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Saturday, August 8, 2020

Albularyo: The Witch Doctors of the Philippines


As the science of medicine continues to discover the nature of diseases and ways to cure infections, Filipinos, especially the ones living in the rural areas, still cannot let go of some beliefs that explain the causation of diseases. Resorting to faith healing with the help of ‘albularyo’ is one of the famous go-to of Filipinos not only in the provinces but also in some parts of civilized cities.

Albularyo, Witch Doctor
Image: Leonid Plotkin
The word ‘albularyo’ was coined from the Spanish word herbolario, a person who uses herbs for curing people. Its literal translation in English is a witch doctor. Albularyos were the elders in the provinces who were taught by their ancestors about faith healing using herbal plants, prayers, rituals, coconut oil, tawas, and others. It is said that not anyone can be an albularyo however you wanted to be one. It is a calling from the creator for the people chosen by Him and will receive a special power to help and cure people in religious ways.


The claim on why Filipinos still patronize faith healing is that it is rooted even before the Spanish colonization. Babaylans and Catalonans were the ones who acted as an albularyo before. They are considered as personas who are equal in power with the datus. Pre-colonial Filipinos believed they possessed the power to converse with spiritual beings, helping them in influencing the weather, healing the sick, and shielded them against curses. But as soon as the Spaniards came and established churches, they labelled the babaylans and catalonans as witches that use black magic.

Another reason why faith healing is still practiced and believed by many is that it follows the traditional medicine practices. Many of the herbal used by faith healers were proven effective by medical experimentations. Some of the herbs that has proven its effectiveness are lagundi, serpentina leaves, sambong leaves, and many others.

Albularyo, Amulets, Anting-anting, Agimat
Image: GMA News
Among the Filipinos cultural beliefs about the causation of diseases, there are seven common causes that explains how they acquire the disease. These are; namamana, lihi, sumpa, gaba, pasma, namaligno, and kaloob ng Diyos. These conditions are usually diagnosed by an albularyo.


Namamana or in English, inheritance, are diseases that are acquired by an offspring by inheriting the same disease from one or both of his or her parents. Not only the disease is the one inherited but also the sin his or her parent carries. Babies or young children who are suffering from indescribable sickness were believed to be inherited the curse that supposed to be given to his or her parent but is not successfully inflicted on adults because of its stronger immune system making their child the receiver of the curse.

Next is lihi. It is a condition of pregnancy food craving in which the pregnant craves a specific food and wanted to eat it as soon as possible. Lihi is not limited to food cravings but also to the things, animals, or anything that seems to be mesmerizing to the pregnant's eyes. Conditions that seem to be unique or unusual that can be noticed in the child's characteristics are said to be connected to the pregnant 'pinaglihian'. Lihi encompasses a folk belief that whatever the woman had craved during pregnancy will imprint characteristics on the child she is bearing. An example of lihi is when a baby has thick body hair, he or she is probably getting characteristics from an animal with thick furs like monkeys and other animals.

Albularyo, Witch Doctor
Image: Soitiki
The five remaining origin of diseases which are; sumpa, gaba, pasma, namaligno, and kaloob ng Diyos will be soon narrated in the following paragraph.

Sumpa is represented as a bad omen. It is a curse inflicted to a person or a thing that consecutively emits bad luck. A person that is under a curse or 'sumpa' will directly affect the people who are close to that person. Possibly the family, friends, or anyone near to the person who is cursed. Likely, the person who is using the things under the curse will also be affected. The effects that can be gotten from those who are cursed as accidents, diseases, and other negative things. Using protective amulet prescribed by "albularyos" is said to be the only way to deflect these phenomena.


Gaba is somewhat similar to sumpa. It signifies a bad karma. Like "sumpa", "gaba" chained people from the bad effects it gives. But the effects is only applicable to the person's blood relatives. It does not affect things. Gaba is can be described through a family with the same disease passed through generations. They say gaba is given by a Divine being as a punishment to the family of a person who committed a social sin in his or her previous life. Performing rituals and apologizing wholeheartedly are some possible actions to end 'gaba' in your family.

Pasma usually occurs when the hot and cold got mixed in one's body. It is also referred to as an 'exposure illness'. It is advised to not let your body be engaged to a quick change of temperature or you will suffer from pasma. Exposure illness may disrupt the normal function of the body and mind that may result to a psychotic disorder or "'pagkabaliw"'. Faith healers suggest having a massage therapy or hilot to remove the excessive cold in the body. One can also perform 'pasuob' wherein a person who has pasma must be covered in a blanket while sniffing the boiled herbal leaves.

"Namaligno" is believed to be an intervention of supernatural and mystical beings causing a person to develop a disease. It may come from the wrath of a supernatural being to a person for offending them making the person suffer from a disease. Giving offerings, prayers, and rituals are some suggestions given by albularyos to be freed from the mystical creatures' punishment.

Lastly is ''kaloob ng Diyos or God's will''. Usually people who suffers and experience great loss has a hard time coping up and adapting to changes the hardships gave them. Because of this, lots of people bring all things to God's grace and treat their hardship as a challenge and test given by God to make them stronger and learn more about life. 'Kaloob ng Diyos' can be treated as the general description of six origin of diseases discussed above and from the previous article. Just like how people treat those diseases as God's will for them to get stronger.

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Written by Yna Marie Barcia, IFY Books
 "A person who always want to familiarize herself to any skill that seems to be amusing and a student dreaming to learn more"

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