Home Institution

Brandeis University

Publication Date

Fall 2009

Program Name

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment


For centuries, the Aymaran people of the Parinacota Province in Northern Chile have been deeply committed to ancestral practices, where a Cosmo vision rears a connection between human beings, the natural environment, and the spiritual world. The Aymaran medicinal practices replicate this relationship, with the indigenous medicine man and midwives historically holding a central role in the natural healing of community members. This study describes the present-day role of Señora Fausta Pairo Mollo, the midwife in the altiplano region of Parinacota. In particular, it examines how her practices has been integrated into the official medical system, while also investigating how her role as a medical figure has evolved as modernization begins to replace ancestral roots. For this project, one week was spent in the rural town of Chucuyo conducting a qualitative observation of Señora Fausta’s work as a midwife. In-depth interviews with Señora Fausta, her patients, and the director of the region’s health clinic were the primary tool to gather information. Findings of this study reflect that while midwifery isn’t utilized for preventative pregnancy control, patients seek Señora Fausta’s care when problems arise prior to delivery. Through the use of herbs and natural elements, Señora Fausta summons the Cosmo vision of the Aymaran beliefs to treat her patients. Analysis of the interviews suggests that there is an effort to integrate Señora Fausta into the region's health care system, in recognition of the broad reach the traditional midwife would have into socially marginalized populations that are geographically isolated from biomedical health resources. Regardless, the modernization of the region has foreboding implications for the continuance of her role and the ancestral medicinal practices of the Aymaran people, as Señora Fausta is likely to be the last midwife in the Parinacota Province.


Alternative and Complementary Medicine | Maternal and Child Health

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