Rosita, an American herbalist and Doctor of Naprapathy, was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 15, 1941 to immigrant parents from Iran and Italy. She attended St. Michael’s Grammar School in Old Town, Amundsen High School and Mundelein College in Chicago. Briefly married, she found herself fascinated and drawn to the “Flower Child” or “Hippie Revolution” centered in San Francisco, California. She decided to leave her conventional life behind and follow an inner calling to experiment with new lifestyles and social paradigms, freedom of expression, and ultimately a “back-to-the-land” ethos.
In 1968, after living in the very epicenter of the hippie movement in Haight-Ashbury San Francisco as a member of experimental and intentional communities, she moved deep into the northern California Mountains and Redwood forests to be part of one of the most famous communal living sites, known as Black Bear Ranch. While at Black Bear, Rosita is well remembered for having established the first school house for the growing number of children in the community.
In 1969 she and a small group of idealistic friends, pushed by the Vietnam War draft threat, social violence, and upheavals in the United States, were inspired to search for calmer waters in which to practice their anti-establishment and back-to-the-land philosophy. Together, she and four friends (two couples and two children) moved to the more simple, serene, and isolated regions of the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains of Mexico. There they endeavored to integrate into the indigenous life of Mexican villages, farmers and families. It wasn’t always smooth and their unorthodox lifestyle was often shocking and confusing to simple Catholic Mexican peasants many of whom had never even seen an American or heard a foreign language.
They settled in the small, rustic town of Tlactotepec, Guerrero in Southern Mexico. Tlactotepec was a village of indigenous Nahuatl Indians with vestiges of the ancient Aztec civilization. At first, together with her friends, and finally alone, Rosita ultimately spent seven years in this region, gradually moving ever deeper and deeper into wilderness living. The final location was a fourteen-hour walk from the village of Tlactotepec through dangerous and remote mountain passes and raging rivers, to finally settle an abandoned fruit orchard deep in the heart of a fertile valley. Their nearest neighbors, a tiny Indian village built around an old Spanish mission, were more than a two hour hike straight up the mountain pass.
During these years of extreme naturalist living, Rosita befriended several traditional healers and craftspeople who taught her survival skills and countless elements of how humanity lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years before the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Amongst these warm and generous people she was surrounded daily by a culture that was naturally full of medicinal plants, traditional Aztec healing, leather embroidery, sewing, , tortilla making and Mexican cuisine. The men in the group learned carpentry, blacksmithing and agricultural survival practices of the Nahuatl. During these years, Rosita became fluent in Spanish and exposed to many traditional healing modalities, especially massage or “la sobada”, and the Aztec steam bath ritual, the Temezcal. The little family lived as vegetarians off the bounty of the land and studied proper food combining, water fasting and the importance of soil health on human bodies.
She left Mexico in 1976 and settled in Naples, Florida her family’s home at the time. Rosita was employed at The Shangri-la Institute of Natural Hygiene as Assistant Health Director then later as Health Director. Her duties were to supervise water fasts for up to forty people at one time and to direct cleansing diets and weight loss weeks at the popular location in Bonita Springs, Florida.
The owner of Shangri-la, R.J. Cheatham, bought a tract of land in British Honduras across the Gulf of Mexico where he was cultivating organic fruits for the health resort. He invited Rosita to live on this three hundred acre organic fruit orchard when she decided to leave her position there and head back to Central America to birth the child she was carrying at the time. She was just six weeks pregnant with her daughter, Crystal Ray who was born later that year in 1977 in San Ignacio, Belize. Rosita stayed in Belize working the fruit orchard for Shangri-la until she returned to the US in 1980 to study Naprapathy, a system of bodywork manipulation akin to chiropractic medicine.
She graduated with honors from The Chicago National College of Naprapathy in 1983 after which she and her future husband, Greg Shropshire, also a recent graduate of naprapathy, went back to Belize. They had purchased a thirty-acre tract of uncleared, raw jungle intending to convert the riverside land into a health retreat. The 35 acre farm on which the family grew their food, as well as her healing herbs, was named Ix Chel Farms, in honor of the Mayan Goddess of Healing. They opened a naprapathic practice in the small town of San Ignacio where as family physicians of alternative medicine, they treated a population of Mennonites, Maya, Creole people and a smattering of ex-patriots. Rosita specialized in natural therapies for women and children. She volunteered at the local pre-natal clinic for a period of two years where she worked with more than a dozen traditional home birth attendants.
One of Rosita’s Maya patients, an old chiclero, had a horrendously deep scar on his right leg from the knee down to the ankle. There was almost no healthy flesh left on his bone but instead was replaced by tight cords of scarred and gnarled muscles. He explained that he had nearly lost his leg from the devastating effects of leischmaniasis, a serious jungle sore that can eat away entire limbs if not corrected. He explained that he went to see an old Maya bush doctor, Elijio Panti, who had cured him with hot herbal baths, plant remedies and castor oil. Amazed at this intriguing story, Rosita vowed to search out the old Maya healer and ask him to help her to learn about the medicinal plants of her newly adopted country.
