“The Hands Know”: Bodily Engagement and Medical Impasse in Highland Maya Bonesetting


In southern Middle America, highland Maya bonesetters are called on to treat many cases of bodily injury. While Guatemalan Maya bonesetters vary greatly in their techniques and specialties, they prioritize manual treatment modalities, using their hands to address problems in clients’ bodies. For bonesetters, the hands achieve direct knowledge of the suffering body, enabling them to work and securing the trust of those they treat. Nonetheless, Maya bonesetters face opposition from physicians who argue that bonesetters are untrained in Western trauma techniques and can inflict irreparable harm on people. This article examines how Maya bonesetters work in an environment hostile to their craft and explores some important vectors of bodily and ideological engagement between Maya bonesetting and Guatemalan biomedicine.

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