only practice for people she knew.”
Creating new yo’åmte
Another obstacle for the love spells in guam is the difficulty of finding and training yo’åmte apprentices.
Certain Chamoru families have passed down the sacred knowledge of traditional healing from generation to generation, sustaining the health of the island’s people for over 4000 years, said Pangelinan.
Today, however, lineage may be a limiting factor.
“The rules say that technically the apprentice should be someone in your family,” Lizama explained. “But what I found with the people I interviewed was many of them were not married – like half of them – so they didn’t have their own children to do this direct passing-on.”
And, although many healers Lizama spoke with were willing to pass the knowledge on to a non relative, it became clear to the researcher that finding a candidate would not be fast or easy.
During their conversations about what an apprentice should look like, Lizama said the yo’åmte did not have a concrete set of criteria. Some traits they said they would look for are whether the candidate is patient, has a good heart, and is a good person.
Lizama recalled, “They’re very gifted. They have this intuition. They said that they would just know.”
Big expectations from an apprentice
Even after being approved, there is a lot expected from an apprentice.
First, they would have to learn about the åmot, or plants, used to make traditional medicine.
According to Pangelinan, there are three different types of åmot, and they are characterized by where they grow on the island.
“The three sites would be coastal, near the beach area, in the mountains and in the valleys,” she said. “When (a yo’åmte) would go look for åmot, and they know it’s for a certain remedy, they know exactly where to go.”
This is no small task.
A portion of Lizama’s research was spent with the late Emilio “Uncle Emil” Ayuyu, a yo’åmte from Saipan. During one of their treks at Tanguisson Beach, Ayuyu identified the plants they passed by on the way to their destination.
On the walk back, Lizama said, she was quizzed on the names of those plants and their uses. “There were like fifty kinds of plants,” she recalled.
The number of traditional remedies is even greater.
Pangelinan, not a healer herself, started a personal catalog of the treatments administered at Guma Yo’åmte. In the last two years alone, she observed 167 different remedies, including treatments for infertility, internal bleeding, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and eye and ear infections.
Loss of åmot
Today the indigenous practice suffers from the lack of åmot due to land loss, said Pangelinan.
“Right now, we have such a shortage for batbena,” she reported. This particular åmot is in constant high demand as it is used in many traditional remedies.
According to Pangelinan, a large threat to Guam’s åmot is the “militarization going on up in Litekyan.” She explained that these important plants cannot simply be transplanted.
Many of the healers, Pangelinan said, believe that the effectiveness of an åmot is “not the same when you take it and plant elsewhere.”
“I don’t think many people understand the connection we have to these plants,” she expanded. “In their minds, it can grow somewhere else … (But) there’s a reason it grows there. This is their natural environment. It thrives without us.”
Pangelinan and the five healers at Guma Yo’åmte are put in a difficult spot when dealing with the federal government.
“We have been in such a dilemma when the military says, ‘Come, harvest and transplant,'” Pangelinan said. “It is so against our principles and our beliefs. It’s undermining everything that we stand for.”
High hurdles, higher hopes
Guma Yo’åmte is a nonprofit organization that runs on “gifts from the heart,” Pangelinan explained. A part of the intake process includes setting up a payment plan, which may not always be money.
However, it’s financial gifts that help the most, with paying the pro-bono healers and keeping the clinic afloat.
On Pangelinan’s wish list is an $800 standalone bathtub that will allow Guma Yo’åmte to offer herbal treatments and cleansing. In the background, a new patient can be heard asking the receptionist if rice could be accepted as payment.
Despite Guma Yo’åmte’s humble operations, there is evidence of growth.
Around 200 people a month receive Chamoru medical treatments at Guma Yo’åmte, said Lizama, whose last look at the healing center’s numbers took place more than a year ago.
This is a step up from the mentality Lizama had during her dissertation writing process. “I think I said in two decades we would lose this practice if nothing was going to be done,” she admitted.
According to Pangelinan, apprentices are currently being trained by the five hard-working healers at Guma Yo’åmte. Though not all of them