Introducing Our New Co-Editor: Ryan Kashanipour

Interview by Lisa Smith

As April draws to a close and the temperature is already pushing one hundred degrees here in the desert of Southern Arizona, it is my great pleasure to introduce my fellow new co-editor here at the Recipes Project (not to mention fellow Tucson local) Ryan Kashanipour. Ryan is an ethnohistorian of medicine and science at Northern Arizona University, specializing in Latin American history and the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. Lisa Smith recently caught up with Ryan for an interview on his research and his new role here at the Recipes Project:

Welcome to your new role as co-editor of the Recipes Project, Ryan!  What interests you most about recipes?

I love recipes of all sorts: cookery, medicinal, magical, and the like. I see recipes as a unique genre of records, which can simultaneously be deeply personal accounts that can create family connections, local identities, and a sense of belonging, while also being grand references on everything from metaphysics to the environment to the nation. As everyday records, they can offer rare glimpses at personal and family traditions, along with gendered relations that cut across generations.  Because many of them deal with food and health, they are often intimate accounts of emotions and the body.  All the while, recipes can be regimented and formalized works that are state-level programs that aim to carry nationalist agendas and campaigns.  I have to admit that my life is already filled with recipes. In my home, I have a growing collection of modern and historical print cookbooks.  My six-year-old daughter, in fact, has been writing and leaving recipes all around our kitchen:

We know that you work on medicine and science in colonial Mexico. How do recipes feature in your research?

My work operates at the intersection of magic and medicine in colonial Latin America.  In particular, I look at manuscript books of medicine written by indigenous peoples in southern Mexico in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Most of the works that I deal with are written in the local language, Yucatec Maya, which is what first attracted me to them as an historical anthropologist. The records deal with everything from common skin ailments to epidemic diseases to afflictions caused by curses and sorcery. There are cures for broken legs and broken hearts. The remedies themselves often appear in recipe format, that is to say, as a fairly orderly set of instructions on how to make or perform the cure.  However, because these sorts of practice fell outside of the sanctioned practices of Spanish colonial society, these records were highly protected and secretive. The representatives of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, along with the organization that certified physicians and healers, regularly prosecuted those deemed to be malicious or false healers. Nevertheless, one of the interesting things that I have found is that these recipes circulated among different ethnic and social groups.  There was a constant lack of medical professionals within the colonies and, as a result, people developed their own systems of healing that reflected the social make up of local communities.  In the case of the Yucatán, this meant that natives, African peoples, and Europeans exchanged ideas and practices. As such, I treat these remedies as democratic records that show everyday exchanges and encounters.

We’re excited about new developments here at the Recipes Project. What kinds of posts are you hoping to commission for the RP

As a longtime collaborator (and fan) of the Recipes Project, I am very excited by this new role. Having written for and occasionally edited for the site in the past, I am really thrilled to have the opportunity to actively shape its future directions.  As a Latin Americanist interested in everything from ancient practices to modern traditions, I hope to continue to highlight the breadth and depth of work being done on the Spanish and Portuguese worlds.  My aim, at some core level, is to bring together scholars regardless of the geographic divisions that are often ingrained in our professional and academic training. For me, the Recipes Project is a venue to create connections and foster collaborations about scholarship and teaching through the hybrid of traditional and digital mediums.  I have to say, though, that I am really just excited to try to bring people together from diverse backgrounds and approaches.

Introduction – Joyful News of Medicine from Iberian Worlds

R.A. Kashanipour

Nicolás Monardes, Dos libros, El uno que trata de las cosas que traen de las Indias Occidentales, que sirven al uso de Medicina y como se ha de usar dela raiz del Mechoacan, purge excelentissma. (Sevilla, 1569).
Nicolás Monardes, Dos libros, El uno que trata de las cosas que traen de las Indias Occidentales, que sirven al uso de Medicina y como se ha de usar dela raiz del Mechoacan, purge excelentissma. (Sevilla, 1569).

In 1565, the Spanish physician and herbologist, Nicolás Monardes wrote of the great secrets of nature revealed by Spanish encounters of the New World. In the first book of his Dos libros of medicine, Doctor Monardes remarked of the discovery of new and diverse kingdoms in the Occident that abundantly produced gold, silver, pearls, emeralds, and turquoise that were “a greatly admired by the millions all over the world.” The physician, who never ventured across the Atlantic, marveled at the bounty of the Indies as he wrote from the capital and imperial port of Sevilla. He noted that every year hundreds of ships arrived laden with animals and agricultural products—from across the region came “parrots, monkeys, griffons, lions, falcons, owls, tigers, wool, cotton and sugar.” [1] For the doctor, however, the wealth and abundance of the Indies lay not in minerals, animals, and cash crops, but rather in the botany and knowledge of medicine that grew in the Iberian worlds.

