Coca Reading, 1996
Discouraged about the health of his father in the campo, Alvaro
and his brothers use their urban network to find suitable treatment
for him. Older brother, Xavier, seeks insight through divination from
a yatiri reading coca leaves. Many Alte�os continue to actively
practice indigenous forms of health care. Xavier feels that a yatiri
(shaman, "one who knows") will read his coca leaves and determine
what is ailing his father and then suggest alternative therapies.
This image of local yatiri Don Lucio, reading leaves in his
El Alto bedroom, while Xavier takes notes, illustrates the intimacy
of indigenous health care.
Spread out on the bed, Lucio places individual leaves on the cloth
(representing Xavier's father, his family, his soul, his enemies,
and his friends) and then drops other leaves onto them. Depending
upon the final position of the leaves (dark or light side up, direction,
etc.), Lucio interprets what they "say" and forecasts what will
happen to Xavier's father in the future. Lucio believes that the
illness is not caused by a curse or sorcery (as the family fears),
but is a medical condition and should be treated accordingly. In
the end, they brought their father to a local physician in El Alto
who diagnosed him with asthma.