Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mal De Ojo (Evil Eye)

Many of the Belizeans that I get to know grew up with Maya medicine. They still go to the doctor but also try the traditional remedies if the plant is available. Here are a few that I've seen personally or someone has come and told me that they used it:
*Put thin onion skins on a deep wound to draw out the toxins
*Use Aloe-Vera to make your hair soft
*Grind up a dried snake, mix it with water, and drink it to relieve stomach pain and cancer.
*Use the soldier (large) leaf cutter ants to suture wounds and provide anesthetic
*Grind up and boil the leaf of the epezote plant and then drink it to cure worms.
*Eat cooked chaya to reduce symptoms of diabetes.
There are a lot more. Many people who walk past me watering the school garden tell me about how the plants in the garden are used, or could be used, or used to be used by their mothers. I've read on the internet how many of these remedies are truly successful....even the onion skins.

Even if people are more likely in 2013 to pop an ibuprofen than prick their foreheads with the sharp needles of the "headache plant", when it comes to babies....all of the old traditions are rejuvenated.

One of the biggies is the Mal de Ojo. (The Evil Eye).  Shortly after a baby is born mothers tie a red string on their baby's wrist.   It is thought that if the baby cries inconsolably or runs a fever, it is because something evil has entered the baby.  To keep the evil out a red string is tied on the wrist. Sometimes the string can be a beaded bracelet.  I know that God is much better at blocking evil than strings, so I would avoid this tradition and preach against it. But even some Christian mothers tie the strings while thinking "well it couldn't hurt and my mother did it for me."  But it does hurt because whenever we put our trust in something other than God, we lose the power that God has to save us.

Another baby tradition is with the plant called ruda. (It's called Rue in the US.)  Most people who have babies will look for a ruda plant soon after the baby is born.  One mother explained to me that if the mother takes the young baby out (such as shopping), the baby may pass or bump into people who are thieves or drink too much, or are cheating on their wives.  By brushing past them, the evil from the strangers will rub off on to the baby. As soon as the mother and baby get home she takes a local egg (she emphasized NOT a Mennonite egg, but an egg from a free range chicken), and mixes it with milk or water and crushed ruda leaves.  The mother then rubs the mix all over the baby.  This will protect the baby from the evil that rubbed off on him during the outing.


I'm reading through the Old Testament.   It strikes me that the Hebrew people of both Judah and Israel were doing the same sort of thing  There was God, the Lord, Yahweh who they knew had saved their ancestors, but right in front of them were people who were telling them about local gods that could fix "what ails ya".  Sometimes the Hebrews chose to "try everything"...."just in case".  But God is a jealous God.  He is the ONE God. The only way to ward off evil is to trust and look to him.

The Maya medicine is fascinating in it's longevity and possible curing potential, but the baby strings and ruda rubs verge on alternative religions.

It's hard to help Deaf Christians here draw the line between Maya medicinal practices that may help and traditions that are against  our faith  The traditions, the way their mothers are telling them to take care of their babies, trumps whatever I say from a Christian perspective.  This whole "conflict" makes me feel very much of an outsider coming in and telling them what to do. Exactly what I DON'T want to do.   It's an interesting balance trying to respect culture and also draw the line where I think God would say "NO!"


  1. Hey Nancy! I remember hearing about some similiar rituals in Honduras too. May God give you grace and wisdom to know when you need to speak out and when not to!

  2. You have a great perspective. It must be hard when traditions that are not good are so weaved in the culture.

  3. Hello, I was wondering where the picture of the baby came from.

  4. This stems from when the natives were conquered and were forced to take on a new religion. They did so, in public, but in private held on to their own beliefs and passed those on to their children. We Blacks have some lingering, unaccounted for beliefs that we cannot pinpoint the origin also. We as slaves had one face for the masters and the real face for ourselves.