The Indians wanted to make medicine men of us without any examination or asking for our diplomas, because they cure diseases by breathing on the sick—and with that breath and their hands they drive the ailment away. So they summoned us to do the same in order to be at least of some use. We laughed, taking it for a jest, and said that we did not understand how to cure.
Thereupon they withheld our food to compel us to do what they wanted. Seeing our obstinacy, an Indian told me that I did not know what I said by claiming that what he knew was useless, because stones and things growing out in the field have their virtues, and he, with a heated stone, placing it on the stomach, could cure and take away pain, so that we, who were wiser men, surely had greater power and virtue.
At last we found ourselves in such stress as to have to do it, without risking any punishment. Their manner of curing is as follows: when one is ill, they call in a medicine man, and after they are well again not only do they give him all they have, but even things they strive to obtain from their relatives. All the medicine man does is to make a few cuts where the pain is located and then suck the skin around the incisions. They cauterize with fire, thinking it very effective, and I found it to be so by my own experience. Then they breathe on the spot where the pain is and believe that with this the disease goes away.
The way we treated the sick was to make over them the sign of the cross while breathing on them, recite a paternoster and Ave Maria, and pray to God, our Lord, as best we could to give them good health and inspire them to do us some favors. Thanks to His will and the mercy He had upon us, all those for whom we prayed, as soon as we crossed them, told the others that they were cured and felt well again.
From The Journey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Serving as treasurer for the Spanish expedition, Núñez in 1528 landed on the shores of Florida; by next spring only he and fourteen others from the group were alive. He lived for a time as a slave among American Indians. After eight years, he arrived in Mexico City, having traveled a distance of around 1,200 miles. He later became governor of the Río de la Plata province in South America.
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