The island of Siquijor within the southern Philippines is famed for its conventional therapeutic practices; much less well-known is the position its healers play in conserving the island’s forests.Traditional practices and beliefs encourage respectful and sustainable harvest of medicinal vegetation.The island’s healers’ affiliation additionally collaborates with researchers and a authorities reforestation initiative to watch and domesticate medicinal bushes within the island’s forests.
CANTABON, Philippines — In the guts of Siquijor province within the southern Philippines lies the secluded mountain village of Cantabon. Amid the verdant bushes, the therapeutic hut, or balay pahi-uli, of shamans Noel and Juanita Torremocha stands as a serene sanctuary, providing solace to sufferers looking for conventional folks cures.
Siquijor is famed for its thriving conventional therapeutic practices that draw a various crowd, together with worldwide guests, looking for cures for a wide selection of well being considerations starting from easy sprains to extreme illnesses like most cancers. The Torremochas are a part of a group of 300 mananambal, or healers, who’ve saved this heritage alive for generations.
On a sunny morning in December 2023, the couple attend to an aged lady who’s come from a close-by island province complaining of arm ache. The lady removes her footwear on the hut’s lanai, the place a rack of amulets and potions are on show. Juanita, 64, gently guides her into the remedy room, enclosed by partitions of woven bamboo strips.
Inside, Noel, 54, has the affected person sit on a picket stool. An altar adorned with miniature statues of outstanding Catholic figures stands behind him, testifying to the Philippines’ standing as the most important Catholic nation in Asia. As he listens to the girl recount the origins of her ailment, Noel’s proper hand rests atop a picket desk laden with giant bottles crammed to the brim with concoctions of oil and extracts of medicinal vegetation.
Inside his therapeutic hut close to Mount Bandilaan National Park, healer Noel Torremocha listens as his affected person recounts the origin of her ailment. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
Next, Noel begins the tuob ritual, a type of fumigation believed to dispel illness and fend off dangerous spells. He places a small pot crammed with ashes and oil underneath a stool and lights it. Juanita then drapes the affected person lady in a delicate yellow blanket, trapping the heat inside. As the smoke billows, it enveloped the affected person. Then Noel uncovers her and rubs a therapeutic combination into her proper palm, kneading the sore limb as he intones a prayer.
The Torremochas and different mananambals in Siquijor are extra than simply bearers of historic therapeutic traditions and supernatural beliefs. Unknown to many, they’re additionally guardians of the forests, which they think about sources of therapeutic and the dwelling locations of spirits, each benevolent and malevolent.
Most of the healers stay close to Mount Bandilaan National Park, a 271-hectare (670-acre) protected forest reserve. Bandilaan is Siquijor’s highest peak, at 557 meters (1,827 toes). Its forests are dwelling to 188 recognized plant species, of which 19 are thought of threatened, in response to a 2019 floristic evaluation by consultants from Bohol Island State University and the University of the Philippines Los Baños. A 2021 examine discovered the park can be dwelling to seven amphibian species, 12 fowl species and eight bat species, a few of that are endemic and endangered within the Philippines.
Through each conventional practices and a authorities reforestation initiative, efforts to guard the park from deforestation and degradation contribute to combating local weather change and preserving the island’s wealthy biodiversity.
Most of Siquijor’s healers stay close to Mount Bandilaan National Park, a 271-hectare forest reserve and the very best peak in Siquijor at 557 meters above sea stage. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
‘Destined to heal’
Juanita grew up helping her father, Pedro Tumapon, a legendary healer in Siquijor. When her father died in 2007, she says, she initially hesitated to take up his legacy. But she felt compelled by her conscience, she says. “Your future to heal others was imprinted in your palm from a younger age,” Juanita tells Mongabay, sitting on a picket bench on the lanai of their balay pahi-uli.
Local beliefs warn that ignoring the decision to heal brings misfortune. “If you don’t settle for it, you could face opposed penalties,” Juanita says. “After my father’s loss of life, I used to be continuously ailing, affected by again and head ache. However, as soon as I started the therapeutic journey, I finished falling sick, because of God’s mercy.”
The Torremochas’ home is never with out guests. The couple begin their day with a prayer as quickly as daybreak breaks, figuring out they may have visitors at any second. Patients from close by cities and provinces generally arrive so early that the couple are nonetheless asleep.
