My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer

A compelling drama of American herbologist Rosita Arvigo’s quest to preserve the knowledge of Don Elijio Panti, one of the last surviving and most respected traditional healers in the rainforest of Belize.

Published by: Harper Collins, 1996




The first book written by Rosita Arvigo and Nadine Epstein was “Sastun: My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer” published by Harper Collins in 1996. It is the life story of Don Elijio Panti, the last great h’men taught in the oral tradition. It has received much praise from healers the world over and inspired others to keep to the path of the healer.

My Apprenticeship with a Maya Healer was published in 1994, only two years before Don Elijio passed away. By the time I brought it to him to show him a book based on his life, he had lost most of his sight. During my weekly visits, I read it to him as he lay in his hammock. I had typed out the preliminary 600 pages of the book on a typewriter – three times.

One day, a free-lance reporter, Nadine Epstein, came to Ix Chel Farm to do an interview for an article she was writing on Belize. We became friends and I shared my wish to write a book about my mentor in order to immortalize him and to share the story of this wonderful man’s life with the world. She read only a few pages and asked if she could take the draft home with her to study it more and see what she could do to find an agent and a publisher. Within only a month, she had found our agent, Regula Noetzli , and within another month, Regula helped us to sign a contract with Harper Collins. Nadine and I took my rough material and wove it into a beautiful, inspiring book over the course of a year. Don Elijio was a talker.

For seven years I slept in his little hut in a hammock listening to his stories of love, anger, sadness, betrayal, loss, grief and joy. I heard his stories hundreds of times and listened to him tell the same jokes to his patients countless times over the thirteen years that I was his apprentice. So, when it came time to write his life’s story, it felt every detail was etched into my mind as fresh as the day I first heard it.



This is a must read. It reminds us that we have lost so much important knowledge over the eons.

What a beautiful and authentic story about two healers. If you work in the healing arts or are thinking about it as a career path- this book is touching and eye opening. So many beautiful lessons about working with love and compassion for all in harmony with the plants.

This book is a work of peace and beauty. Each chapter starts with a quick note on unique Mayan herbs and identifies their healing properties. This alone is a treasure. Sastun also gives an insightful, sensitive look into the character a true healer who deeply cares for his patients, mourns his lonliness, yet is energized by his spiritual support he receives in his healing and the thankfulness of his humble, hard-working and trusting Mayan patients. Personally, I loved this book... it reads quickly and easily, is beautifully written with touching humor and is remarkably uplifting.



  • From Publishers Weekly

    In 1983, the American-born author and her husband Greg were discouraged, almost ready to give up their farm and natural healing practice in a remote, roadless area in western Belize. By chance, Arvigo met 87-year-old Elijoio Panti, the best-known Maya medicine man in Central America. She persuaded him to teach her about the medicinal plants of the rain forest and the Maya art of healing. With freelance writer Epstein, Arvigo presents an engaging account of her five-year association with Panti and his patients, affording an interesting glimpse of traditional healing. Ultimately, Arvigo obtained the support of the American Cancer Institue and the New York Botanical Garden for her study of natural healing; she is now director of research of Terra Nova, a 6000-acre plant reserve in Belize. Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

  • From Library Journal

    Trained in naprapathy (the treatment of disease using natural healing processes), American-born Arvigo and her husband opened a natural healing practice in San Ignacio, Belize. The encroaching jungle threatened their homestead and resolve, but life took an unexpected turn after they met Elijio Panti, a respected Maya healer. Believing that his vast knowledge of medicinal plants would be their salvation, Arvigo set out to learn Elijio's dying art of natural healing. This enjoyable story is one of cross-cultural friendship and commitment to preserving native plants and traditional Mayan healing remedies. In the same vein Mark Plotkin, who detailed his work with Conservation International in Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice ( LJ 7/93), Arvigo created the Ix Chel Tropical Research Foundation to send plants to research laboratories for further study. Both narratives remind one that the destruction of native cultures and rain forest vegetation, with its unknown healing potential, is a loss to all humankind. Recommended for all libraries. --Teresa Elberson, Lafayette P.L., La. Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

  • From Booklist

    Arvigo's commitment to traditional herbal medicine took her from the straight streets of Chicago to the lush and demanding wilderness of Belize, where she met one of the region's most renowned Mayan healers, Don Elijio Panti. Undaunted by the feisty octogenarian's assumption that a gringa couldn't possibly attain the level of spirituality necessary to practice his art, Arvigo began helping him with the arduous daily work of collecting and preparing plants. Once Panti recognized Arvigo's skill, sincerity, and strength, he began teaching her not only how to use plants to cure physical diseases, but also how to diagnose and treat a host of mysterious psychic disorders with a sastun, or divining stone. The more Arvigo learned, the more she realized that the practice of traditional herbal medicine is threatened by the destruction of the rain forest. In an effort to preserve both Panti's knowledge and the plants the healers depend on, Arvigo has established a research foundation and medicinal plant reserve, thus building a bridge between traditional healing and modern science. With the assistance of journalist Epstein, Arvigo relates her often astonishing and moving tale with disarming modesty and openness. Donna Seaman

  • From The Washington Post

    "[Arvigo makes] clear that as the West slashes and burns its way through rainforests and tribal lands . . . . we destroy not only others, but ultimately ourselves."


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