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This Medical system is very loosely arranged and born probably since the dawn of humanity, when the first human beings started to collect plants, fruits, leaves, barks, roots and tubercles to eat and to cure their diseases.

It stands like the skeleton of the Phytotherapeutic type of Medicine. Doted of a very flexible structure, the person who treats doesn’t even have to be recognized as a healer, nor as a professional of that field.

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 society.

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.


©Max Beauvoir 1998
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