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Island families continue their healing traditions


written by Jaime Johnston
photos by Thomas Tomczyk

In an age where emerging science drives medical technology, concepts of nature and tradition can be overshadowed. Here in the Bay Islands, generations of knowledge quietly fuels the use of natural medicines and treatments. The practitioners of such treatments aren't medical doctors or scientists; they are students. They are people who watched, listened and who, over the years, witnessed the healing powers of family elders. Together, the knowledge reveals a rich history of Island traditions based around community and spirituality.

For hundreds of years, people throughout the world have practiced 'bush medicine'. This is the use of bark, roots, stems and leaves of indigenous plants for healing of illness or injury. The warm temperatures and heavy rainfall of the Bay Islands creates a flourishing environment for plant and tree growth. Honduras is home to over 10,000 vascular plant species, with 160 exclusive to the Bay Islands. These species grow wild and are easily recognizable to the trained eye of bush 'doctors'. "It's something you learn over time," said Nelda Bodden who has been boiling bush remedies for several decades. Her mother was a midwife and used to treat women with different natural medicines. "When I was little, there weren't many doctors around and if you found one, it was very expensive. In those days, there were a lot of smart people around and we would learn about bush medicine- which plants you could use for different sickness," said Miss Nelda, "and most of the time, you would feel better."
Behind her Flower's Bay home, Miss Nelda tends to acres of family land, rich with medicinal plants and fruit trees. As she strolls through the bush, Miss Nelda instinctively bends to pick leaves and roots as she describes their uses. "For fever, you wrap up your feet with wet almond leaves and grease the skin with coconut oil. You leave it until your temperature drops," says Miss Nelda. She explains that wild mint is used for preventing infection in women after they've given birth. "Certain bushes, you use the leaves and boil them to drink. For high blood sugar, you use dried and yellowed grapefruit leaves, goat flowers or dried almond leaves," Miss Nelda says. The bark from almond, guava and cashew trees is also used to treat high blood sugar.
"To stop bleeding, you scrape the powder from the inside of the coconut tree branch and, for insomnia, you can use wild basil," she explained. Although there are poisonous plants growing on the Islands, Miss Nelda recognizes them easily. "You watch the birds. You could have this bush that is so thick and good- if it's bad, the birds won't touch it," Miss Nelda says.
This is a familiar concept to Otis Raymond of Sandy Bay. "If the cows don't want it, neither do I," said Mr. Otis who has 20 years of bush boiling experience. Mr. Otis, whose grandmother was a prominent Island midwife, learned to boil bush from his mother when he was a child. He didn't take it up himself until he was grown. "I began to feel weak on the job and started boiling bush like my mother had. Soon, I felt better and people wanted more of what I had, so I started selling it," said Mr. Otis.
From Sandy Bay to French Harbour, Mr. Otis sells his brews for 150 Lps. per gallon. He boils bush for ailments ranging from high blood pressure to HIV-related infections. "The biggest one, the one that people ask for most, is for ladies who are trying to have babies," said Mr. Otis. The main ingredient in this brew is dried 'Afterbirth' bush mixed with various other plants. Mr. Otis estimates that he has treated 800-1,000 people over the years.
In terms of technique, Mr. Otis picks the bush leaves, stems or roots and hangs them upside down to dry. The dried bush can last five or six months. Mr. Otis adds the bush pieces to boiling water for only a few minutes, not allowing the leaves to turn black. This allows the leaves to be used again. Some mixtures are for drinking and can be sweetened; others are for washing or topical application for infection or stings. Although the bush grows wild, the weather conditions are a major factor in the availability of different plants. "If it rains too much, bush like 'Afterbirth' weakens and decays and if there's too much heat, a lot of bush won't grow," said Mr. Otis, "It's important to pick with caution if there's not too much of the plant growing in one spot."Mr. Otis makes all of his brews by memory and hasn't taught the recipes to anyone so far: "I don't carry no details, but lots of people boil bush around here. I guess when I'm gone, someone else will catch on." Miss Nelda joined ladies from the Bethesta Baptist Church in Flower's Bay to teach area schoolchildren. "We have gone into the Methodist Bilingual School in Coxen Hole and taught kids how to identify different bush and what it can be used for. It's important to pass it on to another generation," said Miss Nelda.
It was the needs of a younger generation that prompted Rhoda Webster of Coxen Hole to begin practicing natural medicine. "I had 12 kids and I had to learn to care for them," said Miss Rhoda who treats babies with various infant ailments. At the crown of the skull, there is a gap in the cranial plates; this is referred to as the 'soft spot' or the 'baby mold'.