Our Indies have given unto us many trees, plants, herbs, roots, juices, gums, fruits, seeds, liquors, and stones that have great medicinal virtues, that have been found to have great effect and precious value, all of which is said to be excellent and more necessary for corporal health than those things known through the world… And as our Spaniards have discovered new regions, new kingdoms, and new provinces, so too have they brought unto us new medicines and new remedies that cure many infirmities, which, without them, would be incurable and without any remedy.

In the Dos libros, Monardes celebrated the remedial uses of saps and resins, bitumen and bezoars, and fruit and stones that came from the provinces of New Spain and Peru, such as the incense Copal from Mexico, the gum of the Caranna from Cartegena, and the Sulphur vivo (quick sulfur) of Peru. He advocated for the use of the Piedra de sangre (blood stone) as a remedy for the bloody flux the Pimienta de Indes (Indian Pepper) as a purgative. In the first published accounts to detail Çarçaparrilla (sarsaparilla), Monardes characterized the plant as critical medicine well known to both Natives and Spaniards from Nicaragua to Peru. Knowledge of the plant could provide remedies to grave pains and afflictions.

El tobaco. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA.
El tobaco. Nicolás Monardes, Joyfull Nevves of the newe founde world (London, 1577). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA.

Although Monardes championed Spanish discoveries of subject populations and mineral wealth in the New World, he noted that medical knowledge was a product of experimentation and consultation with local sources of authority, including Natives and Africans. For instance, the knowledge of the healing roots of a plant known as Mechoacan, which were used to treat sores and pox among other afflictions, came from indigenous caciques and healers that encountered the first conquistadores in Central Mexico. Similarly, Spanish friars learned of purgative qualities of the milk of Pinipinichi plant from Nahuatl-speaking natives of the region. Africans experimented with sarsaparilla and Natives across the New World knew of the curative properties of tobacco.  Monardes, a resident of Sevilla all of his life, drew upon the diverse sources of knowledge that flowed through Iberian intellectual and material world.  Based on his work, it is clear that he drew upon the experience and perspectives of Spanish merchants and settlers as much as he took inspiration from Native informants and African healers.

Joyfull Nevvs of the new founde world (London, 1577). John Frampton’s 1577 translation of the compilation of the works of Nicolás Monardes. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA.

Within a decade of the publication of  Nicolás Monardes’s Dos libros, the work was translated and published across Europe, with editions in Latin, French, Italian, German, and English. John Frampton’s English publication in 1570 bore the laudatory title Joyfull Newes of the New Found World, which emphasized the optimism and triumphant themes in the original work.

Although some have [medical] knowledge, it is not common to all people, for which cause I did attempt to heal and to write, using all things from our Indies, utilizing to the art and practice of medicine and remedies for the pains and diseases that we do suffer and endure, where of no small profit does follow to those of our time and also unto them that shall come after us…”[2]

El armadillo. Image courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
El armadillo. Nicolás Monardes, Primera y segunda y tercera partes de la historia medicinal (Sevilla, 1574). Image courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

In subsequent works, the doctor went on to provide some of the earliest descriptions of the useful qualities of materia medica from the Iberian World, including tabaco (tobacco), dragon (dragon fruit), and armadillos.  He championed the materia medica of the Iberian world of the sixteenth century.  His work, however, was but one in an expansive intellectual world.

This series of posts on medicine in Latin America and the Iberian World will look at those connections as a means to examine material, intellectual, and power relations. Monardes work demonstrated that the so-called Joyful New of medicine in the Iberian world was not simply a product of colonial discovery, but a result of complex interactions between Europeans, Natives and Africans across Iberian worlds. As the search for remedies took place across the Atlantic , medical knowledge systems created connections within and across imperial boundaries. The history of early modern Iberian and Latin American medicine shows that these connections were the products of local interactions that connected diffuse, diverse, and often disparate knowledge systems that took place on a global scale.  In these posts we will explore remedies from across Iberian worlds, from Mexico to Peru to Brazil and the Caribbean.  The recipes and posts that come in this series, we hope, will further shed light on the fascinating growing scholarship on the history of medicine in the early modern Iberian world, much as Monardes did himself more than four centuries ago.   Joyful News!

[1] Nicolás Monardes, Dos libros, El uno que trata de las cosas que traen de las Indias Occidentales, que sirven al uso de Medicina y como se ha de usar dela raiz del Mechoacan, purge excelentissma. (Sevilla, 1569), 1v, 2r.

[2] Monardes, Dos libros, 2v-3r.

Words of the Wise: Colonial Maya Medicine

By R.A. Kashanipour

Early Spanish settlers, administrators, and chroniclers frequently lamented how Old World diseases ravaged native communities in the New World. The famed Dominican Bartolomé de Las Casas described the ferocity of the first epidemics: “Then came a terrible plague, and almost everyone died, and very few remained.”[1] We know much about the devastation, but less about the everyday responses of the victims of disease, especially in the Americas where death and destruction accompanied conquest and colonialism.

