Some Symbolic Dimensions of Andean Materia Medica



Therapeutic healing symbols should be recognized as being embedded in and arising from a cultural context, which both specialists and nonspecialists then draw upon in treating the sick. The symbolic aspects of material features of medical systems have been discussed in reference to biomedicine, but little discussion has been devoted to these symbolic dimensions of traditional medical systems. Ethnographic data from an Andean hamlet in Northern Peru provides evidence that the symbolic content of remedies is rooted in the collective experience of the people and can be shared across all types of healing encounters. The three symbolic qualities of materia medica identified are blackness, topicality and liquidity, [index words: symbolic healing, ethnomedicine, medical anthropology, Peru, Andes]