Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Dona Lucia with her healing plants.

Doña Lucia Leads a Quiet Life Surrounded by Family and Plants

She has a calm, composed look in her eyes. She has seen a lot. She has suffered and she has been through things that most of us only read about in books.

Lucia Avila-Garcia was born in Rio Esteban in 1936. She has made her living like her parents did: cultivating the soil and raising plants and animals. Her mother Guadalupe was a farmer and her father Santos was a carpenter and cayuco maker on the north coast.

She remembers summary execution of Garifuna community men in 1930s and 40s. “The soldiers would come. They asked you to put on your best clothes for a photograph. Then they would shoot you.” This took place during the presidency of Tiburcio Carias Andino from 1933 to 1949. Hundreds of Garifuna were massacred in that time and many left the country to save their lives. “I still was frightened of loud noises when I moved to Roatan,” remembers Doña Lucia.

In 1966 Doña Lucia boarded a cayuco that sailed towards the biggest of the Bay Islands. She moved to Punta Gorda when there were only a couple hundred people living there. “If you had something you shared it. If you made cassava bread, everybody helped out,” Doña Lucia remembers.

The soldiers would come. They asked you to put on your best clothes for a photograph. Then they would shoot you

Doña Izidria Mejilla, of Balfate took Lucia under her wing and taught her all about plants and healing. Doña Lucia has no books, no notes, nothing has been written of her knowledge of the island plants, herbs and trees. It is all word of mouth, a collective memory passed from one person to the next. A valerian root is fermenting in a aluminum pot next to her house. “It’s good for diabetes, strength. I’ve been fermenting it for a week,” says Doña Lucia. Her knowledge about plants and healing also came during visions she would get in her dreams where one of her ancestors, or deceased friends would suggest a use of a particular plant. “This is what we believe.”

Her humble Punta Gorda home is painted with a fading blue paint and surrounded by dozens of trees and plants. Each plant has a special, happy place with just the adequate moisture from the nearby creek and needed sunlight or shade.“I don’t feel strong in my knees, but in my heart and in my mind I feel useful,” says Doña Lucia.

The Garifuna healer gave birth to 10 children and one was given to her sister to be raised. “This is how you did it in those days,” says Doña Lucia, who has 30 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

As she walks behind her home, she picks up a handful of coconut threads and drops them into dozens of crab holes that dot her seaside property. While in most places on the island the blue crabs are hunted for food and sport, Doña Lucia sees their value and helps these creatures.

“You don’t see things like they used to be,” says Doña Lucia. “There was respect, humility. People lost all of this. There was money, but there was also love.”

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