A cuy is a South American guinea pig. The tiny animal is revered in Ecuador culture and is utilized in several ways, primarily as a food source. It is also used in spiritual practices and healing ceremonies, performed on the patient by a healer or shaman, also known as a yachak.
The healing ceremony generally starts with a smudging, which is a cleansing of the patient’s aura or energy field with herbs such as sage or sweetgrass. Sometime a container of water is set nearby to absorb any negative energy.
The shaman will pass the furry rodent rapidly over the torso, head, legs and arms of the patient. An egg may be used instead and is rolled all over the patient’s body. Both the cuy and the egg absorb and remove negative energies.
Should you decide to participate in this kind of cleansing ritual, don’t be too surprised or upset if the shaman thrashes you with the body or tail of the guinea pig or with a bundle of herbs or plants. This is not meant to be abusive to either you or the animal.
It is considered an excellent way to remove any unhealthy or toxic energies that have collected and to balance the aura. The shaman may also blow cigarette smoke around the patient and spray a fine mist into the patient’s face after taking a swig of liquor mixed with water from a bottle.
The animal at some point dies (or, some suspect, is asphyxiated by the shaman). The healer then cuts the animal open or breaks the egg and reads the insides to diagnose disease, ailments or problems the patient may be experiencing. Then the appropriate remedy is prescribed.
If after leaving the ritual, reeking of cigarette smoke and alcohol, you feel unsure about what took place, remember that this is a totally different environment, culture and hemisphere. These substances have a long history of sacred use, even in North America.
Having the belief that you will be cleansed or healed along with the intention to heal and then physically taking part in an ancient ritual is a powerful combination for healing. People report relief from physical symptoms, negative mental attitudes, stress and illness.
I've been with people who have chosen to partake in this ritual, but I have never done so myself. I don't have a problem with the use of an egg for the cleansing, but I don't want a sweet little animal to die if there is another way. Guinea pigs are too familiar as cuddly, lovable pets, not as a living sacrifice.
Guinea pigs are also a favored food source in Ecuador. They are sold live at markets or cooked by street vendors, served in restaurants and prepared in many different ways.
The cute little rodents sometimes run loose in local homes and are treated like pets. Others are raised in cages or pens.
It can be disconcerting to foreigners to see the cuddly little furballs scooped up and then eaten with relish after being broiled, boiled, fricasseed, roasted, fried or made into soup.
To be treated to a cuy feast is considered quite an honor in Ecuador culture. This succulent meat is often reserved for special occasions like christenings and marriages.
At first I balked at eating, well, a pet. Then I gave in and had a bite of one at a family celebration where we were expected to share a meal. Refusing would have been considered very impolite.
The meat was a little tough and not that tasty, so I felt no need to ever try it again. A few years later at a land clearing ceremony, I felt compelled to politely take another bite--or two--of cuy.
It was absolutely delicious--crispy on the outside, succulent, mouth-watering on the inside. Now cuyes have moved from the pet category into the desirable food category.
But with reservation. I only devour their tender flesh at Ecuadorian ceremonies or rituals where it would be impolite not to participate.
Want to hear about another unusual Ecuadorian healing treatment? This one involves eyeballs and tadpole tails.