|87-year-old Consolacion G. Achay has been performing bolo-bolo healing rituals for 45 years
The insular province of Siquijor is best known for supernatural powers, both good and evil. While the notorious reputation of the island being an abode of barang or sorcery persists, there are also benevolent spiritualists called mananambal who harness the healing powers of rituals, prayer and herbal remedies. The most popular folk healer on the island is 87-year-old Consolacion G. Achay – or Nang Conching to her patients – who performs “white magic” called bolo-bolo to cure clients afflicted by natural illnesses or curses brought about by voodoo. The bolo-bolo healing ritual involves using a glass of water, bagacay (bamboo straw) and a magical black stone, which Nang Conching says was given to her by the Santo Niño or Holy Child Jesus in 1967.
The friendly medicine woman has lived on the island all her life, but on some occasions in the past has traveled to neighboring provinces like Cebu to attend to wealthy patrons. Despite her popularity, Nang Conching still lives in a humble home of bamboo and nipa thatch on the hilly barangay (village) of Tag-ibo in San Juan town. She has acquired quite a following, with patients arriving from across the Visayas and Mindanao to seek her help. In front of her home, a sari-sari store and coin-operated karaoke machine keeps clients busy, as she diagnoses her patients. A black cat with yellow eyes keeps watch.
|The magical black stone believed to have been given by the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus)
The bolo-bolo ritual combines Roman Catholicism with shamanistic traditions that existed during pre-colonial times. I observed the ritual performed fives times on different individuals. Both an elderly man and a tattooed young woman complained of an itchy rash; while three in our group consulted for skin ailments and arthritis.
Nang Conching begins the healing ritual by pouring water from a plastic pitcher into the clear glass with the magical black stone. Using the bagacay straw, she blows into the glass of water, moving it across the affected area of the patient’s body. The name of the ritual refers to the bubbles blown in the process. Now and then, she mumbles what seems to be incantations or words of prayer. Miraculously, the water in the glass slowly becomes murky, filled with brown and cottony organic matter believed to be the bad elements removed from the patient’s body. “Among patients made ill by witchcraft, small fish, maggots or centipedes would appear in the water”, she reveals in Cebuano. She examines the dirty water and throws it out; and proceeds to pour clean water into the glass, repeating the process until the water remains clear. She applies a herbal liniment on the the affected area of the patient. “Spread it in one direction,” she instructed, as she prepares to diagnose her next patient.
|Nang Conching’s bewitching companion keeps watch…
Whether there is scientific merit in the bolo-bolo and other forms of “white magic” largely remains to be seen. On the other hand, the socio-cultural values these folk healing rituals inherently embodies necessitates that these traditional practices be preserved for generations to come.
HOW TO GET THERE: By rental jeepney, a visit to Nang Conching at Brgy. Tag-ibo, San Juan can be included in a day tour of the island’s attractions. Her home is located on a hill 1 km away from the highway. She accepts donations of any amount for her services.
For more details on transportation and accommodation, visit my previous Siquijor post.