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In this blog, I want to draw attention to Leonor Zalabata’s beautiful video on indigenous health. Leonor is the Columbian Ambassador the United Nations and the first indigenous woman from the Arhuaco people to hold this international post. She made this video specially for our Medical and Healthcare Humanities February 2023 event, courtesy of my colleague and new council member, Assoc Prof Dr Carlos Moreno and his family who have helped with video editing, translations and subtitles. You can watch it on the AMHH site under events (

Leonora speaks of indigenous health as part of individual and collective identity. For the Arhuaco, the land and the health of the land IS the indigenous people and their health. And ancestral land is integral to this. It has sacred areas; places that heal. This is about everyday energies and all aspects of the land, water, stones, mountains, and spaces that have always been the territories of this people to which they are attuned. It is also about changes they see in water, mountains, weather, and climate. For them, illness and health relate to social, economic and territorial stability and a lack of balance creates a vulnerability. Leonora is clear that indigenous traditions are about collective identity in relationship with the spaces and places they inhabit as part of nature.  Health is about maintaining traditions and traditional knowledge that in the Arhuaco culture is held by the Momos. Keeping these things in balance allows people to be well. Traditional practices are there to maintain the balance between and among people and between people and the land.

With our Western mindsets we reach out to grasp the idea of sacred places whose meanings have been lost over time. We can wonder about their use and look for what that may have been. What we have lost is the direct spiritual and emotional communication with the land that these people have. This is something we seek to regrow as we try to reconnect, reawakening ourselves, for example through practices of what has been called deep ecology (I am thinking here of Arne Naess).

This video is one of those rare communications that conveys deeply significant resonant messages in simple phrases. It is about human nature relationships and a clear reminder in times of a climate emergency that what keeps us healthy and well as humans is a reciprocal relationship with the natural world, of which we are part. But what is crucial is how Leonora speaks with gratitude of not being part of a culture that thinks humans are superior to nature and the universe but one where they are part of it. It follows then that human indigenous practices and behaviours reflect this and that it fosters wellbeing and maintains health. It also follows that where peoples do not see themselves as part of nature, they do not contribute to practices that maintain balance around their fundamental human identity. Instead, the behaviours become out of balance socially, economically and environmentally, which contributes both to illness and to the current climate crisis.

These are deep messages, simply and clearly expressed and they remind me of the things we have lost in our own relational identity with nature and of the things we need to consider for healing. I hope you will enjoy the 10minute video Leonor has made (

If this topic is of interest please take a look at our Events for the call for papers and upcoming conference with the Institute for Advanced Studies at UCL and if you are a student, consider applying for a prize.

Jennifer Patterson

Image by DavidRockDesign on Pixabay




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