Siquijor Tour Series: Fourth Stop, Day 2 Bolo – Bolo healing
Among those who practice folk and faith healing like herbalists, mananambal, albularyo and shamans of Visayas and Mindanao, the Fridays of Lent are very important especially Good Friday which is considered as the ultimate day to gather the ingredients for their oils, concoctions and healing potions.
There is only one place in the entire Philippines that stands out as the ideal, perfect place to gather the healing ingredients – the mystic island of Siquijor.
Many Luzon folks would probably consider Mt Banahaw in Quezon Province as the ultimate place but since I am from the Visayas, I consider Siquijor “it”.
These herbalists and shamans would come to the island province in a sort of pilgrimage into the forest of Siquijor. They will be searching for and gathering their needed tree roots, insects, tree barks, branches, leaves and such during these days.
Why Fridays of Lent?
It is believed that the forest will give them the best ingredients to make powerful potions only during the Fridays of Lent. The resulting oils and potions which used ingredients gathered during these days have magnified healing properties and makes the potions all the more powerful and effective.
Siquijor and Traditional Healing
Folk healing, faith healing and the age old practice of traditional medicines are still widely popular in this island despite progress and advancement in science and medicine. There is good to this because government and various stakeholders have seen potential in promoting the islands’ healers and healing rituals to attract visitors to come and pay Siquijor a visit.
In fact, as part of Holy Week observance, the province hosts Siquijor Healing Festival which attracts not only the folk healers and believers but also curious visitors both local and foreign.
Superstitions or Reality?
I grew up with a ‘lana’ in our house. Lana in its simplest sense is oil usually derived from coconut. The lana becomes special when it was prepared by folk healer or mananambal for it has undergone rituals before its placed in tiny containers. You’ll be able to see the lana swirling through the small twigs of various shapes, colors and sizes inside the container.
Lana, Special Oil of Shamans and folk healers
We have one tiny container filled with special lana placed in one of our house wall dividers. It was given by my Lolo Moises. Our Lolo was not a full fledge mananambal but I have seen him muttered orasyon (incantation) under his breath and practiced hilot (traditional Filipino massage) when someone in the family needs it.
*mananambal = healers
The lana he gave us could be put on cuts and wounds to hasten healing like a good old penicillin. It can also be used for hilot or medicinal massage. The special lana is also supposed to alert when ‘not like ours’ is in the vicinity. The oil will “boil” or bubble especially when what’s nearby is a bad elemental. I have not seen it “bubble” though which is a good thing. I also have not seen our lana for many years until we mentioned our Siquijor trip to our dad.
When our father knew that we were going to Siquijor, he cautioned us to be careful especially about “buyagan”. I really don’t know how to describe the nitty gritty details of how buyagan goes but the gist of it is you get a sort of compliment or out of the air remarked and then strange things follows.
For example, someone says to you “you’re so beautiful” but you surprisingly end up with unexplainable rashes, vomiting or swelling a few minutes or hours after. Old folks believe that the only reason the bad after effects happened was because the compliment was laced with a ‘spell’.
So to counter the spell especially when it’s a stranger who complimented you, you have to say right away “puera buyag”, in Tagalog, “pwera usog”.
*”Pwera buyag’ is a common expression even today especially when it concerns kids and infants. This line can be roughly translated to English as “bad thing stay away” or “god forbid I’d be under spell” something like that.
So anyhow, we were kidding our dad and we were grinning when he placed the lana in Nicko’s bag. Told him dili na uso, it’s not in vogue anymore etc. But our dad was serious so yes we brought the lana to Siquijor just in case.
When we got to Siquijor and learn that the 1,000 pesos coastal tour fee will not take us up to Nanay Conching’s place in Tag-ibo, San Juan, we did not hesitate to shell out the additional 200 pesos asked by our Siquijor tour driver / tour guide just so we can watch a traditional healer in action.
The place was not really that far away from the main highway but the climb was steep. At one point on the way to the mountain barangay, we all have to unload from the tricycle and the guys push the tricycle up.
Consolacion Achay or simply known as Lola Conching or Nanay Conching is probably the most famous of all faith healers in Siquijor practicing bolo – bolo. She used lana during the healing process and says that bolobolo can heal all sorts of maladies and ailments from simple wounds to people who were ‘gipadaotan’.
