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Healers of Siquijor

Mystical island offers natural, tourism appeal First Posted 09:30:00 03/08/2009

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Insect bites, sorcery, mental disorders and even broken relationships have corresponding herbs, concoctions and Latin prayers for their cure ? if you ask folk healers from the province of Siquijor.

These well-respected figures in this island of ?mystical? beauty even offer a potion of oil and bits of bark to bring luck in love and business.

Dr. Vergie Bonocan Miquiabas, who has written a book on the traditional healing methods of the island, said the age-old practices continue despite modern day science because those who seek it find it cheaper and sometimes more effective than relying on medical experts.

Siquijor is drawing more interest from foreigners and local tourists as well.

?Folk healing is really true. This is the beauty of the hidden wonders of the island,? she said.

Miquiabas, head of the Siquijor State College Department of Research and Development, was in Cebu on Thursday to give a lecture on Siqujior?s traditional healers.

The lecture was a highlight of the eight-day One Visayas expo which opened at the Cebu International Convention Center on March 1.

Miquiabas, a post graduate professor, interviewed in depth and observed 20 folk healersfor her 2008 book ?Mystical Siquijor?.

Her field survey was conducted from April to September 2008.

Ralph Lubguban of the Siquijor tourism office said poverty was a common reason people resort to traditional healing methods.

In the past, Siquijor residents had to take a 45-minute to 1 hour pump boat ride to get medical attention in Dumaguete city.

Even now that the Siquijor has two hospitals, locals still seek out herbolarios and the mananambal.

The professor has recommended ?institutionalizing? Siqijor?s traditional healing and setting up a Wellness Center on the island.

This is part of the local government?s plan for a eco-tourism resort in Mt. Bandilaan located in the center of Siquijor.

Miquiabas said it was important to take care of these traditional healers and help regulate their operations.

A wellness center could provide a ?showcase? for Siquijor?s traditional healing practices and a way to introduce the island?s culture amd boost socio-economic conditions of the province, she said.

As a start, the Siquijor provincial government recently organized training seminars for folk healers who were given tips on hygiene and safety.

One tip was to discourage the use of rubbing alcohol in ?hilot? massages.

?The institutionalization of healing could pave the way of coming up with a group that would look into the safety of traditional healing,? said Miquiabas.

?Time would come that faith healers and doctors will join efforts in promoting wellness in the province,? she said.

Miquiabas said there were two types of healers -- those that use ?white? powers and those engaged in ?black magic?.

Her study focused only on the ?white? healers, who number at least 80 people.

?Those using black magic are in hiding because what they do is not acceptable to us,? she said.

Miquiabas said folk healers are devout Roman Catholics who attend mass and are recognized by their parish priests.

Healers are mostly found in the municipalities of Siquijor and Larena.

They all attribute their powers to a ?divine source? , usually communicated through a dream.

This source was alternately identified as God the Father, the Sto. Niño, the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Holy Spirit and St. Michael the Archangel .

A common pattern among the healers was their claim that they were ?called? to practice but initially resisted because they didn?t want the inconvenience or stigma of the role.

When they refused to accept the mission, they or their family members suffered maladies.

Every year the healers would meet in Mt. Bandilaan on Black Saturday to prepare their oils and concoctions, a combination of herbs, tree bark and roots and insects which they gather during the seven Fridays of the Lenten season.

The ingredients are thrown into a cauldron filled with coconut oil.

Local herbs like mangungkog may be used to cure ?daot? or maladies caused by witchcraft while paha-uli leaves are prescribed for ailments caused by sorcery. Alibutra is for stomach aches and pains while luy-ang tapol is for arthritis and joint pains.

Miquiabas said healers also perform rituals like ?diwata? to seek help from good spirits and ?bayad? to drive away the bad ones.

Diwata is performed annually by fishermen, farmers and businessmen who make offerings of food to the spirits for a good harvest, protection at sea and profit.

The ritual of ?bayad? is done by offering salted food or other items to make amends for any wrongs done to spirits.

Siquijor struggles to get rid of the misconception that it is an island of witchcraft, and instead emphasizes its natural attractions like the Cantabon cave, the most famous of its 45 caves, the Guiwanon Spring Park, a resort with wooden bridges and nipa huts above the ripples of a marine sanctuary. Spaniards referred to Siquijor as ?Isla del Fuego? or the Island of Fire because of its abudance of fireflies.

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