“We don’t ask for cash from individuals who search our therapeutic skills,” Noel tells his affected person, who seems relieved. “We are content material with no matter donations we obtain, whether or not financial or in form.” For them, Noel says, their reward of therapeutic shouldn’t be a commodity to be traded, however a blessing to be shared freely, particularly to the poor who lack the means to entry Western drugs.
Bottles crammed with concoctions of oil and extracts of medicinal vegetation. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
Of the pair, Noel has a deeper data of Bandilaan’s medicinal assets. When his father-in-law was nonetheless alive, Noel accompanied him to gather these vegetation throughout the Holy Week, which can be the time of Siquijor’s annual therapeutic competition.
From 2014 to 2019, consultants from Siquijor State College, Negros Oriental State University, the University of the Philippines Manila, and the Philippines’ Department of Science and Technology documented the Indigenous native therapeutic practices and ethnopharmacological data of the communities in Siquijor. The examine recognized as much as 218 plant species utilized by folks healers. These vegetation, primarily from six households, are principally discovered on Mt. Bandilaan.
Noel says he realized to acknowledge such vegetation by their look, scent and style, and to make use of them properly and respectfully. For seven consecutive Fridays ending on Good Friday, he leads a gaggle of herb gatherers who set out early within the morning and enterprise deep into Bandilaan. “The journey is hard,” he says. “You must ascend additional, you’ll face all types of animals, like bees that sting.”
They comply with pangalap (gathering) strategies which might be sustainable, solely pruning bushes and herbs to advertise development and allow their yearly harvest. “We depart particularly the mature ones unhurt. If we had been to extract them fully, proper as much as their roots, they may die,” Noel says.
“The forest is a pharmacy, a laboratory and a library of infinite knowledge, that’s why it’s essential to us,” Junel Tomaroy, one other famend folks healer, tells Mongabay. “When it involves gathering herbs, that’s the place you possibly can see the respect. The healers have a restrict as a result of in a 12 months we solely accumulate for seven days. When we come again subsequent 12 months, the department we minimize has sprouted and grow to be three or two.”
Folk healers say the optimum time to collect pure cures from medicinal vegetation and bushes is from morning till midday, once they say these vegetation have the very best efficiency. They honor the late afternoon and nighttime hours because the time once they say the spirits wander again to the forest. “They come out at night time, they will see us, however we are able to’t see them,” Noel says.
Siquijor locals, notably healers, preserve enormous bushes and their environment, believing that forest spirits dwell in these areas. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay
Siquijor’s well-known healer couple, Noel and Juanita Torremocha, attend to a affected person experiencing arm discomfort. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
“We ask for permission earlier than we collect herbs there, or we request it by way of desires, which reveals respect,” Tomaroy says. “You can really feel it if you’re actually delicate. They will push you away once you go there in the event that they don’t such as you.” Those who persist with out consent may get misplaced or wounded within the forest, fall sick, and even die, he provides.
“[Our] analysis [showed] that Siquijor’s ‘mysticism’ shouldn’t be attributable to witchcraft or voodoo, however the folks’s huge wealth of well being data and practices,” Josel Mansueto, a professor at Siquijor State College who led the 2014-2019 challenge, tells Mongabay.
The Philippine authorities’s National Greening Program contracted the Cantabon Healers Association to plant medicinal vegetation and bushes throughout 80 hectares (almost 200 acres) of forest on Mt. Bandilaan between 2011 and 2013. With an 80% survival fee, this initiative ensures that these forest assets will proceed to develop for generations, performing their very important sociocultural, ecological and financial features, in response to Siquijor’s Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office (PENRO).
“We encourage [local healers] to plant these medicinal bushes and vegetation of their respective backyards by partnering with us, in order that we are able to protect them inside the timberland areas,” Paul Tomogsoc, a senior environmental administration specialist at PENRO, tells Mongabay. The reforestation efforts are aligned with the provincial authorities’s aim of additional rising the island’s forested space, which at present stands at 1,179 hectares (2,914 acres).