According to Miss Rhoda, the baby mold can drop out of place and cause vomiting, diarrhea and infection. Newborns are especially susceptible to falling molds and can't suckle when this happens. Miss Rhoda reaches into the baby's mouth, locates the corresponding spot behind the palette and pushes up with her thumb to push the mold back into place. "It's very serious when this happens. It's hard on the baby, so you have to know what you're doing," Miss Rhoda said. She began treating baby molds 34 years ago with her first son and now treats 10-12 babies annually from the area. Miss Rhoda also boils bush medicine and often makes batches of cough medicines for neighbors. The cough medicine is made with shark oil, honey and lime juice. "It's horrible, but it works," laughed Miss Rhoda, "People ask me for lots of things. I make up the Johnny Bodden plant with broom weed to clean the womb after childbirth. Some people pay for it if they can, other times, there's no charge," said Miss Rhoda. Like Mr. Otis, Miss Rhoda boils bush recipes by memory and has passed some of the knowledge to her children. "I pick up a little of it here and there, but as long as I have my Mom around, I count on her mind," said daughter Rosemary Webster.

On the east side of the Roatan, there are a number of healers with different natural methods. Miss Tina Martinez, a docile woman with a quiet kindness, practices massage and manipulation of pressure points. "I work on muscles and organs- wherever the problem is," said Miss Tina who sees 1-3 people weekly. At the beginning of the 30-minute treatment, Miss Tina examines different parts of the patient's feet. "Each point on the foot relates to a place on the body. It shows the problem," she explained. Smoothing the body with analgesic gel, Miss Tina traces her hands up the muscular and vascular paths of the body. When she finds the appropriate spots, Miss Tina applies intense pressure to the area and kneads it for several minutes. "You look for lumps in the blood and then you have to break them up and push them out," Miss Tina said. After the massage, Miss Tina instructs that her patients can't bathe until the following day so the analgesic gel can soothe the body. She also advises daily consumption of porridge to cleanse the digestive tract.
Punta Gorda, the oldest settlement on Roatan, was Honduras' first Garifuna village. The Garifuna practice several types of natural healing, infused with spiritual beliefs. Central to these beliefs is Obeah, the management of good and evil spirits by a shaman. This individual is considered a community healer and spiritual advisor. They treat persons with medical conditions and those who are said to be possessed. The shaman communicates with the spirits on behalf of the ill and tries to excise the person of the evil root of their ailment. Some use charms or saint figures to aid them with their communication. The Garifuna believe that the spirits choose their shaman and obligate them to heal the sick.
Traditional Garifuna healers also practice preventative therapies. Some use termite nests for spiritual cleansing and burn sacred copal smoke to protect from evil spirits. For treatment of headaches or pain, Garifuna use stingray spines and can relieve poisonwood eye burn with hot bird pepper; this philosophy of treating pain with pain is prominent in Garifuna medicine which has healed thousands of people over hundreds of years.

Gifiti: Garifuna's Medicine of Love?

