Las Curanderas: Traditional Healers in New Mexico

Curanderismo has survived for 400 years.

| March/April 1997

  • The Mora Valley, left, is situated in the eastern watershed of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a range of the Rocky Mountains that straddles northeastern New Mexico and ­southwestern ­Colorado.

  • At ninety-one, Gabrielita Pino is pleased to be passing on the ­ centuries-old curandera tradition to a younger generation.

At sunrise in northeastern New Mexico, clouds stretch like gods watching over the Mora Valley, a fertile expanse of land on the eastern side of the Sangrede Cristo Mountains. In the valley live the descendants of the region’s Hispanic colonists, whose social, cultural, and religious heritage has sustained their progeny for hundreds of years. A part of this legacy includes curanderismo, a healing practice founded upon faith, experience, and a knowledge of plants accumulated over the course of four centuries.

A blending of cultures

During the early Spanish colonial period (1598–1821), tribes of the Comanche Nation camped here, hunting wild game and planning raids on Spanish settlements on the western side of the mountains. Throughout the eighteenth century, the Mora Valley served as a gateway to the Great Plains for Hispanic ciboleros from the Santa Cruz and Taos districts, who went there to hunt buffalo, and comancheros, who conducted trading expeditions with the nomadic Native American tribes.

Despite fertile land that offered excellent farming prospects, however, the Mora Valley remained unsettled until the nineteenth century because of fierce conflicts among the Spanish colonists, with their Pueblo Indian allies, and the Jicarilla Apache, Navajo, Ute, Comanche, and other tribes.

Improved relations with the Comanche Nation, lords of the plains, in 1786, encouraged a group of Hispanics from Truchas, Las Trampas, Santa Cruz, and Taos to cross the Sangre de Cristos near Truchas Peak and Jicarita Mountain and descend into the Mora Valley. By 1816, they had established two communities, San Antonio, today known as Cleveland, and Santa Ger­trudis, today known as Mora. Other communities in and around the valley sprang up: La Cueva (The Cave), Agua Negra (Black Water), Llano del Coyote (Coyote Prairie), Golondrinas (Swallows), and Buena Vista (Pleasant View). (Following Spanish tradition, the settlers named their communities after patron saints, landmarks, or the surrounding landscape.) By the end of the century, all of northeastern New Mexico was settled.

The newcomers introduced farming on irrigated plots of land, raising small herds of livestock, and other traditions, including curanderismo, which is practiced today to some extent in New Mexico and southern Colorado by descendants of the first colonists.

Gabrielita, la curandera

At the lower end of the Mora Valley is Buena Vista, named for its panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and plains. The village, unmarked on any map, is home to Gabrielita Pino, one of New Mexico’s best-known curanderas. At ninety-one, she may be the state’s oldest practitioner of folk healing.

7/5/2016 2:27:09 PM

Does anyone know of a Curandera that is currently practicing? Where and Who? Thank you!

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