Healer Aniceta Ponce treating a affected person in her therapeutic hut. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
Siquijor’s tree cowl shrank by simply 1.7%, or 238 hectares (588 acres) from 2001 to 2022, in comparison with 7.6% for the entire of the Philippines, Global Forest Watch knowledge present. A 2012 examine from Siquijor State College suggests that people therapeutic traditions and religious beliefs could contribute to the conservation of the island’s forests, notably these surrounding a river thought of sacred.
“We discovered that the folks have beliefs on the existence of the spirits within the space, and that the river ought to be shared with them, too,” says Mansueto, who additionally led that examine.
“Given this, folks observe accountable utilization of the forest and the river in order to not anger the spirits. Therefore, once they get vegetation and herbs for use for therapeutic, they don’t exploit the assets. They ensure they solely get what they want.”
Tomogsoc additionally factors to PENRO’s ongoing lively involvement within the marketing campaign towards unlawful logging, which incorporates regulation enforcement and an info drive. This has helped instill a way of stewardship amongst residents, motivating them to guard and preserve their forests, he says.
He says forest conservation is significant for Siquijor, a small island measuring 34,350 hectares (84,880 acres) and weak to local weather crisis-driven typhoons — the principle risk to the province’s forests. “This is important for combating local weather change; we can’t survive with out the forest,” Tomogsoc says.
With a rise in tourism, PENRO is collaborating with the native authorities to find out the island’s carrying capability — essentially the most vacationers it could accommodate at a time with out harming its ecology, tradition and economic system.
The healers’ affiliation agrees with the federal government and helps its varied initiatives, from reforestation to reporting violators. “The forest is our supply of wellness and livelihood,” says Aniceta Ponce, president of Siquijor’s conventional healers’ affiliation. “All the herbs we want are there within the forest, so we protect it, we don’t destroy it. That is why you don’t see us chopping the bushes right here in Siquijor.
“We preserve them as a result of it provides us safety when there’s a storm or an earthquake. What if there are not any bushes left? There could be no safeguard for our watershed. We could be defenseless towards extreme warmth,” she provides.
An aged feminine affected person undergoes Siquijor’s famend tuob ritual, a type of fumigation believed to dispel sickness and chase away unfavourable spells. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
Aniceta Ponce, the chief of Siquijor’s conventional healer affiliation, bottles a pure medicinal mix in her dwelling’s lanai. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
But the native therapeutic traditions are progressively fading away because of the development of tourism and intercultural change, the loss of life of outdated healers, and the emergence of expertise and Western well being care amenities, Mansueto’s crew notes in its examine.
Mansueto is at present engaged on books that purpose to coach locals, particularly college students, concerning the well being data and practices of the Siquijor mananambals, and the way these relate to preserving forest assets.
“Through these studying supplies, they may have the ability to proceed their well being data and be happy with their tradition, whereas additionally being empowered to guard the atmosphere and pure assets,” she says. “They will know that every thing they should preserve their well being and wellness is principally from Mother Nature.”
As for healers like Noel, they permit their youngsters and youthful relations to witness their practices: “But the choice to comply with the decision and keep on our cherished custom for future generations is in the end theirs.”
Banner picture: Juanita Torremocha harvests a medicinal herb in her yard, positioned close to Mount Bandilaan National Park on the coronary heart of Siquijor Island. Image by Keith Anthony Fabro for Mongabay.
Indigenous youths maintain historic forestry traditions alive within the Philippines
Aureo, W. A., Reyes, T. D., & Jose, R. P. (2021). Floristic evaluation 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 inside chosen 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 relation to the utilization and conservation of the Señora River and different group practices. Silliman Journal, 53(2). Retrieved from https://sillimanjournal.su.edu.ph/index.php/sj/article/view/148
FEEDBACK: Use this way to ship a message to the creator of this publish. If you need to publish a public remark, you are able to do that on the backside of the web page.
Archive, Biodiversity, Biodiversity And Medicine, Community Development, Community Forests, Community-based Conservation, Conservation, Environment, Featured, Forests, Indigenous Communities, Indigenous Cultures, Indigenous Peoples, Medicinal Plants, Medicine, Protected Areas, Reforestation, Traditional Knowledge, Traditional Medicine, Traditional People, Tropical Forests
Asia, Philippines, Southeast Asia, The Philippines