Spring Equinox Celebration at Belize’s Chaa Creek
This year’s Maya Spring Equinox celebrations at Chaa Creek included a riveting presentation by Dr. Rosita Arvigo on her thirteen year apprenticeship with Don Elijio Panti. Don Elijio Panti was a wise and humorous Maya healer who left an extraordinary legacy in his small village of San Antonio, the country of Belize, the Americas and even across the globe.
After a day of adventure activities and tours, guests gathered at the Chaa Creek Conference Center to listen to Dr. Arvigo speak about herbal remedies, Maya healing and her apprenticeship with Belize’s last Maya Shaman.
The presentation lasted an hour and a half and then the sound of a live marimba band summoned the crowd to a delectable and healthy Maya Buffet which was prepared by the lodge’s very own Chef Mario.
The Vernal Equinox
The word equinox is derived from Latin and means “equal night” referring to an equal amount of light in the day as darkness during the night. This happens once in March and once in September. The Vernal Equinox is of particular importance to the Maya as it announces the beginning of spring.
Dr. Rosita studied natural medicine in the United States and Canada; Aztec herbal medicine (from the Codex Barberini) in Mexico; and has become an expert in Ethnobotany and shamanistic healing in Belize where she has been practicing since the early eighties. She met Don Elijio about two years after moving to the town of San Ignacio, in the western part of Belize. He lived nearby and had heard of an American who was practicing natural medicine, so he was interested in knowing whether she had any rare herbs from the US.
Don Elijio was almost 90 years old when Dr. Rosita met him and continued to pick medicinal vines, roots, bark and leaves every morning at dawn until he was 100. The many anecdotes from how they met to how she learned of his death draw a good picture of their relationship and the many similarities in both their interests and character.Dr. Rosita had a hard time convincing Don Elijio to teach her and only after asking: “Do you swear that if I teach you and when I’m gone you will take care of my people?” They both agreed. He then taught Dr. Rosita how to recognize and use 168 different leaves as well as countless other secrets passed down by oral tradition from generation to generation discovered hundreds of years ago by the great Maya civilisation.
There are so many fascinating aspects about the Maya such as their mixture of spiritual and physical healing. One of Don Elijio’s favorite sayings was: “I’d rather be a clown than a doctor because making people laugh cures more than medicine”. When asked about conflicting views between Christian and Maya beliefs, Don Elijio explained that he believed that when man was created the gods agreed not to fight over souls. In the end they all go to heaven, he would say.
Today over 3000 different medicinal plants have been found in Belize and according to Dr. Arvigo, only 2000 have been studied by modern scientists for cures to cancer and AIDS through the Belize Ethnobotany Project who work in conjucntion with the New York Botanical Gardens.
An authentic Maya meal
As Dr. Rosita made her concluding remarks, a live marimba band beckoned the guests to an exquisite Maya Buffet prepared by the lodges’s very own Chef Mario. The music ,the carefully prepared Maya cuisines, and the lush tropical gardens surrounding the dining area, created a magical celebration to welcome the Spring Equinox.