Renowned traditional healer passes away
The culture of herbal medicine and midwifery is still practiced primarily at rural communities. There is one traditional healer who made her mark in Belize and beyond our borders in her sixty-nine years of practicing traditional medicine. Tonight her family and all those she helped along the way, are grieving her death. Hortense Robinson was born in Cozumel, Mexico in 1928; her mother was a midwife and her father was a Belizean chiclero. When she was fifteen years old, her family moved to Belize and as young as she was, Robinson was already delivering babies. In her later years, she worked closely with another known herbalist, Rosita Arvigo and contributed greatly to the Belize Ethnobotany Project. While Robinson didn’t get a text book education, she was able to share her knowledge of medicinal plants with professors, doctors and nurses in several countries. She was awarded the National Treasure Award by the Traditional Healers Foundation in 1990. Robinson’s home in Ladyville was where people from all over the country sought her healing medicines and today News Five’s Delahnie Bain found family members preparing to lay her to rest. Here’s her report.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
Hortense Robinson came from a family of midwives and herbal healers, and at the age of thirteen she joined the tradition, doing her first delivery along with her mother. Robinson went on to become a renowned traditional healer and was featured in a documentary in 1994 for her work.
Hortense Robinson, Traditional Healer (File: July 14th, 1994)
“I learn to walk and talk and everything among the Indians them that they brought out from Icaiche to San Francisco Botes and that’s where I start to learn these remedies from home and from the Indians them. I’m a child that that if you say les go collect herbs, we go with the people them collecting herbs and for each herb I see them collect [I ask] what you want it for? What you do with it? What you use it for? And they keep telling me. They wasn’t selfish.”
But after almost seventy years of healing the sick, Robinson became bedridden after breaking her hip about five years ago. Things went downhill from there and she passed away on Sunday morning.
Patricia Foreman, Daughter of Hortense Robinson
“We took her in to the hospital on Tuesday afternoon and she had some heavy breathing. She wasn’t really feeling well so we took her in to Emergency and they admitted her into the hospital and diagnosed that it was pneumonia. Doctors explained to us that there was nothing much that they could do for her at that stage and at her age in life so they would just have to make her as comfortable as possible.”
Concepcion Velasquez, Daughter, Hortense Robinson
“Sunday morning, I called my sister, she never responded. I called my niece that was with them, they never respond. It was hard so I went to my back door and I said God where are you? Can’t you see my mom suffering? I asked him to take her home instead of having her punish. My sister called and she said she had passed. And I said thanks to God. I told him thanks for answering my prayer. Because she has done what I think she was sent here on this earth to do.”
And what she did was help hundreds of people with healing and whatever else they’d needed. Her daughters spoke today of her work and said that Robinson’s door was always open; she had eight children and fostered fourteen others that needed a home.
“I could remember instances where these people—we didn’t know them, she didn’t know them and they said they needed some place to spend the night and she would invite them in, feed them and the next day they would thank her and they would be gone.”
“She was a midwife like myself, I am a midwife too. We did expedition together, searching for herbs along with Dr. Rosita Arvigo. I went with them several times picking herbs with my mom. I learned the ones that would assist me in my work that I do as a midwife. I am sorry that I didn’t learn more.”
Silvaana Udz, a family friend who grew up around Robinson, says the herbalist saved her daughter’s life.
Silvaana Udz, Friend of Family
“My lee gial at three months, inna mi belly, inna mi womb, I mi di lose ah. Of course I mi di go dah di doctor and di gyno man and di get whatever I had to di get and still di bleeding continue, di contractions and my mommy seh nuff ah dis. I gwein get Miss Hortense. She mek up wah mixture wah certain way and ih bring it down and ih come si mi wah special kinda massage, I guess dah wah uterine type a massage; we just seh ih rub down mi belly correct. You know within six hours or less, Delahnie, di cramp stop, di bleeding stop and my baby save and I gone on fi have wah strong pregnancy and delivery. My baby name Robin, off ah Miss Hortense Robinson. So I have wah real respect and love and feel wah real sadness.”
Robinson’s also shared her wisdom, doing speeches in other countries and sharing material for research.
“She went to Washington DC. She sent sacks and sacks of herbs to Washington to research. They were doing research for cancer and aids. And they went to New York Botanical Garden where she stayed in Bill Cosby’s home and she went to every Central American country.”
Robinson’s oldest daughter, Concepcion Velasquez, says she intends to carry on her mother’s legacy. Delahnie Bain for News Five.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday at Our Lady of the Way Catholic Church in Ladyville and Robinson’s body will then be cremated.