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Passe healers in Philippines retain their ‘wooded space pharmacy’ standing

  • The island of Siquijor in the southern Philippines is famed for its ragged healing practices; much less properly identified is the feature its healers play in conserving the island’s forests.
  • Passe practices and beliefs aid respectful and sustainable harvest of medicinal flowers.
  • The island’s healers’ affiliation also collaborates with researchers and a authorities reforestation initiative to song and domesticate medicinal trees in the island’s forests.

CANTABON, Philippines — In the coronary heart of Siquijor province in the southern Philippines lies the secluded mountain village of Cantabon. Amid the verdant trees, the healing hut, or balay pahi-uli, of shamans Noel and Juanita Torremocha stands as a peaceable sanctuary, offering solace to patients looking for ragged folk treatments.

Siquijor is famed for its thriving ragged healing practices that diagram a diverse crowd, together with world company, looking for treatments for a huge fluctuate of health concerns starting from easy sprains to excessive ailments like most cancers. The Torremochas are half of a neighborhood of 300 mananambal, or healers, who own kept this heritage alive for generations.

On a sunny morning in December 2023, the couple aid to an aged lady who’s arrive from a nearby island province complaining of arm anguish. The lady removes her sneakers at the hut’s lanai, where a rack of amulets and potions are on show cloak. Juanita, 64, gently guides her into the consultation room, enclosed by partitions of woven bamboo strips.

Interior, Noel, 54, has the affected person sit on a wood stool. An altar embellished with little statues of famed Catholic figures stands behind him, testifying to the Philippines’ standing as the largest Catholic nation in Asia. As he listens to the girl repeat the origins of her ailment, Noel’s staunch hand rests atop a wood desk laden with huge bottles crammed to the brim with concoctions of oil and extracts of medicinal flowers.

Interior his healing hut advance Mount Bandilaan National Park, healer Noel Torremocha listens as his affected person recounts the starting place apart of her ailment.
Interior his healing hut advance Mount Bandilaan National Park, healer Noel Torremocha listens as his affected person recounts the starting place apart of her ailment. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.

Next, Noel begins the tuob ritual, a make of fumigation believed to dispel illness and fend off dangerous spells. He locations a diminutive pot stuffed with ashes and oil under a stool and lights it. Juanita then drapes the affected person lady in a delicate yellow blanket, trapping the warmth within. Because the smoke billows, it enveloped the affected person. Then Noel uncovers her and rubs a healing combination into her staunch palm, kneading the sore limb as he intones a prayer.

The Torremochas and hundreds of mananambals in Siquijor are extra than staunch bearers of ragged healing traditions and supernatural beliefs. Unknown to many, they’re also guardians of the forests, which they defend in mind sources of healing and the voice areas of spirits, each benevolent and malevolent.

A few the healers live advance Mount Bandilaan National Park, a 271-hectare (670-acre) safe wooded space reserve. Bandilaan is Siquijor’s top height, at 557 meters (1,827 feet). Its forests are residence to 188 identified plant species, of which 19 are belief about threatened, in accordance to a 2019 floristic overview by consultants from Bohol Island Relate University and the University of the Philippines Los Baños. A 2021 gaze learned the park will likely be residence to seven amphibian species, 12 bird species and eight bat species, about a of which are endemic and endangered in the Philippines.

By each ragged practices and a authorities reforestation initiative, efforts to provide protection to the park from deforestation and degradation contribute to combating native climate commerce and keeping the island’s rich biodiversity.

Mount Bandilaan National Park
Most of Siquijor’s healers live advance Mount Bandilaan National Park, a 271-hectare wooded space reserve and the supreme height in Siquijor at 557 meters above sea level. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.

‘Destined to heal’

Juanita grew up assisting her father, Pedro Tumapon, a legendary healer in Siquijor. When her father died in 2007, she says, she at the starting place apart hesitated to absorb his legacy. However she felt compelled by her sense of right and wrong, she says. “Your destiny to heal others used to be imprinted for your palm from a younger age,” Juanita tells Mongabay, sitting on a wood bench on the lanai of their balay pahi-uli.

Local beliefs warn that ignoring the choice to heal brings anguish. “Must you don’t derive it, which you may perchance also face negative penalties,” Juanita says. “After my father’s loss of life, I used to be consistently sick, struggling from aid and head anguish. However, when I started the healing accelerate, I accomplished falling in heart-broken health, ensuing from of God’s mercy.”

The Torremochas’ residence is usually with out company. The couple birth their day with a prayer as quickly as morning time breaks, vivid they may be able to also need company at any second. Sufferers from nearby cities and provinces infrequently arrive so early that the couple are silent asleep.

