Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Today I was in the office with Kenny and he told me that his cousin Damian was in the hospital. That morning he had been found convulsing and vomiting blood. He had had an attack like this once before, a few months earlier. That time he was taken to Ceiba for a battery of tests and no one could figure out what was wrong. So far, that was the case again. After Damian regained lucidity, the docs couldn't find anything wrong with him.

Kenny told me that most folks thought it was Gubida, the spirit of a relative or ancestor. Apparently, Damian's grandmother had died a while ago, and they had not done any of the traditional ceremonies to appease a dead spirit.

He told me, "If the hospital can't find anything then they will do a baño and a chugú." The baño is a ceremony where a pit is dug and filled with seawater collected at a certain time, then a ceremony is conducted to invite the spirit to bathe. A chugú is a day long ceremony for communicating with spirits. Participants are sometimes possessed by spirits to communicate messages and requests to the living.

I asked Kenny if he thought the problem was medical or spiritual. "I think it's spiritual," he told me. "This isn't the first time that Damian has been possessed, and other relatives of his have dreamed about his [dead] grandmother. If they do the ceremonies hopefully he will be cured."

I found it strange to be having a conversation in which spiritual beliefs were given just as much weight as science and medicine. But it also struck me that Damian was taken to the Hospital first. Only when the doctors there were stumped did people look for supernatural causes and cures. With all the Garifuna that I know well, this has been the case. They believe in both science and spirits. They are two separate but equally valid worlds. When it comes to illness, the general opinion is, "If science and doctors can't cure it, then it must be spiritual."