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Guam's Yo’åmte project links traditional medicine and healing to sustainability

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

At the UOG CIS plant nursery and other locations, the Yo’amte and their apprentices cultivate medicinal plants and use sustainable harvesting practices. Photo by Louella Losinio

By Louella Losinio

The recent launch of the Yo'åmte project underscored the connection of traditional medicine and healing to sustainability and the rising movement that acknowledges its contributions to science and modern medicine.

The University of Guam, through Sea Grant, Center for Island Sustainability, and Guam Green Growth, launched the Yo’amte project at the Government House in Agana Heights.

The Yo’åmte project focuses on promoting and preserving traditional medicine and healing practices on Guam through apprenticeship, training, and outreach. It is part of the University’s strategic plan to be recognized as a research institution centered in island wisdom.

Yo’åmte is the CHamoru word for "traditional healer."

Traditional medicine and healing practices are often passed down from generation to generation through apprenticeship, oral tradition and hands-on training.

Lourdes “Mama Lou” Manglona, who leads the project, and other Yo’amte, are currently training three apprentices. They are Caley Jay Chargualaf, Chauntae Quichocho and Merlissa Aguon.

Through the guidance of Manglona and other Yo’amte, Chargualaf and the other apprentices perform various activities, from planting seeds to maintaining and harvesting plants.

Besides the regular training with the Yo’amte, the apprentices are also preparing materials for classes that will be offered in the summer. They are also in the process of compiling a medicinal plant book, “We have the names in CHamoru and the scientific names. We write down the parts of the plant that we use. A lot of it, honestly, is (oral tradition) with us asking questions,” Chargualaf said.


For Quichocho, learning the tradition and practice also involves establishing a deep connection with the Yo'åmte.

“Building relationship and also humbling ourselves so that we are able to really learn and take what we learn and apply it to this program and ourselves and our daily lives. Cause we learned that it takes everything, spiritual, emotional, and mental, all those aspects to really just being mindful and connected,” the CHamoru Studies major said.

The project also promotes the sustainable approach practice in traditional medicine and healing.

At the UOG CIS plant nursery and other locations, the Yo'åmte and their apprentices cultivate medicinal plants and use sustainable harvesting practices.

“When we are out picking the medicine, Chauntae, Merlissa and I when we are pulling these things out of the ground or cutting. Auntie Lou and Auntie Susan are there telling us OK, that’s enough," Chargualaf said.

"We don’t take more than what we need. Also, we don’t take from very young plants and trees. You need to get them to a state where they can mature so that they can also reproduce,” she added.

Chargualaf, who has an undergraduate degree in biology, learned to mesh science and tradition as an apprentice.

“If we are doing a field trip for our biology class and we are out there, we have our equipment and we are collecting data, just keep an open mind that both can exist together. And they should exist together because these practices have been around for thousands of years," she said.

At the launch, Austin Shelton, director of UOG Sea Grant and Center for Island Sustainability said, “We islanders have a unique perspective that scientists around the world would never have. They never grew up next to these healing plants, next to the biodiversity that we see in our forests and our oceans,” he said.

Shelton added: “This project is going to be a way to perpetuate a science that just hasn’t been recognized by the Western world. It is actually thousands of years of indigenous science that we can perpetuate.”

The World Health Organization promotes traditional medicine and complementary medicine. According to the WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023, traditional and complementary medicine is an important and often underestimated part of health care.

According to WHO, the strategy aims to support member states in developing proactive policies and implementing action plans that will strengthen the role traditional medicine plays in keeping populations healthy.

In the report, Dr Margaret Chan, WHO director general, said, for many people, herbal remedies, traditional healing practices, and traditional healers serve as their primary or sole source of healthcare. These practices are readily available, culturally accepted, and trusted by many. In addition to being accessible and affordable, traditional medicines are particularly appealing as healthcare costs continue to increase and austerity measures become more widespread.

The WHO strategy promotes the development of supportive policies and regulations for traditional medicine as well as product research and development. And with applicable safety and standards in place, the WHO also supports the integration of traditional medicine in health service delivery as part of the promotion of universal health care.

Chan said in the document, having “a global strategy to foster its appropriate integration, regulation and supervision will be useful to countries wishing to develop a proactive policy towards this important - and often vibrant and expanding - part of health care.”

Louella Losinio is a science communicator at the University of Guam.

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