Stamps from Santo Domingo to New York
Folk Medicine by Rafael de la Cruz
July 7, 2010
Upon leaving the island, rural and urban Dominicans who work for meager wages take with them few possessions on their journey to the Big Apple. Some carry no more than a toothbrush and damaged photographs of relatives and friends. The immigrants also bring with them memories of the neighborhood or place to which they yearn to return to one day if “things turnout well” for them.
Among other memories that Dominicans bring to New York, which are part of their cultural and spiritual identity, are popular knowledge about curing diseases and ailments or "Penitas" (minor pains) as part of the African legacy on the island and throughout the Caribbean.
The vast and unimaginable variety in the natural world is the core of folk medicine in Africa and other regions. It is this legacy that feeds the Dominican folk medicine that can cure "Penitas" such as menstrual problems, colds, muscle aches, asthma, stomach problems and hundreds of hundreds of ailments.
Dominican immigrant folk medicine practitioners do not practice "witchcraft" or “brujeria” as we are led to believe by the authoritative officials of the Catholic Church and certain Protestant sects. Actually, Christianity is losing followers in our country and what better way to keep a hold on followers than to disqualify the popular practices of our ancestors. (Note that the hierarchy is composed mostly of white European descent).
Folk medicine does not suit the health merchants that charge an arm and a leg for a mere consultation.
If folk medicine is continued to be practiced in and outside the island, it is because it serves its purposes. Through folk medicine, the Antillean identity is kept alive in this city where getting sick is very expensive.