Most of the time, that person
happens to be a member of the immediate family, or of the extended family. In this greatly
illiterate nation, so they are often ignorant of reading and writing skills. He or she may
simply be a friend passing by who, for all qualification shows sympathy for the suffering
person and for his plight, and recalls at the appropriate moment the leaf, the correct
infusion, or the right recipe that is supposed to bring about a relief.
The reason I have given this type of Medicine a special place in this
systematic presentation is due to the fact that its usage seems to be larger than all the
other systems together. It acts as "a first aid" type of Medicine or as an
emergency type of system. The ease of its accessibility has made it so popular that it
could not be missed to the observation of Haitians and interested foreigners who, often,
have written about it as if it was the only Medical system in use in Haiti on the side of
the officially recognized one.
Based upon the same principles and the method of treatment of the
Phytotherapeutic Medical system, it is generally described as "The Simple
method" of healing, or "medsin senp". Once a person is recognized as
sick, someone is quickly sent to the marketplace where leaves are sold. Those leaves are
combined, infused, and drunk. I call this system a social one because there is never any
exchange of money between the patient and the healer. There is no contract binding them,
not even a moral one. The recipes are only offered as a benevolent suggestion and the
healer is not even required to see to the success of the treatment.
However, it is quite an attractive system of medicine for it tends to
vulgarize the medical knowledge and make medicine accessible to all, rich like poor. Leaf
markets, which sell inexpensively their products, are ever present all over the country.
Biologists, botanists, ethnobotanists, chemists and biochemists, as well as Santeros who
own botanicas somewhere in the world, all run to Haiti all year long to gather leaves and
roots. Though apparently an amorphous structure, such a socio-ethical system answers well
to the needs of the Haitian people. As a social and an ethical arrangement, its ideals
seem to aim at finding ways of adequately and realistically responding to the needs and
well being of the individual members of the society. It also aims at defining what sorts
of relationship should hold better between the various individuals as they function in
Responsibility to others seems then its supreme moral principle, thus
tending to create an ethic which may be qualified as an ethic of responsibility. The
latter encourage each member of the society to show concern for the needs and interests of
others. It is undoubtedly an ethic of altruistic responsibility. Like the Traditional
religion, Vodun, the medical aspect of it is only part of that culture that has brought
out such features as customs of hospitality, brotherhood, tolerance and simplicity.