Working with Traditional Shipibo Midwives

Midwives, in any culture, are the holders of age-old wisdom in birthing practices. Their practices, deeply rooted in experience and tradition, are valuable sources of knowledge both within and outside their communities.

Alianza Arkana is working with traditional Shipibo midwives from different communities in the Amazon, seeking to set up a platform for exchange as well as to serve our mission of “honoring ancestral wisdom” and “preserving cultural identity and traditions through true intercultural education”.

On the 13th December last year, a first workshop, based on research interviews conducted with 12 traditional Shipibo midwives by Marleni Garcia – a Shipibo nurse working with Alianza Arkana and Shipibo Joi, was held in San Francisco. The workshop was very successful and the midwives from San Francisco requested further workshops.

Recently, from 7th to 9th February this year, a further workshop was held for midwives from three communities – San Francisco, Poayán and Santa Rosa de Dinamarca – and from the Womens’ Cooperative ‘Maroti Xobo,’ based in Yarinacocha. In total, 20 midwives attended the event – of which 12 were practicing midwives and 8 were apprentices.

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The aim of the workshop was for the women to share and discuss together their practices. These included:
• The diets given to women pre- and post-birth.
• Medicinal plants used during pregnancy, birth and after birth.
• Massage and the women’s skills in manipulating the positions of babies with their hands to enable easier births.
• Dealing with complications and emergencies when the nearest medical posts could be six hours by small boat away.

In addition, the women received further training in nutrition, hygiene, and how to deal with complications in the birth process. They also reviewed how to properly use medical supplies—including a “midwife kit” provided by Shipibo Joi. Experts providing this training included Mariana Orta, a Mexican nutritionist working with Alianza Arkana, Isabel Gomez Barria, a Peruvian midwife – now occupying a senior administrative position in the Ucayali Regional Departmental of Health, and Marleni Garcia, a Shipibo trained nurse.

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Part of the nutritional training involved the preparation and eating of meals together based on traditional cooking methods and foods.

Alianza Arkana is working on this project with Shipibo Joi, a US-based NGO working with the Shipibo people. In addition to financial assistance and project collaboration provided by Shipibo Joi, we are also now fortunate to be working with Shipibo Joi volunteer, Nine Christiane – a German midwife, with over 30 years of experience of home births, now living in the Pucallpa area. Nine will be the future coordinator of this project.

At the end of the workshop, a discussion was held with the midwives about creating a certification program, ideally validated by the Ministry of Health. The women were very keen on this idea and generated a list of what a traditional midwife should know and be able to do. We will now be working with the Ministry of Health to first certify already practicing midwives and then create a certification program for women in training.

Deborah Rivett, Wednesday, 20 February 2013

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