Repository logo

Narrative Structures of Maya Mental Disorders: An ethnography of Q’eqchi’ healing



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title




Degree Level



A wealth of research into medical and healing traditions of Maya communities has been conducted. Previous research has also explored unique conceptions of health and disorder held by Maya peoples. This study adds the voices of Q’eqchi’ Maya healers of southern Belize to this accruing research. Working from Indigenous research paradigms, a nine-month ethnographic study with six practicing members of the Q’eqchi’ Healers Association (QHA) of Belize occurred. The QHA is an endogenous grass-roots association formed in 1999 to preserve Maya medical knowledge and healing practices. In collaboration with the QHA members, this research focused on the healers’ conceptualizations and treatments of mental illness and disorders. During ethnographic research, 94 in-depth qualitative interviews with the six members of the QHA and 43 observations of healing encounters occurred. Twenty-six additional interviews were held with patients and participation in other healing ceremonies and cultural gatherings frequently took place. From the analysis of these data, there are 17 different mental illnesses and disorders recognized by the Q’eqchi’ healers that fall within one of four broad “narrative genres.” The main argument of the dissertation is that these “narrative genres” are epistemological structures that the healers use to “read” and “emplot” specific cases of illness to which they attend. Since narrative theory and research focuses largely on individual patient experiences, this study expands contemporary theory by looking at the Q’eqchi’ healers medical epistemology through a narrative lens. It is argued that a deeper understanding of Q’eqchi’ conceptions of mental illness and disorder can also aid dialogues between the “traditional” healers and biomedical practitioners working within the Belize Ministry of Health while also improving the treatment of Q’eqchi’ patients. This research adds to the areas of applied ethnography, narrative theory, Indigenous epistemology, cultural psychiatry, medical anthropology, and medical pluralism.



Mental illness, Indigenous healing, Indigenous knowledge, Maya, Belize, Ethnography, Psychological anthropology, medical anthropology, Cultural psychiatry, mental health



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Culture and Human Development


Part Of