In colonial Mexico, native scribes and healers recorded local remedies and cures as they treated populations ravaged by endemic and epidemic sicknesses. Over the next few posts, I will highlight overlooked medical manuscripts and touch on some curious and confusing remedies from colonial Yucatán.

During the eighteenth century, a series of anonymous Maya curanderos (folk healers) recorded local ideas of science and medicine in a manuscript titled Tratado de las siete planetas y otro de medicinarium (Treatise on the Seven Planets and another on Medicine). Commonly known as the Chilam Balam de Kaua, this work circulated beliefs and practices about the natural world as it passed among healers. The work synthesized European accounts of astrology with Maya understandings of the ritual calendar.

And healers recorded remedies for common afflictions and ailments that reflected the intertwined relationships of the colonizers and colonized. An early passage of the work admonished readers to hold the knowledge with respect and care. “Very good are the words of the wise. [These are] recipes in the Maya language for those Indians that want to understand this medicine. Arte, it is called for those who are sick, also for those that are strong and well. Very good are the words of the wise.” [2]

Title Page of the manuscript known as the Chilam Balam de Kaua.  The work derives its name from a sixteenth century Maya shaman known as the Chilam Balam (Jaguar Priest) and the community in which the manuscript was written, Kaua.  This image is of a Photostat from 1920 housed at the Library of Congress.  The original manuscript is lost.]
Title Page of the manuscript known as the Chilam Balam de Kaua. The work derives its name from a sixteenth century Maya shaman known as the Chilam Balam (Jaguar Priest) and the community in which the manuscript was written, Kaua. This image is of a Photostat from 1920 housed at the Library of Congress. The original manuscript is lost.]

The healers of the Chilam Balam de Kaua recorded remedies in indigenous terms that often reflected European categories of disease. Cures addressed common illnesses, such as cough (en), cold (sis), fever (chakuil), and periodic epidemic diseases like smallpox (nohoch kak), yellow fever (vómito de sangre), or measles (sarampión). There were remedies for everyday afflictions: headache (chibal pol) and earache (chibal xicin). Others were punctuated with magical intervention, including sorcery (pulbil yaah) and evil flowers (mal floral). Treatments attempted to reduce the aches that welcomed life–childbearing (alancil) and painful swollen breast (ya umil chup)–and the pains that greeted death–bleeding (kik) and cancer (caanzeel). There were remedies to treat the difficulties of manual labor: wounds (cinpahal), swellings (chuchup), and broken bones (sayal bac). In total, the Chilam Balam de Kaua contains over three hundred and thirty remedies.

One of the numerous cures for fevers captures the interaction between Mayan and Spanish knowledge systems.

A remedy for fever (tzacal chacuil) by the ancient people, here is the consumption tree (nech bac che), its other name is fever tree. This is boiled in water to wash people who have a fever. [The affliction] is called weakness (nach bahal) in their language and this is ético in the language of the Spaniards. Then leaves of the plant should be taken with the leaves of the night herb (akab xiu), whose leaves are pleasant smelling. The same amount of leaves are mixed together and boiled until soft. They may be taken [this way]. When the water is half finished, the affirmed may be bathed with the hot water, as hot as can be allowed. Four or five times, this is done… When covered and cool, they may arise to chocolate (cacau) leaves and the night herb… The consumption tree is to be twisted with the chocolate plant.[3]

Fevers were undoubtedly common in colonial Yucatán. As with most Yucatec remedies, the application appeared straightforward and matched symptoms with treatment. The heat of the fever was to be broken with a simmering herbal bath, followed by a concoction of herbs with chocolate.

The record keeper, however, also noted that remedy’s pre-Hispanic origins, establishing a connection to the past. In diagnosing the affliction, however, ancient Maya knowledge linked with contemporary Spanish perspectives. These fevers were called nach bahal or ético and, as such, the remedy could apply to Mayas and Spaniards alike.

The materials for the remedy were exclusively comprised of wild herbs, tying the uncontrolled disease with the unconquered frontier. While most healers may have sourced domesticated plants from herb vendors (yerbateros), this remedy required plants of the forest. The cure required knowledge of Mayan biological landscapes; to produce this remedy, the healer needed access to the untamed frontiers of the province.

This remedy, like so many of colonial Yucatán, showed that “the words of the wise” involved the convergence of distinct traditions in the everyday practices of curing. The Chilam Balam de Kaua and other medicinal manuscripts from colonial Latin America illustrate the localized processes in the production and circulation of medical knowledge in the early modern world.

[1] Bartolomé de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias (México: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1951) 3: 270.

[2] Chilam Balam de Kaua (photostat reproductions), f. 7, Container 25,Ac. 4056, Indian Languages Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

[3] Chilam Balam de Kaua, f. 175.