Sunday, January 19, 2014

Vocation Stories of the Traditional Healers

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This article is part of a painstaking scholarly work of one of our leading social scientists in the Philippines today, Dr Ronel P dela Cruz, published in a colorful coffee table book -  Isla Fuga: Sacred Scapes. Dr dela Cruz is presently the director of Research and Publication Center of St Paul University Quezon City, and holder of the Mother Mary Anne de Tilly Professorial Chair.  An alumnus of the Asian Social Institute, Dr Dela Cruz is the founding chairman of the Francis Jeremy Educational Program whose beneficiaries are students from the Babuyan Islands. He
has presented his researches in national and regional conferences like the Hong Kong University and the National University of Singapore.

The study revolves on the dynamic interplay between the traditional healers (factor) and their healing practices (process) that continue to create both positive acceptance and transformation from the people (causes) that facilitate changes in the life of the people in the island (effect).

The author considers his encounter with the traditional healers of Fuga as a privilege. As they shared their thoughts, feelings and perspectives, he found himself encountering Filipino souls who had been nameless and voiceless for many generations because of the dominant cultures' marginalization of them. Below is the fruit of his English translations to Ilokano conversations with these healers who are regarded as wisdom keepers, consultants, fathers and mothers of the communities, and dutiful citizens.

  Fuga Island is an island in the municipality of Aparri, Cagayan. With an area of 100 km², it constitutes one of 42 barangays of Aparri along with the neighboring islets of Barit and Mabag. Wikipedia   

Bienvenido Pablo, 70 years old; 31 years as healer (Sitio Mudoc)
      When I was young, our elders taught me how to recite the oraciones (Latin prayers) with faith. This was my initiation, the first step to be qualified as healer. After I memorized the prayers, the power to heal was passed on to me by our great elders. They told me to use the power to heal on Good Friday. As a healer, I encountered many unseen spirits in this world. I encountered them many times especially in the farm and in the woods. These are both good and bad spirits. The aplaw or bad spirits touch and cause people to be sick and they are required to communicate to them. Those who have an encounter with bad spirits have uncommon experiences: they may cut an uncommon tree, kill a peculiar chicken, touch a lone turtle in the woods, etc. People come to see me every time they have sick members of their family. I have been doing this for thirty one years. Many members of the community believe that I can properly diagnose (maimaan) the cause of sickness of my patients.
      I pray every time I begin to diagnose and heal any sick member of the village. It is in praying that the spirit is able to communicate what I should do to treat the sick. Sometimes they are revealed in my dreams. I perform a ritual offering to appease the spirits whom the sick person encountered either in the farm or in the woods. Members are required to prepare food like meat, rice, wine, nganga, etc. as atang (offering). This is a form of communication where I dialogue with the spirits and ask them to restore the health of the mortal being. As a midwife (partera) in the village for many generations, I prescribed herbal medicines especially when the mother has difficulty giving birth. I give them juice extract of young banana leaves. At the same time, I ask the husband to pour water on the roof, catch it, mix it with soil, and give it as a drink to the labouring mother. To ease the difficulty of his wife, the husband wears his bolo on his waist and steps over his labouring wife. After the mother gives birth, I burn an anglem, a piece of old cloth, to drive bad spirits away from the mother and the child. For children who have til-i, I recommend akot-akot to be fried, mixed with water and serve as a drink. Alternatives can be tayyong leaves, or ground garlic. For those who have boils, I use mint leaves mixed with lime (apog).
      They look on me primarily as a healer. That is my contribution to the community. As one of the elders in the village, they also seek my advice concerning communal issues. I can say that I am credible to the community because people continue bringing their sick to me. We traditional healers are on the forefront when people get sick. I gained confidence in myself as a healer through my works and faith. Strong faith is necessary especially when I wrestle with spirits and diagnose my patient. I think this makes me credible to the community. That wellness and good health can be experienced in the community through its healers is affirmed by people coming to see us when they are sick, entrusting their loved ones to us.

      Pedro Agarpao, 57 years old; 27 years as healer (Sitio Bubog)
      My calling began when I asked to pray to St. Mary of Visitacion for three days. The elders in the village asked me to memorize and recite 20 oracions. After three days, I received my power to heal through an apparition. My daughter also witnessed the apparition. We made a nine-day novena as a sign of thanksgiving for the gift of faith and healing. My healing is sustained through daily prayers. I heal for free; I was even invited to heal in other provinces like Ilocos, Baguio and Pangasinan. People got sick because they displease the spirits on this island. When they call me to heal their loved ones, I ask them to intensify their prayers. On my part, I will wait for the instructions to be revealed to me in my dreams. Once I have it, I will write the orasyon and prescribe the medicine (herbal). I even asked them to make a visit to the Our Lady of Piat if sickness stays for a week. Majority of the people in the village believe in my capacity to heal the sick. However, I also demand from them to do their share like prayer and stay away from the abodes of the spirits. When treating a serious illness, I ask the assistance of other healers in the island. As a healer, I am always challenged to be a model to the villagers by promoting good relationships with all community members. In the midst of poverty and difficulties, we always hope and pray that each member of the community will be blessed with abundant life. People see us as a resource. Instead of spending money for their hospitalization on the mainland, the healers in the island are their refuge. Faith in other people in times of sickness is evident.

      Patrocinio Visario, Sr., 46 years old; 33 years as a healer (Sitio Mudoc)
       It all started with a series of dreams where I see myself healing the sick. But I do not know who sent me to heal. So I consulted my grandfather who is also a healer in the village and confirmed that I had the power to heal and that I have to undergo an initiation. He asked me to read and memorize the oraciones (Latin prayers) which I will be using in order to heal.  At first, I was hesitant because we differ in religion but my grandfather admonished me that my calling to heal goes beyond religion. I use herbal medicines coupled with prayers. Aside from this, I also interview my patient so that I can understand where s/he is coming from. I have to admit that there were times that I am not sure what medicine to prescribe because of the complexity of the illness. I prescribe medicinal plants to my patients. When my patients apparently encountered bad spirits in their farms or in the woods, I perform the atang to communicate with the spirits. Sometimes, this is very difficult depending on the strength of the spirits encountered by my patient. If the sickness escalates in the village, I asked the other members of the village to perform a religious procession during day and night to drive away the evil spirits who want to dwell in the community. Majority of the people here in the village recognizes my ability to heal. But I see it as a form of service to them because they come to see/fetch me any time to heal the sick member of their family. It is also a challenge to promote good relationship and wellness in the community. I think this is my contribution. When one is sick, we are gathered together and share our community life - struggles, resources, dreams for the children, and the like. When there is sickness in the village, this is also the time to reflect as a community. Heads of the family come together and devise ways to prevent the sickness. Of course, there are many solutions to our problems but being together during times of crisis is primary.

       In my dreams (palti-ing), I dreamt of many strange and unusual things but they were all in white. I saw a white snake, a white dove, and a white lady who was accompanying me while walking in the woods. Later, when I shared this dream with the elders of the community, they confirmed that I am being called to heal. I also use herbal medicines that are available here. We are blessed with plants/herbs that we can use for various illnesses and ailments. When I diagnose an illness, I also perform the taku to determine if the patient encountered spirits or has a common sickness that needs immediate attention. The entire island is our medicine while it is also a source of sickness. People see me more as a keeper of the island's tradition. When people get sick, I always remind them to treat the island with respect and care. To be called to heal in the midst of allegations that we fabricate our calling to heal is a big challenge. I have proven them wrong that is why until now they still bring their sick to me for healing. People look at our healing activities as a form of damayan. We help each other in times of difficulties.~

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