Gifiti is a mixture of alcohol soaked in various roots and herbs. It is said to have healing and potency powers. Its ingredients are as follows:

- Most any type of alcohol
- Garlic- a natural immune system booster
- Allspice- a blood tonic
- Jicaco Negro- the roots of this black nut-bearing tree is used for calming the nervous system.
- Big Man- a mahogany-colored root found in the bush
- Dead Man- a root used to enhance sexual drive.
- Cloves- for flavoring


You can run your business any number of different ways. You can run it on fear, you can run it on greed or you can run it on confidence. You can surround yourself with motivated, beautiful people or you can surround yourself with fearful and wanting servants. Your bottom line might look the same, but the inner structure is what matters.
In the past two weeks, an ex-advertiser of Bay Islands VOICE has refused payment for magazines agreed on and provided by our company. This is a sad example of some of the practices of this realtor. Perhaps, with that money, they can buy themselves some dignity, but that is unlikely.
Some real estate professionals often walk the line of the unethical and ethical. On Roatan, there are few real estate rules and even fewer are upheld. Contracts are broken; land is sold twice and clients are stolen. Yet, this is a small community and history follows everyone here.
Some of the realtors surround themselves with shady characters and rewards of greed. Roatan properties attract speculators, and the good, the bad and the ugly come to take their stake in the real estate bounties. Unethical behavior of the few affects the image of the entire Roatan business community. We are not the confidant of fear of any of these people. VOICE remains committed to listening to the calls of the unjustly hurt and we speak up against injustice. We are here to serve this community, to reaffirm its values and show a better way into the future.
That is the choice we all make. We can stay silent and afraid, in confidence with the unjust, or we can speak up.
Several island businesses have fired their staff, accusing them of embezzlement, stealing. Too many times, this is solely to save the miserly payment of severance pay. Probably more so, to instill the sense of the employer's omnipotence among the employees who remain.
Too many employers play judge and jury, throwing accusations at employees that instill fear and desperation in the hearts of the working poor. Too many families are forced to pay ransom to be left in peace by the lawyers and keep the family name intact. These events are taking place all around the Bay Islands.
We, at the VOICE, speak for the just and stand up to the dishonest. We will not be corrupted by the greed and ugliness that surrounds us. With few laws existing on the Bay Islands, ethics becomes even more important. Engaging in unethical behavior we leave to those working in the shadows of greed.

local news

On October 4 and 5, Honduras' First Lady Mrs. Aguas Ocaña de Maduro visited Roatan and attended the "Noche de Gala Cultural Isleña" (Grand Night of Island Culture) award ceremony at Juan Brooks School in Coxen Hole. The First Lady visited barrio Balfate in Sandy Bay, Mud Hole and El Swampo in Coxen Hole. Mrs. Ocaña de Maduro visited Gumercinda Lopez, mother of an eight year old boy who was recently electrocuted and killed while playing in Mud Hole. The First Lady delivered toys, food and powdered milk to each neighborhood."When I saw the First Lady interacting with children I thought to myself: 'Princess Diana is back'," said Governor Everett. (photo: Thomas Tomczyk)

by Jaime Johnston
A 9,000,000 LPs HonduTel project is underway in Roatan to improve communication systems within the Bay Islands. By request from the federal government, HonduTel will install thousands of new phone lines in the coming months. "Initially, it will be 1,000 lines, but the project calls for 9000 more by the end of 2004," said Prof. Roberto Romero who has been the General Manager for Bay Islands HonduTel for 18 months. The first 1,000 lines will be installed by February 2004.
This initiative was proposed by President Maduro during his presidential campaign. The project is designed to improve telecommunications in tourist areas. "Most tourists and investors want to know about communications on the island. It needs improving," said Romero.
In addition to their staff of 12 technicians, Bay Islands HonduTel plans to hire eight additional employees to support the project. The 9,000 new lines include the replacement of some older, existing lines. "We have begun the process of determining how the first 1,000 lines will be distributed. It will be in the high tourist areas where there are a lot of hotels and restaurants," said Romero. Funding for the new lines is supplied by the federal government; the budget of 9,000,000 LPs covers the engineering and construction of the new lines. For customers, the cost for a new line remains the same; a residential line is 492 LPs and a business line costs 1,152 LPs For some area business owners, the new lines are bittersweet. "I waited since February for a phone line and I finally got one a month ago, but it cost $470 US," said Marie of Marie's Boulangerie in Coxen Hole who purchased her number from a list of unpaid accounts, "It's good that they're adding new lines, but it's too late for me. I already paid."
According to Romero, there will be a distribution office in West End and the current office in Coxen Hole, Oak Ridge and French Harbour will be expanded to support the new demand. A coin-operated pay phone was installed in West End mid-September, with plans to install more in Sandy Bay, Spanish town and Pandy Town by the end of September. "This is a vision of President Maduro, Bay Islands Congressman Evans McNab and HonduTel General Manager Alonso Victor Valenzuela," Romero said.




