There is an African proverb stating that when a knowledgeable old person dies, a whole library disappears. In Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer, Rosita Arvigo, assisted by Nadine Epstein, shares the incredible story of her work with Don Elijio Panti, one of the last traditional healers of Belize. The author, an energetic and adventuresome herbalist from Chicago, met this gifted man in 1983 when he was 87 years old.
Don Elijio Panti was taught the arts of herbs and healing by a mysterious Carib named Jeronimo. When Rosita Arvigo asks to become his apprentice, he tells her, "I have been healing in this way with my prayers, my roots, my vines and barks for forty years now." He teaches her how to pick, chop, dry, and grind the flora from the rainforest. Each time he takes a plant, he says the following prayer: "I am the one who walks in the mountains seeking the medicine to heal the people. I give thanks to the Spirit of this plant and I have faith with all my heart that this plant will heal the sicknesses of the people. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen."
Don Elijio Panti's blend of Spanish Catholicism and ancient Maya faith lies at the core of his healing ministry. It also explains his respect for the rainforest and his need to pass on his pharmaceutical knowledge to Arvigo. Her five-year apprenticeship with him concludes with some startling results.
Rosita Arvigo has set up the Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation that has sent over 2,000 plants to the National Cancer Institute. She is the director of the 6,000-acre Terra Nova Medicinal Plant Reserve, which guarantees that future generations of healers will have medicinal plants to harvest. Her efforts have saved the pharmaceutical library of Don Elijio Panti.