The biocultural epidemiology of "second-hair" illness in two Mesoamerican societies
Luber, George Edward
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This dissertation discusses two Mesoamerican folk illnesses, the Tzeltal Maya cha’lam tsots and the Mixe mäjts baajy, which represent variations of ‘second-hair’ illness found in several Mesoamerican cultures. The Tzeltal Maya cha’lam tsots, or ‘second hair’, is identified by the presence of spiny, discolored hairs on the head. It is a potentially fatal condition thought to be caused by trauma to the head of individuals, mostly children. Hair loss, diarrhea, fever, edema, and general debility are common symptoms. Heinrich (1994) and Lipp (1991) report a similar illness among the Mixe of Oaxaca. Mäjts baajy or ‘two head hairs’, is a potentially fatal illness, primarily afflicting infants, marked by hair-loss, diarrhea, anemia, edema, moon-face, and fine, spiny hairs on the head. Tenzel (1970) describes another similar illness among the Cakchiquel Maya. In all cases, the core ethnomedical description, their sufferers, prognosis, and modes of treatment are nearly identical.|I present data demonstrating that these ‘second-hair’ illnesses carry a biomedical diagnosis of protein-energy malnutrition, and suggest that their similar cultural construction, in unrelated linguistic groups, is the result of a shared Mesoamerican "medical epistemology".|This comparative, biocultural research, employing ethnographic, clinical, epidemiological, and nutritional anthropometric methods, addresses a gap in the biocultural study of ethnomedical systems by clarifying the role that biology and culture each play in the cultural construction of illness while developing insights into the empirical basis of Mesoamerican ethnomedical concepts. Additionally, this research synthesizes current emic and etic approaches towards the development of an integrated biocultural medical anthropology.