Accepted Paper:

The myth of the spotted sun and the blemished moon: a biosocial ethnohistory of syphilis and related diseases  

Author:

César Enrique Giraldo Herrera (Leibniz-ZMT Centre for Marine Tropical Research)

Paper short abstract:

Early versions of the myth of the Sun and the Moon are interpreted as records of a biosocial ethnohistory which addresses the social interactions between and beyond humans, interrelating the origin of diseases like syphilis and the origin of particular practices in agriculture, fishing and metallurgy.

Paper long abstract:

Syphilis, yaws and pinta are diseases that feature prominently in some of the earliest accounts of Amerindian medical knowledge and mythology. These diseases, the way they were understood by Amerindians and their treatments drew the avid attention of European missionaries, chroniclers and historians in the years that followed the first contacts. According to these records and to the oral traditions of some enduring communities, these diseases were and are starring characters of their myths origin. They are the protagonists of the earliest recorded versions of the myth of the Sun and the Moon; a myth, which albeit with profound variations, is widely distributed throughout the Americas. It narrates the events that led to the origin of the celestial bodies, of diseases that caused their spots, and of crucial cultural practices like fishing, cultivation, pottery or metallurgy. This paper examines myth and knowledge associated with it as records of a biosocial ethnohistory. It addresses the social interactions between and beyond humans portrayed by the early accounts of the myth and how these interactions could have influenced the development of the disease, and the evolution of host and pathogen communities. It also explores how the biological understandings of the disease may contribute to the interpretation of its meaning and symbolism.

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Living well together: considering connections of health, wellbeing and work in the lives of humans and other living beings [Humans and Other Living Beings]