“We enact no longer question for money from of us that glance our healing skills,” Noel tells his affected person, who looks relieved. “We are mutter material with whatever donations we receive, whether or no longer monetary or in form.” For them, Noel says, their gift of healing is now not any longer a commodity to be traded, but a blessing to be shared freely, in particular to the center-broken who lack the kind to earn unswerving of entry to Western remedy.

Bottles stuffed with concoctions of oil and extracts of medicinal flowers.
Bottles stuffed with concoctions of oil and extracts of medicinal flowers. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.

Sustainable practices

Of the pair, Noel has a deeper files of Bandilaan’s medicinal sources. When his father-in-rules used to be silent alive, Noel accompanied him to ranking these flowers unswerving thru the Holy Week, which will likely be the time of Siquijor’s annual healing competition.

From 2014 to 2019, consultants from Siquijor Relate College, Negros Oriental Relate University, the University of the Philippines Manila, and the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology documented the Indigenous native healing practices and ethnopharmacological files of the communities in Siquijor. The gaze identified as much as 218 plant species inclined by folk healers. These flowers, primarily from six families, are mostly learned on Mt. Bandilaan.

Noel says he learned to search out such flowers by their appearance, smell and charm, and to exercise them wisely and respectfully. For seven consecutive Fridays ending on Correct Friday, he leads a community of herb gatherers who quandary out early in the morning and enterprise deep into Bandilaan. “The accelerate is disturbing,” he says. “Or no longer it’s a must to ascend further, you may perchance perchance face every kind of animals, like bees that sting.”

They discover pangalap (gathering) techniques which will likely be sustainable, most attention-grabbing pruning trees and herbs to promote thunder and enable their yearly harvest. “We leave in particular the old ones unhurt. If we had been to extract them completely, staunch as much as their roots, they’re going to die,” Noel says.

“The wooded space is a pharmacy, a laboratory and a library of infinite files, that’s why it’s essential to us,” Junel Tomaroy, one more considerable folk healer, tells Mongabay. “By system of gathering herbs, that’s where which you need to seek for the glory. The healers own a restrict ensuing from in a 300 and sixty five days we most attention-grabbing ranking for seven days. After we arrive aid next 300 and sixty five days, the department we lower has sprouted and turn out to be three or two.”

Folk healers thunder the optimum time to ranking natural treatments from medicinal flowers and trees is from morning till noon, after they are saying these flowers own the supreme efficiency. They honor the slack afternoon and tiring evening hours as the time after they are saying the spirits hump aid to the wooded space. “They arrive out at evening, they may be able to seek for us, but we are able to’t seek for them,” Noel says.

Siquijor locals, in particular healers, preserve huge trees and their surroundings
Siquijor locals, in particular healers, preserve huge trees and their surroundings, believing that wooded space spirits dwell in these areas. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay
Siquijor’s properly-identified healer couple, Noel and Juanita Torremocha, aid to a affected person experiencing arm discomfort.
Siquijor’s properly-identified healer couple, Noel and Juanita Torremocha, aid to a affected person experiencing arm discomfort. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.

“We question for permission sooner than we ranking herbs there, or we quiz it thru goals, which presentations appreciate,” Tomaroy says. “That you must perchance perchance truly feel it whereas you’re truly truthful. They’ll push you away whenever you dawdle there in the event that they don’t comparable to you.” Those that stick with out consent can also earn lost or wounded in the wooded space, tumble in heart-broken health, and even die, he adds.

“[Our] be taught [showed] that Siquijor’s ‘mysticism’ is now not any longer on account of witchcraft or voodoo, however the of us’s huge wealth of health files and practices,” Josel Mansueto, a professor at Siquijor Relate College who led the 2014-2019 mission, tells Mongabay.

The Philippine authorities’s National Greening Program reduced in measurement the Cantabon Healers Affiliation to plant medicinal flowers and trees across 80 hectares (almost 200 acres) of wooded space on Mt. Bandilaan between 2011 and 2013. With an 80% survival rate, this initiative ensures that these wooded space sources will proceed to grow for generations, performing their a will must own sociocultural, ecological and economic functions, in accordance to Siquijor’s Provincial Atmosphere and Pure Assets Space of business (PENRO).

“We aid [local healers] to plant these medicinal trees and flowers in their respective backyards by partnering with us, in remark that we are able to defend them within the timberland areas,” Paul Tomogsoc, a senior environmental management specialist at PENRO, tells Mongabay. The reforestation efforts are aligned with the provincial authorities’s goal of further increasing the island’s forested quandary, which for the time being stands at 1,179 hectares (2,914 acres).

Healer Aniceta Ponce treating a affected person in her healing hut.
Healer Aniceta Ponce treating a affected person in her healing hut. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.