She did not have to wait long as he appeared on her clinic doorstep one day on his own having heard from locals that there was an American herbalist in town. He came by one hot afternoon during mango season, received a treatment from Rosita for his aching back and neck and invited her to visit him in his village the following week. That was the beginning of a long and tender relationship between the two who grew to love each other immensely. Don Elijio was nearly 90 years old when he met Rosita and had no apprentice or student to carry on his ancient healing traditions. There were many who learned a little but no one who could dedicate the years it would require to completely study with the old Maya master. Rosita would visit Panti weekly in his humble thatch huts in San Antonio village, gradually befriending the man by helping in whatever way she could with his daily chores, massaging his aching, stiff muscles and serving as translator for non-Spanish speaking patients.
In 1984, after a year of this service, Rosita gained Don Elijio’s confidence enough that he agreed to accept her as his disciple and thus began her apprenticeship to one of the last known, genuine Maya healer/shamans. He was ninety and she was forty-four. Almost every week of the next twelve years Rosita trekked on foot to visit her mentor in San Antonio village nestled in the Maya Mountains near the border of Guatemala. Each week she would spend three nights and four days learning the herbs, prayers, treatments, massages, sting ray spine acupuncture and various forms of spiritual healing. Rosita was overwhelmed with the responsibility and the awareness that Don Elijio could die at anytime before she had fully completed recording his ancient medical system.
At that time in 1985, she had just opened the Rainforest Medicine Trail at Ix Chel Farm open to the public to help Belizeans and visitors to the country understand more about the value of the rainforest through its wild, useful plants. One of the very first visitors sent her a newspaper article about the New York Botanical Garden’s search for tropical plants that might have anti-AIDS or anti-cancer activities in the National Cancer Institute’s laboratory in Bethesda, MD. Rosita wrote a letter to Dr. Michael Balick of The New York Botanical Garden, director of the search program, explaining that she had just started to study with an old Maya healer who said he would be willing to share his knowledge with the scientists. Don Elijio’s response was “Humph, I guess those scientists aren’t so dumb after all.” See Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer.
In 1992 Rosita founded The Traditional Healers Foundation to provide a legal body for the one dozen traditional healers of Belize who participated in the BEP from 1987-1996. This foundation would be the recipient of any shared profits coming from the drug which might be developed from one of the Belizean collections. See below.
In 1993 The Government of Belize donated a 6,000 acre trace of old growth forest to the THF as the world’s first medicinal plant reserve which was eventually called Terra Nova Forest Reserve. The healers had a hard time raising sufficient funds to develop the reserve into a community sanctuary and employment resource. So, due to land pressures and an absence of activity at Terra Nova, the government saw fit to reduce its acreage to 600 acres in 2003. At this time due to some political issues, Terra Nova Forest Reserve no longer exists.
Rosita eventually became overwhelmed with responsibility and decided to divide her thirty acres in half, sell the medicine trail and retreat centre to her long-time friends and neighbors, Mick and Lucy Fleming of Chaa Creek Jungle Lodge just next door to Ix Chel Farm. The medicine trail is still open to the public where visitors can see the original trail cleared by Rosita and Don Elijio in 1984. Chaa Creek staff recently completed a display at the entrance to the medicine trail that tells the story of Rosita Arvigo and Don Elijio Panti.
Dr. Arvigo now spends most of her time teaching The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Massage in Belize , the United States and around the world. These amazing techniques address and prevent dozens of ailments that occur in the reproductive, digestive, eliminatory and emotional systems of the body and the mind. For more information on courses and workshops by Rosita see www.arvigotherapy.com or click on to the present programs being offered.
Now 71, Rosita has retired from her busy naprapathic practice in San Ignacio Town in western Belize. She is still very busy with teaching, traveling and giving talks on Maya medicine, The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy and Maya spiritual healing below. To this day Rosita has kept her promise to her mentor Don Elijio to preserve the knowledge and traditions he passed down to her so they would not be lost and to take care of his people when he was gone. Sadly, Don Elijio died in February of 1996. His death was mourned throughout the world. But, Rosita has remained in Belize passing on the Mayan healing traditions to the next generation through her Children’s Bush Camp. She established Rainforest Remedies, a company that prepares and distributes herbal remedies and medicines from the tropical forests of Belize and Mayan medicinal traditions.
In 2003 Dr. Arvigo received the Earth Award from the Wings Trust Foundation of New York. For more information go to their website, www.wingstrust.org. ” The Wings Trust was formed to document past accomplishments of women explorers and to help promote current women’s explorations in all fields of study. Since that time, Wings Trust has recognized and celebrated the achievements of extraordinary women. Their accomplishments opened doors to a myriad of social and physical sciences. Their vision and work set examples and standards to which all of us, women, men and c hildren may aspire.”
Rosita is a regular featured speaker at many herbal and healing conferences around the world.
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