What is health for these indigenous peoples?

What is health for these indigenous peoples?
2021. Traditional prevention ritual, Ceima Cachivera community, suburban area of Mitú, Department of Vaupés, Colombia. Photo: Pablo Montoya © Sinergias ONG

What is health for these indigenous peoples?

To work on health and wellness issues with these communities it is essential to know what this means for them. Below we present two of the definitions that have worked and some of the main recommendations for good mental health:

«For us, health is not only being healthy, it is being well as a whole, it is having a healthy life in all aspects, both physical and spiritual, mental and our way of thinking; that is why health involves and relates to many other important characteristics of our life and the natural environment that surrounds us, it is our way of seeing and conceiving the world. We can say that health is the result of the balance that exists between us as people and the living nature that surrounds us and provides us with what is necessary to live. When we break that balance is when diseases occur. In the past, those in charge of harmonizing this balance were the peasants, who were in charge of asking nature for permission to use it, taking health and work precautions, being aware of changes in the seasons of the traditional or ecological calendar, among other activities.» (Definition of health from the AATIAM indigenous life plan.

«Health for us is having enough food and eating well, with good housing, personal hygiene and housekeeping, with knowledge in the community, having a field with a variety of crops, with good relations in the family and the community, good practices traditions and preserving culture, having good prayers and preserving traditional medicine, going to the health center, not committing sexual abuse or stealing, doing sports and physical activity.» (Health definition of a community in the suburban area of Mitú.) 

The main recommendations of the work carried out with communities in the suburban area of Mitú to have good mental health and coexistence are the (see Recommended readings).:

-Produce food for consumption and have enough cassava; have food at home, school, work and community; have the crop near the house.

-Live happily with the family; do not fight with women, talk between the couple before parties to avoid jealousy in the middle of the parties; pay more attention to the children and give them the required food, have the children well cleaned, that the children learn to respect their classmates and study well at school.

-Practice culture, go to a shaman to do prevention and cure, approach adult women to ask about the customs of the ancestors and thus avoid cultural loss, seek traditional medicine, have a maloca, share different types of traditional knowledge within the indigenous community, it is necessary to advise according to the destiny of the life of each one.

-Preserve the environment.

-Strengthen local governance in different sectors: own education, cultural practices, agricultural practices; strengthen the leadership of the authorities, who must call meetings to give recommendations on issues that affect the community, the capacity of community organization to create spaces and recreational activities, sports or not, in which different population groups can participate; the integration and participation of the community in the proposed activities; that the community is clean and there are days to sweep and dismantle.

-And, finally, dialogue well with people, good use of the word, communicate well with others, not giving importance to gossip, not speaking bad words; to solve fights, arguments, gossip, envy, etc.