Forest conservation

Siquijor’s tree duvet shrank by staunch 1.7%, or 238 hectares (588 acres) from 2001 to 2022, when put next to 7.6% for the total of the Philippines, World Forest Glance files current. A 2012 gaze from Siquijor Relate College suggests that folk healing traditions and non secular beliefs can also contribute to the conservation of the island’s forests, in particular those surrounding a river belief about sacred.

“We learned that the of us own beliefs on the existence of the spirits in the quandary, and that the river needs to be shared with them, too,” says Mansueto, who also led that gaze.

“Given this, of us practice guilty utilization of the wooded space and the river in mutter no longer to nettle the spirits. Attributable to this truth, after they earn flowers and herbs to be inclined for healing, they enact no longer exploit the sources. They be particular that they most attention-grabbing earn what they need.”

Tomogsoc also capabilities to PENRO’s ongoing active involvement in the advertising and marketing and marketing and marketing campaign against illegal logging, which contains rules enforcement and an data force. This has helped instill a mode of stewardship among residents, motivating them to provide protection to and preserve their forests, he says.

He says wooded space conservation is mandatory for Siquijor, a diminutive island measuring 34,350 hectares (84,880 acres) and liable to native climate crisis-driven typhoons — the foremost risk to the province’s forests. “Right here’s essential for battling native climate commerce; we are able to no longer survive with out the wooded space,” Tomogsoc says.

With a upward thrust in tourism, PENRO is collaborating with the native authorities to search out out the island’s carrying potential — the most vacationers it’s going to accommodate at a time with out harming its ecology, culture and economic system.

The healers’ affiliation has the same opinion with the authorities and helps its diverse initiatives, from reforestation to reporting violators. “The wooded space is our source of wellness and livelihood,” says Aniceta Ponce, president of Siquijor’s ragged healers’ affiliation. “All the herbs we need are there in the wooded space, so we defend it, we enact no longer raze it. That’s why you enact no longer seek for us chopping the trees right here in Siquijor.

“We preserve them ensuing from it provides us protection when there may perchance be a storm or an earthquake. What if there are no trees left? There would be no safeguard for our watershed. We would be defenseless against excessive warmth,” she adds.

An aged feminine affected person undergoes Siquijor’s considerable tuob ritual, a make of fumigation believed to dispel illness and beat back detrimental spells.
An aged feminine affected person undergoes Siquijor’s considerable tuob ritual, a make of fumigation believed to dispel illness and beat back detrimental spells. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
Aniceta Ponce, the chief of Siquijor’s ragged healer affiliation, bottles a natural medicinal blend in her residence's lanai.
Aniceta Ponce, the chief of Siquijor’s ragged healer affiliation, bottles a natural medicinal blend in her residence’s lanai. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.

Fading away

However the native healing traditions are gradually fading away on account of the thunder of tourism and intercultural commerce, the loss of life of historical healers, and the emergence of workmanship and Western health care amenities, Mansueto’s group notes in its gaze.

Mansueto is for the time being working on books that goal to educate locals, in particular college students, in regards to the health files and practices of the Siquijor mananambals, and the intention these list to keeping wooded space sources.

“By these learning supplies, they’re going to be ready to proceed their health files and be ecstatic with their culture, whereas also being empowered to provide protection to the ambiance and natural sources,” she says. “They’ll know that every thing they must defend their health and wellness is especially from Mother Nature.”

As for healers like Noel, they enable their childhood and younger relatives to deem their practices: “However the choice to own a study the choice and take care of on our cherished tradition for future generations is in the extinguish theirs.”

Banner image: Juanita Torremocha harvests a medicinal herb in her backyard, positioned advance Mount Bandilaan National Park at the coronary heart of Siquijor Island. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.

Indigenous youths retain ragged forestry traditions alive in the Philippines

Citations:

Aureo, W. A., Reyes, T. D., & Jose, R. P. (2021). Floristic overview of the Mt. Bandila-an Forest Reserve in Siquijor, Philippines. doi:10.21203/rs.3.rs-863087/v1

Jose, R. P., Aureo, W. A., Narido, C. I., Reyes Jr., T. D., & Sarnowski, M. B. (2021). Baseline assessments of wildlife biodiversity within selected areas of Central Visayas, Philippines. Journal of Biodiversity Conservation and Bioresource Management, 6(2), 27-34. doi:10.3329/jbcbm.v6i2.55244

Mansueto, J. B., Duran, E. O., & Jumawan, R. C. (2012). Cultural practices in the case of the utilization and conservation of the Señora River and hundreds of neighborhood practices. Silliman Journalfifty three(2). Retrieved from https://sillimanjournal.su.edu.ph/index.php/sj/article/deem/148

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