Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the November 6, 2006 Newsletter issued from Diego Nuñez's office above Restaurante "Isla Contoy," Río Lagartos, Yucatán, MÉXICO

Pa'ak & Jo'olonThe other day when I was at Ek Balam I was presented with the item shown at the right.

I've seen many instances of caterpillars, just before they metamorphose into resting pupae, constructing protective cocoons for themselves from leaves and leaflets, which they bound together with silk. Clearly I'd had such a thing deposited into my hand. This cocoon, however, was especially neatly done, at the top sealed with a flat leaflet like a tin can with a lid.

I asked Teri, one of the Maya workers at Genesis Retreat in Ek Balam, what she knew about it. She told me that in Maya the name for the green leaflet casing was Pa'ak, and the name for the creature inside the cocoon was Jo'olon. I referred to the creature inside as a worm, or "gusano," but she insisted that it was like a bee, "una abeja." Amazingly, the name Pa'ak appeared to be a special word just for the leaf cocoon of this particular insect pupa, and no other.

Teri also told me that the bee-like thing inside was medicinal -- that it was fed to children to cure fear.

I tried to determine what kind of fear eating the creature cured but she said it's just fear, "susto." Once when I was among Nahuatl-speaking people in the central Mexican highlands a little girl developed what they called "susto," normally translated as "fear." A healer, or "curandera," was summoned. She first shook fragrant herbs, mostly mints, all around the little girl until the whole area became intensely fragrant, and then she went through quite a routine in order to get the little girl's shadow released from beneath the tree that had fallen on it. I asked what kind of shadow it was but could only ascertain that it wasn't a sun-shadow, but rather a spirit shadow we all have, and if that shadow gets stuck someplace we're in trouble. This shadow business apparently has nothing to do with our Jo'olon, but it does make me careful about accepting blindly that the fear Teri is speaking of is the fear we northerners conceive of.

These Maya folks are wonderful, friendly, soft-spoken and hard working, but I don't make the mistake in thinking that I understand the mental world they live in, not in the least.