Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Of Love Potions, and the Healing Island of Mystique Siquijor | Beautiful Life

Story and Photos by Arabelle Jimenez

A love potion charm, a mystical artwork, and healing smoke are just some of the intriguing items showcased at the first Panambal Festival in Maria, Siquijor.

The first-ever Panambal Festival was held in the sleepy town of Maria, Siquijor on April 7 - 9, 2023. This Holy Week sojourn is an eye-opener to many who had notions that dark forces shrouded over this mystical island. Suddenly, the Municipality of Maria is not sleepy anymore, rather, the event awakened its inner true calling, and healing purpose.

Folklore in Siquijor

Located in Central Visayas Region of the Philippines, Siquijor is the smallest province in the region, and the 3rd smallest province in the country. 

Wooden witches on broomsticks in a souvenir shop.

The Philippines is composed of enchanting islands, all with its own stories and legends to tell. Folklore is merged with fairy tales that are being passed down to generations. But, it's nothing as unique as the "scary" stories that we hear about Siquijor; from witchcraft to sorcery, from voodoo to "aswangs".

Remnants of these mysteries still stand in many places in Siquijor. One example is the San Isidro Labrador Convent where it is believed to cure victims of witchcraft and sorcery many centuries ago. The building is still intact, and is now open to the public as a museum in the Municipality of Lazi.

San Isidro Labrador Convent in Lazi, Siquijor.

Sure, ghost stories about Siquijor may have scared away the gullible and the weak of faith, but, at the same time, it has actually increased the interest of the adventurous, and knowledge-seekers. This "negatively branded" island is making a comeback, and has turned the grim, mystical image to their favor. 

Love Potions, et al.

Gayuma or love potion is the most popular "magical" concoction, not only in the Philippines, but to believers of its power from all over the world. Witnessing how these are made with our own eyes, right on the island of its source, is truly a unique experience. 

Healing oils target specific ailments.

Equally worth discovering are the various healing oils, the "palina" (ritual smoke), and the black wax that are believed to drive away everything that is bad in your body. From headaches to bad spirits (anti-kulam), and even diseases that just won't go away even after exhausting all means at the hospital.

"Mananambals" or traditional healers demonstrate the various ways of healing during the opening ceremony of the first Panambal Festival held at the Olang Arts Park in Maria, Siquijor on Good Friday.

The procedure starts the day after Ash Wednesday, where ingredients are collected for seven weeks until Holy Thursday. What are these ingredients? It varies from herbs, to tree branches, flowers, and barks from the mountains. It also includes natural deposits from the sea; like seaweeds, coral stones, and shells washed away on shore. Now, it is noted that each healing oil has a particular ailment to "cure", which makes the ingredients vary, according to the need.

Various ingredients collected.

Junel Tomaroy, president of the Siquijor Healers Association points out that there are no negative ingredients in the mix. These include plants that may attract the wrong kind, like revenge and jealously that may break homes and destroy a person. So, if this is your kind of "attraction", it is obviously not for healing in the general sense of the word. 

Good Friday is the time where all these ingredients are stored, chopped, and prayed over in a ritual only legit "mananambals" or accredited Siquijodnon, Atis and Mumbaki healers can do. These various chopped barks are believed to restore the body.

Burning the various ingredients in a huge cauldron to make "minasa" or black wax.

Black Saturday is the time they "cook" or burn these ingredients together in a huge "kawa" or couldron.  The "minasa" or black wax are mainly candles that are added to the mix, and poured with "lana" virgin coconut oil from coconuts which grew facing the East. On a side note, I believe that this scenario is where the term witches' brew came from.

Visitors are encouraged to create their own love potion.

Easter Sunday is the time they collect flowers from churches across Siquijor. These various flowers, many dried up, are put together as a potpourri-like ensemble to be mixed with honey or perfume. The healing oil process produces "lumay" or love potion which ingredients can only be derived during the Salubong, an Easter Sunday Ceremony. 

Lumay in pocket-sized bottles.

"Lumay" or love potion is meant to bring positive vibes, not only on love but luck in business, career, marital, and family life. It is worthwhile to note that the healers practice for free, and only accept donations from visitors, and their patients. 

These activities of the Panambal Festival at Olang Arts Park in the Municipality of Maria marks the island of Siquijor to be an alternative, and insightful destination during the Holy Week.

A Healing Island

This year's Panambal Festival is a refreshing start of digging into Siquijor's unique heritage, traditions, and one could say, healing powers that surround the island. The event, conceptualized by veteran tourism consultant Nilo C. Agustin in partnership with Minnie Crouse, owner of the Olang Arts Park, and supported by the good Mayor of the Municipality of Maria, Hon. Roselyn T. Asok, the first Panambal Festival signals the global awareness of Siquijor as a Healing Island.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, from left; Municipality of Maria Councilor Alona Arcamo, Maria Mayor Roselyn T. Asok, Councilor Betty Adlao, Maria's Chief of Police Joy Jumuad and Maria's Tourism Officer Aldrin "Braxton" Daguman.

Extensive research on traditional and alternative healing practice in Siquijor has brought some members of the academe to Olang Arts Park in Maria during the Holy Week, which also marked its opening as the Center for Culture, Heritage, Arts, Nature and Tourism of Siquijor (CHANTS). 

Dr. Isidro Sia, the executive director of the Integrative Medicine for Alternative Healthcare Systems (INAM) Philippines, representative to the ASEAN Technical and Scientific Committee on Traditional Medicines/Health Supplements, and convenor of Aralan ng Gamutang Pilipino (Philippine traditional Medicine) was the distinguished guest of honor at the first Panambal Festival.

Where science, nature, and culture meet. From left, Dr. Isidro Sia, Junel Tomaroy, and Nilo Agustin.

To strengthen its cause, the Olang Arts Park in the Municipality of Maria will be the center of healing on the island, where "mananambals" or healers can use as a venue to conduct traditional healing, and at the same time, a space where visitors can enjoy the Mahogany woods, and feel nature's soul. After all, science originate from nature.

Herbarium area in the Mahogany woods at Olang Arts Park in Maria, Siquijor.

The herbarium inside the park will also be an attraction to traditional medicine enthusiasts, where 377 kinds of herbs are recorded at the Siquijor State College. In this regard, Siquijor is poised to be the Herbarium Island in Asia. 

The vision of the first Panambal Festival successfully made its debut, and most importantly, the event solidifies the positioning of the Municipality of Maria, Siquijor in the world map as a center for traditional medicine, and the island of healing.


About Arabelle Jimenez