Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer

Arvigo, Rosita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne
  • Date of entry: Jun-28-1999
  • Last revised: Dec-11-2006


Rosita Arvigo is a Chicago-trained doctor of naprapathy (an alternative therapy that involves soft tissue manipulation, diet, and other non-drug modalities) who moved with her husband (also a naprapath) to Belize to open a medical clinic. Shortly after her arrival she met Elijio Panti, given a variety of names by his patients: el viejito, the old man, numero uno, or el mero, the authentic one.

One of the last traditional healers of Mayan medicine, Panti uses observation, experience, and divination with his sastun to diagnose his patients' illnesses; and herbs, manipulation, and prayers to treat them. Arvigo studied with Panti for five years, learning to identify and use countless plants in the rainforest that surrounds her home and, eventually, discovering the object that becomes her own sastun.


A sastun has been the means of divination and spiritual power for the Mayan H'mens since ancient times. The discovery of a sastun is a capping achievement for a healer, who, even without the spiritual gifts both acknowledged and bestowed by it, possesses a vast knowledge of the actions and interactions of plants in the treatment of illness.

Arvigo's book is organized in a way that introduces and describes the medicinal qualities of numerous indigenous plants of the rainforest at the same time that it documents Don Elijio's training and life. On a third level, it also recounts Arvigo's own growth as an herbal and spiritual healer.

The book explores the richness of traditional Mayan healing, the healing powers of plants that the Western world is just beginning to (re)discover, and the powerful beauty of the rainforest---and the threat to the continued existence to all three in today's material world. Arvigo is the founder of Terra Nova Medicinal Plant Reserve, and the founder of Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation.


Written with Nadine Epstein and Marilyn Yaquinto. Foreword by Michael J. Balick, Director, Institute of Economic Botany of The New York Botanical Garden.



Place Published

San Francisco



Page Count