Ancestral Medicine on Rapa Nui
Within the philosophical world view of the Rapanui, good health is based on the union of man and nature, between life and death, in the present, the past and the future.
Beyond the magical causes which altered the internal equilibrium of the organism, there were also natural causes which the islanders considered “imbalance between heat and cold”. People were warned not to expose themselves to brusque changes in temperature. Cold could penetrate the body in different forms. Among women it entered through the genitals and the urinary tract, the stomach, the bones and the muscles. Some plants have properties which heat the body and were used as hot drinks, inhalants, steam baths and magic.
About another original method of physical therapy, we have the reports of Alfred Métraux. The patient was placed over a hole in a rock which had been filled with heated stones to cause heavy sweating. The first step was to excavate the hole and fill it with the stones which had been heated in the fire. Over the stones, fresh water or salt water would be poured to make steam. A mattress of banana leaves and herbs would be prepared on which to place the patient. A further layer of leaves would cover the body. For these steam baths, it was necessary to add the proper medicinal plants which would increase the therapeutic effects. Induction of sweating was considered an effective method for cleansing the entire organism, similar to steam baths or sauna today. This was used in cases of colds, coughs and bronchitis. The hot stones were also used for local application of pressure or heat. They would heal pain in muscles, the lumbar area and the bones. They also served to prevent stretch marks after childbirth.
There were magical causes altered the body’s internal balance, as well as natural causes to which the Islanders qualify as an “imbalance between hot and cold”
Among the women, “vaginal baths” with hot steam, oil and massage were popular. Daily genital hygiene comes from women treating the vulva and vagina as the “most delicate part of the body” since that area is responsible for procreation and sexual activity. Rapanui women feel that they have “something special” that other women don’t have. They treat their reproductive organs and sexual activity as a reflection of their ethnic culture.
By Zdzislaw Jan Ryn
University School of Physical Education. Kraków, Polonia
Autor y co-editor del libro “Cuevas de Isla de Pascua” y autor del libro “ Isla de Pascua. Medicina en la Tierra Sagrada de Hotu Matua “, editado en Polonia. Author and co-editor of the book “The Caves of Easter Island” and author of the book “Easter Island : Medicine in the Sacred Land of Hotu Matua “, published in Poland.
Photos by the Author
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