The Shamans of Siquijor

The Shamans of Siquijor Island: Fact or Fiction?

As they stood on the deck of their galleon gazing at the eerie glow of the trees that lined the Siquijor night coast, Spanish colonists named the island, Isla del Fuego, unwittingly contributing to the mystical reputation of the island. The unnatural glow that the “island of fire” gave off at night is caused by multitudes of fireflies that swarm about the island’s molave trees. In the gathering dusk, as the orange embers of sunset disappear in the horizon and replaced by the smoldering molave trees, the mystery of Siquijor deepens. The magnificent yet mystical panorama serves as a fitting setting to a reputation of being the abode of shamans who practice the black art of magic in ritualistic ceremonies held deep in the caves and mountain fastness of this island province of Siquijor.

Shamans, or witch doctors, are widely believed in the islands as mediums between this natural world of ours and the supernatural world of spirits, practicing sorcery and black magic to heal ailments and casting spells to cause harm and even death. In the caves and forests of Siquijor, the shamans are said to brew their magic potions made of herbs, roots and tree bark while invoking the help of spirits to grant them supernatural powers. Ironically, the shamans believe that their rituals are more effective when performed on a Good Friday of the Holy Week.

Residents of Siquijor believe that there are two kinds of shamans. The “mambabarang,” as residents call them, are witches who for a fee by aggrieved individuals from as far away as the provinces of Cebu, Dumaguete and Bohol, can inflict illness and death to enemies of their clients by casting an evil spell on them.

A “barang” is said to be a magic spell that causes beetles, roaches and other insects to mysteriously infiltrate and cause the stomach of the victim to swell and eventually burst. Paktol is a deadly hex cast with the aid of a spirit to cause the death of the victim. “mananambals,” on the other hand, are folk healers, who are called upon to heal ailments and counter the evil spells cast on unfortunate people in a classic duel of good versus evil.

If you are looking for amulets, love potions and magic oils, San Antonio is the place to go. This mountain village of Siquijor is the home of many of the island’s shamans. The strange powers of Vicente Tumala to make paper cut out dolls stand up and dance to the beat of a stick on his hand has been documented by a TV network crew and aired to an astonished audience in the Philippines. Whether you chose to call the phenomena faith healing or telekinesis, the strange allure of Siquijor and its shamans is a fact that is stranger than fiction.

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