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Bikolanos’ ancient ways of treating diseases

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic which is happening all over the world and even affecting our country, we may ask ourselves, how did our ancestors had their illnesses healed? What were the causes of illnesses as perceived in ancient times?

In his general history on Bikol, From Epic to History: A Brief Introduction to Bikol History (1988), historian Danilo Gerona mentioned some ancient folk healers in Kabikolan and their methods in curing illnesses. (Given the animistic tradition of the time, we may find some of these beliefs as peculiar to ours.)

The balyan, known in the Visayas as babaylanes, were the traditional priestesses and healers of the ancient Bikolanos. They performed rituals in the hopes of ending epidemics, storms, and pestilence of locusts, events that were believed to be the handiwork of deities called aswangs.

These rituals were called hidhid. The hidhid were also being performed on sick persons. A balyana will apply buyo leaves and rice grains on a person’s forehead. She will then dance and contort around the sick person. Either the rituals will succeed or not.

The aswangs were also believed to prey on other weaker individuals, such as children. In the event that such entities were victimizing children, the balyana will conduct the yokod on the latter. She will carry the child on her arms and walk with him or her inside the house where the child is living. Furthermore, the balyan will offer some sacrifices to provide protection to the child by the anitos.

Although Western medicine is the predominant mode of treatment in Bicol and most of the Philippines, we can say that there may be areas where traditional beliefs are still persisting.

(The author, assistant Professor Jeffrey Asuncion, is a faculty member at the Department of Social Sciences of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. He is handling Philippine History, Rizal, and Science and Technology in Society courses and is conducting research on Bikol and Visayan regional histories. )

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