In a small wooden hut far up the hillside, Consing Achay closed her eyes. Her patient, riveted by the intensity of this traditional bulo-bulo treatment, watched intently as the 86-year-old woman moved her wrinkled right hand across her body in the Catholic sign of the cross and mumbled a short incantation in Latin. Consing then took a glass of clean water, dropped a magic stone in it and began blowing through a special bamboo straw. Air bubbles formed in the water, and she rubbed the glass across her patient’s body. As the water became murky, she rinsed the glass and repeated the process. After a third time, the water finally stayed clear and Consing smiled, satisfied that the bad spirits and sickness had left her patient.
one of dozens of witches, or as some prefer to call them, mananambals (traditional healers), on Siquijor, a remote island in
the central Philippines. The mananambals are
a big draw for the island, which has branded itself as the “island of healing”.
While bulo-bulo is one of the better-known
healing methods on the island, it is also one of the most rare – only still
practiced by Consing. Other witches prefer to use faith healing, hilot (traditional rubbing) massage, or local
herbs and oils to work their magic. Some even sell potions purported to make
people fall in love. These special concoctions can only be made once a year,
during the Lenten Festival of Herbal Preparation between Maundy Thursday and
To help you
find them, the provincial tourism department
and many hotels can provide a list of “official healers”. Most tricycle drivers
know where these healers live as well. For just a few dollars, you can test
their magic firsthand.
In addition to having good witches, the island is also rumoured to be a haven
for several shamans who cast spells that cause sickness or death, magicians who
can make paper dolls dance, and mystical creatures that roam the countryside
wreaking havoc. Although I did not personally see any of these, several people
I met on the island testified to their existence. But do not worry – the
biggest curse you are likely to encounter is if the island’s only ATM breaks.
The origin of Siquijor’s mystical reputation varies depending on whom you ask,
but most agree that the stories started years ago and have been passed down
through generations. Until recently, the island had no hospital. The majority
of the population lives below the poverty line, so the availability of rare but
cheap healing plants makes traditional healers popular among locals.
spending a day “witch hunting”, I decided to rent a motorcycle and explore the
other sights the island has to offer. Like many remote areas of the
Philippines, the easiest way to get around is by hiring a tricycle (price
negotiable with driver, but approximately 1,000 Philippine pesos for a half day)
or motorcycle (about 200 pesos for the first hour, and 100 pesos for each
subsequent hour). Most hotels and resorts can arrange these options and provide
you with maps of the island. More exclusive resorts like Coco Grove in the city of San
Juan also rent out private cars.
The entire island can be circumnavigated by motorcycle in about four hours. A
well-trodden road dotted with small villages criss-crosses verdant hills and
remote beaches. Along the way you can pause to swim in stunning waterfalls,
marvel at the gnarled trunk of a massive ancient balete tree, spelunk in one of
the island’s cave labyrinths or say a prayer at Lazi’s San Isidro Labrador
Convent, reputedly the country’s largest and one of its oldest convents. The tourism
office and most resorts offer free brochures and maps that can help you
discover Siquijor’s many attractions.
other 7,000-plus islands in the Philippines, Siquijor has quintessential
elements of an island paradise: calm turquoise seas, isolated white-sand
beaches, towering palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze and brilliant orange
and fuchsia sunsets.
Underwater is just as grand, if not more, than above. Vibrant hard and soft
corals, sea turtles, eels, lionfish and other sea life put Siquijor on the map
for divers and snorkelers alike. An average dive for PADI-certified divers
costs about 1,200 Philippine pesos, and dive shops also offer certification
How to get there
There is no airport on Siquijor island, but passengers can fly to Dumaguete,
Negros from Manila on Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines, then take an
hour-long boat ride on Ocean Jet Ferry,
Delta Fast Craft or Jaylann Fast Craft. From Siquijor’s port, tricycles can
take you to the island’s various towns.
When to go
While the island can be pleasant any time of year, you are less likely to
see cloudy skies if you go during the dry season of March through June. No
matter what the weather though, a visit to this mystical island will leave you
feeling the magic – either from witches or the island’s simple charm.