by Thomas Tomczyk

The work on paving the Coxen Hole streets begun on September 4 and the concrete paving crews worked hard to finish the first phase of the road for the School Band parades. "We busted our gut to get this finished by the 15 (Honduras Independence Day)," said Edward Ake, owner of Island Concrete for past seven years. In the end, a mundane coincidence hasn't allowed for the Roatan school bands to march through a portion of newly paved streets into the center on Coxen Hole. "There was a chain across the road and our bodega man couldn't find the key," admitted Ake.
Island Concrete has been awarded the bulk of the contract of paving the road between the big bridge by Serrano Industrial, to Thicket road intersection, and connecting to the Sandy Bay blacktop. The paving of the streets between Sandy Bay blacktop and G & G is done by the other Roatan concrete mix company, G & S Industries.
The Coxen Hole road is six meters wide, has a continuous keyway and steel dowels to allow for the contraction and expansion of the road surface. The 15-centimeter high curb finishes the one meter wide sidewalks. The mix used for pouring contains a chemical additive of polypropylene fibers that allow the concrete to reach its desired strength quickly. The 3,500 psi strength is reached after 14 days of curing.
Three 9-cubic yard concrete mixing trucks and 30 people work at Island Concrete construction site. The company hired 20 of these workers for the road construction only. The crews are working seven days a week in 12-15 hour shifts to complete the Thicket road before the rain season. "When it rains all day, that's a problem," said Ake, "The biggest problems once the concrete is poured are chickens, dogs, drunks and the crabs."
Over 90% of the Island Concrete's business comes from selling ready mix concrete to contractors. The remaining business comes in the form of specialty construction like the road construction, sewage pumping station construction or hazardous material waste tanks the company completed at the Roatan garbage dump.
Cotizar company, based in San Pedro Sula, is finishing the Coxen Hole sewer system project that was taken away from the original contractor DECSA. Engineer Jose Domingo Velazquez heads the project. The work done on the sewer system will allow for the paving of streets in downtown of Coxen Hole, the Point and on the Market road.
Plans to run electrical, telephone and cable lines below the sidewalk were abandoned due to the cost of moving the wires requested by RECO. Old electrical poles are expected to be used for that purpose.
The street paving work crews suffered setbacks when inconvenienced neighboring residents couldn't get across town or road and acted out their frustration. There were incidents of vandalism on the site when local citizens would drive over forms set up for pouring and even into freshly pored concrete. "The quicker we can go in, the quicker we can get the job done," said Ake.
The construction of roads and sidewalks is the last stage of a trying experience for many Thicket Mouth road businesses. "Our walk in business is down 80% and I don't think we could have survived if we didn't open another Internet cafe in West End," said Paradise Computers owner Mitch Cummins.
The sidewalks will be poured after the streets have been paved. When it starts to rain, the trucks that already have concrete on site will pour the sidewalks. By using a colored hardener, the 4" sidewalk slab will have a "terracotta" color. Ake looks at completing the last phase under municipal contract by October 15, barring any bad weather.

Read other issues of
the Bay Islands Voice

No. 1
March 27 2003
No. 2
April 10 20
No. 3
April 24

No. 4
May 8

No. 5
May 22
No. 6
June 5
No. 7
June 19
No. 8
July 3

No. 9
July 17
No. 10
July 31
No. 11
Aug. 14
No. 12
Sept. 11

No. 13
Sep. 25