Dulce Maria, the Dominican Republic's
Most Famous Witch

But he has red hair!

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With his freckles, red hair and stylish hat, 67-year-old Dulce Maria appears more like an impish Irish leprechaun than a powerful curandero (shaman, witch) who attracts people from all over the world to his poor, remote village.

Dulce Maria's magic must be incredibly strong: He claims to have cured more than 2 million people from 23 different countries over the last 40 years.

In my wandering around Barahona, a relatively unknown region in the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic that attracts virtually no U.S. tourists, Dulce Maria is one of the most memorable people I meet.

In Barahona, I've found myself truly a stranger in a strange land. Except for Dulce Maria, I never see another white person in the countryside the entire time. From the surprised but always friendly reactions, it's obvious I'm as novel as an Arab sheik in an Iowa cornfield.

Yet I'm welcomed everywhere, even by this famous shaman who is speaking with me this hot afternoon under a thatch porch in his hometown of El Naranjo.

It turns out Dulce Maria has an unusual message for me.

Speaking in Spanish through a translator, he advises that I “am possessed by evil spirits.”

  And I thought I'd been feeling strange because of the water. Evil spirits hadn't occurred to me.

Obviously they should have because “Evil spirits are the cause of all illness, and we're all possessed to some degree based on the conditions we're born into and the time period,” Dulce tells me.

However, a little possession appears not be a bad thing. Apparently we get only really sick when someone uses witchcraft to cause an evil spirit to enter our body or we become the battleground in a contest between good and evil spirits.

There are 5 of us listening to Dulce as the shaman outlines his mission to heal both bodies and souls. Two of the men are local business professionals and the third is a teacher.

Before we arrived, they'd all said they didn't believe in Dulce Maria's powers although many, many locals do. To them, all this talk was just folklore, something that might interest me, an outsider.

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