Healers attend conference

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By Russell Contreras
The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE — Incense burns at the door. Prayers are whispered in dozens of languages. A shell horn calls people back from lunch.
More than 200 traditional healers and students of alternative medicine from across the United States and Latin America are at the University of New Mexico this week for an annual conference on curanderismo, the art of folk healing widely used among indigenous populations. The healers, also called curanderos, are scheduled to attend workshops and provide training.
But unlike previous gatherings on curanderismo, this year’s conference features healers from Africa who wanted to share their healing methods and religious practices with those from the Americas, event organizer Eliseo “Cheo” Torres said.
“It’s interesting because we’re finding out how much we all have in common,” said Torres, author of “Curandero: A Life in Mexican Folk Healing” and a UNM instructor. “Still, the healers in Africa have their own traditions which I think most of us find very interesting. We’re sharing information.”
Devorah Romanek, a curator for the nearby Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, said visiting students this year also will get to see a special exhibit on curanderismo that will feature instruments from incense burners used in rituals to cups necessary to cure a spiritual illness.
Curanderismo is the art of using traditional healing methods like herbs and plants to treat various ailments. Long practiced in indigenous villages of Mexico and other parts of Latin America, curanderos also could be found in parts of New Mexico, south Texas, Arizona and California.
In recent years, especially with the growth of immigrant populations in the South and New England, more curanderos have been spotted in those regions.
Anthropologists believe curanderismo remained popular among poor Latinos because they didn’t have access to health care. But they believe the field now is gaining traction among those who seek to use alternative medicine.
The classes this year attracted students from all over the U.S., Europe and Latin America, Torres said.
On Monday, students observed curanderos open the morning with a special ceremony.