Happy Birthday Don Elijio
By Rosita Arvigo| Abdominal Therapist and Educator | Belize.
Today July 12, we celebrate the birth of our famous and beloved to many, Elijio Panti in 1893, in the lakeside village of San Andres, Peten, Guatemala.
Elijio was the only child of Maya peasants Nicanor and Gertrudes Panti. Nicanor, an infamous drunk and practitioner of dark magic had to escape from the police in San Andres when Elijio was only 2 years old. Carrying baby Elijio in a rebozo, the couple walked to “La Colonia” or British Honduras under cover of night as a posse had been sent to arrest Nicanor, now accused of murder.
They settled with Gertrudes’ brother in the little village of Succoutz which is now in present-day Belize. Here Elijio grew up without formal education as schools had yet to be established in this remote region. He worked hard in the fields growing corn, beans, and pumpkins with his uncle. Elijio and his mother were greatly affected by his drunken and violent father, until one evening when Elijio was 15 when he threatened to beat his father with a club if he ever hit his mother again. Elijio would often say that was the time the beatings stopped.
Don Elijio began his herbal training in the chicle camps of Kalim Habet around 1930 under the tutelage of a dark-skinned “Carib,” Jeronimo Requena. Chicle was then harvested in a similar way to rubber and used as the base ingredient for chewing gum. It was at the end of one harvesting season in Guatemala when Elijio begged the bush doctor to teach him about healing plants and the prayers that accompany the cures. They had only one month left before the end of the harvest when the camp would be broken down and dispersed until the following year. Elijio was a quick learner and spent all his time with Jeronimo as he taught him his herbal knowledge. Tragically, a short while after, Geronimo, fell from a coconut tree and broke his neck. Elijio was there to tend to Jeronimo as best he could, however, his last words were, “I die happy because what I know is now with you, my son.”
Keen to keep learning as much as he could, Elijio’s sought further tuition from herbalist Manuel Tzib of San Antonio, Cayo where Elijio went to live with his wife, Chinda, and their only daughter. Like hundreds of other Mexicans, Don Manuel came to British Honduras during La Guerra de las Castas, the indigenous uprising of Yucatec Maya against the Spanish in 1906. Elijio learned and worked with Don Manuel until his death at 115.
Elijio would also mention that as well as his earthly teachers, he also has the Nine Benevolent Maya Spirits who instructed him in dream visions for the rest of his life. Elijio would say the Maya Spirits teleported his ‘Sastun’, a Maya shaman’s instrument of divination and enchantment to him in 1940. This sacred magic instrument allowed Elijio to be able to communicate directly with Maya Spirits, thus becoming the true shaman of his people.
For 63 years, Don Elijio’s life was dedicated to healing the physical and spiritual ailments of his community. He used herbal teas and baths, massage therapy, cupping, acupuncture with sting ray spines, pulse diagnosis, and always his sacred prayers. Elijio would use pulse diagnosis to carry his sacred prayers into the blood of his clients by whispering into their pulse points.
You can read more about Don Elijio Panti’s life and legacy in ‘Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer’ by Rosita Arvigo.