Dietary restrictions in healing among speakers of Iquito, an endangered language of the Peruvian Amazon

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Background: Ethnobotanical research was carried out with speakers of Iquito, a critically endangered Amazonian language of the Zaparoan family. The study focused on the concept of "dieting" (siyan++ni in Iquito), a practice involving prohibitions considered necessary to the healing process. These restrictions include: 1) foods and activities that can exacerbate illness, 2) environmental influences that conflict with some methods of healing (e.g. steam baths or enemas) and 3) foods and activities forbidden by the spirits of certain powerful medicinal plants. The study tested the following hypotheses: H1 - Each restriction will correlate with specific elements in illness explanatory models and H2 - Illnesses whose explanatory models have personalistic elements will show a greater number and variety of restrictions than those based on naturalistic reasoning.Methods: The work was carried out in 2009 and 2010 in the Alto Nanay region of Peru. In structured interviews, informants gave explanatory models for illness categories, including etiologies, pathophysiologies, treatments and dietary restrictions necessary for 49 illnesses. Seventeen botanical vouchers for species said to have powerful spirits that require diets were also collected.Results: All restrictions found correspond to some aspect of illness explanatory models. Thirty-five percent match up with specific illness etiologies, 53% correspond to particular pathophysiologies, 18% correspond with overall seriousness of the illness and 18% are only found with particular forms of treatment. Diets based on personalistic reasoning have a significantly higher average number of restrictions than those based on naturalistic reasoning.Conclusions: Dieting plays a central role in healing among Iquito speakers. Specific prohibitions can be explained in terms of specific aspects of illness etiologies, pathophysiologies and treatments. Although the Amazonian literature contains few studies focusing on dietary proscriptions over a wide range of illnesses, some specific restrictions reported here do correspond with trends seen in other Amazonian societies, particularly those related to sympathetic reasoning and for magical and spiritual uses of plants. © 2011 Jernigan; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.




Jernigan, K. A. (2011). Dietary restrictions in healing among speakers of Iquito, an endangered language of the Peruvian Amazon. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 7.

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