*gipadaotan or gi-daut means cursed by a witch or a black magic practitioner which Siquijor is also reputed to have lots of. I guess if there are good healers, they also have their “bad” counterparts to keep the ying yang balance of nature.
A Healer’s Special Implements / Treatment Kit
Nanay Conching’s Bolo – Bolo Healing Abilities
Nanay Conching healing abilities was not pass on to her, she is first in her line, and last if her ability can’t be transferred to a family member when it becomes necessary. This famous faith healer from Siquijor shared her story to us of how she received the gift of bolo-bolo healing.
Nanay Conching of Siquijor
She was swimming in a stream when she was a young girl, when she left the water; she felt something on her pocket. It was a black stone, she have no idea how it got there. She took the stone with her to her home, that same night, she had a dream. In the dream, the Sto Nino visited her and she was shown how to heal using the black stone. That night she said the Sto Nino blessed her with the healing capability and the rest as they say is history.
Healing, Healers and Curious Folks
We got at her house real early; Nanay Conching was still having breakfast. While waiting we were urging Nicko to be the patient as he has some rashes from days before. He counters back that I should be the patient since at that time I had minor throat irritation. We were apprehensive as we have not done this before so we had a sort of tug of war trying to determine who will stand as the patient, Nicko being the youngest… let’s just say he really doesn’t have a choice. So he grudgingly resigned himself to undergo bolo bolo treatment. Luckily, an old patient of Nanay arrived just in time when nanay took out her implements. Nicko was visibly relieved when I told the newly arrived patient that she can go ahead and have her treatment.
We requested if we can take pictures and videos during the healing and both ladies agree, lucky for us!
Last part of Bulo – Bulo Healing by Nanay Conching
How to do Bulo – bulo healing?
From what I’ve observed, Nanay prayed first on her altar with the images of the Sto Nino, Jesus Christ and Mama Mary. Next, she put the black stone on the glass, took out her pitcher and poured clear water onto it and readied her bamboo stirrer. She then drunk a bit of lana while murmuring some orasyon.
Nanay then placed the glass against the patient’s ailment and blew on the water, creating bubbles. From time to time she stirs the water. Surprisingly the water got real dark and murky and there were tiny bits of something floating in the water. She gave these bits to the patient after each session; Nanay Conching then throws out the murky water and rinse the glass. She repeated this procedure for four times I think until the water becomes clear and you can’t see tiny floating objects.
The video above shows the last session of bulo – bulo.
After the last session, the healer murmured what I guess to be another orasyon or ritual prayers, give lana to the patient and the patient massage it on the the ailing part. While cleaning her implements and tools of healing, she was advising the patient on what procedure and leaves to get to put on the wound should the wound pester.
That’s the end of the bolo bolo folk healing treatment we witnessed.By the way, there is no fix payment required, but patients give donations. We also gave Nanay donation for letting us stay there, observed and record the whole thing.
Watch and Experience
We were silently observing how Siquijor’s bulo bulo healer did the whole treatment. We were raised on western medicine; our mom is a nurse, so yes we remain skeptic of the mananambal ways. But we respect the traditional healing especially that our Lolo, who have long ago passed away, believed in it.
Sometimes it’s all about belief and faith in something that will get you healed. I’ve worked in the pharmaceutical industry before and some doctors have shared how sometimes they have no choice but to give placebo tablets to difficult patients because these patients are really not sick but believe themselves to be sick and then after taking placebo, they “miraculously” get healed.
Life in Siquijor is simple and Nanay Conching fulfills a special role in her community. Not everyone can afford to get to the city and have a doctor check them. It’s expensive too to buy pharma medicines. There are also times when science and modern medicine fails the patient and they come looking for alternative ways to get well. More importantly, over the decades that Nanay serves her neighbors and patients from distant provinces, countless patients have been healed through bolo bolo.
You and I can believe what we want to believe but for these patients of Nanay Conching in Siquijor, she gives them a ray of hope. She heals them.
Update: Nanay Conching has passed away. I don’t have any contacts with any bolo – bolo healer.
If you like to read more posts about Siquijor please check this:
1. Previous post: Siquijor Tour Third Stop – Enchanted Balete Tree.
2. Moving forward: Fifth Stop: Lazi Church and Convent and a Serene Beautiful Town.
May 2018 we went back to Siquijor. The island have changed, more tourists now flocked there. There are still bolo bolo healers but none as famous or as well loved as Nanay Conching.