Visayan Sorcery, 2012

800px Salagdoong beach
Salagdoong Beach — Maria, Siquijor
Photo: Peter V. Sanchez, Wikipedia

Once something is on your mind, you see it everywhere. I came across a feature story in BBC News Magazine today, called “Healing rituals and bad spirits on a Philippine island”. The reporter visited the island of Siquijor, to investigate what she calls “witches”, and the island’s tourism department calls “traditional healers”.

In Visayan, they are called mananambal. If you’ve been following my blog, then you’ll remember that I’ve written a bit about witchcraft and sorcery beliefs in the Central Visayas before, specifically as described in Richard Lieban’s 1965 book, Cebuano Sorcery. Lieban didn’t visit Siquijor, but he did mention it a few times. Apparently, the island is infamous for its witchcraft.

The BBC reporter, Kate McGeown, visited three mananambal, including a woman who is the last living practitioner of bulo-bulo on the island. Here’s Lieban’s description of bulo-bulo:

…the practitioner blows through a bamboo tube into a glass of water held over the patient; if the illness is supernatural, vegetable, animal, or mineral matter appears in the water, “extracted” from the patient.

You can see a video of the mananambal doing bulo-bulo on Ms. McGeown at the BBC link. It took three rounds of the ritual before her water came clear — apparently Ms. McGeown had some bad mojo going on.

Much of what she describes from her visit is familiar to me, from having read Lieban’s book. The mananambal she met with are devout Catholics, and they see no contradiction between their traditional rituals and their official religion. One of the mananambal dowses for spirits. Another one is an herbalist, who makes potions from herbs and roots that she gathers every year, between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

And this was familiar, too: Ms. McGeown asked the healers she visited why their services were still in demand. Because bad witches still exist, and put curses on people, they answered.

Or perhaps it is the more practical reason suggested by Francisco – that because the island did not have its own hospital until recently, traditional beliefs about illness and disease have stood the test of time.

Lieban said that, too — back in 1965. Back then, even in Cebu City, where modern medicine was readily available, people still visited mananambal, so lack of modern resources isn’t the only reason that folk medicine endures. Still, it’s a bit depressing that almost fifty years later, there are still places where people visit folk practitioners primarily because they have no other choice.

More Reading

“Healing rituals and bad spirits on a Philippine island”: The BBC Article

Siquijor Island: Tourist site about Siquijor. It looks like a beautiful place. I may have to grab my snorkeling gear and head out there for some, um, ethnographic research. Yeah, that’s it.

2 thoughts on “Visayan Sorcery, 2012

  1. This is interesting! I am actually really scared of mangkukulam or bad witches…

    Anyway, I heard that the beaches in Siquijor are just amazing! And few people go there because of the Aswangs (Monsters, blood suckers) and of course mambabarang or mangkukulam (witches). And that is why the natural beauty of Siquijor is well-preserved because people don’t usually go there….

    1. The tourist page that I linked to did say that many Filipinos won’t stay overnight on Siquijor. It certainly does look amazingly beautiful. Overall, I guess it’s a good thing that the island isn’t over-touristed…

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