Siquijor’s oldest tree is as mysterious as the fabled province of Siquijor is. The two seem to share secrets of another world unseen to the naked human eye, and have in fact been the subject of scrutiny among the curious.
Siquijor’s oldest tree, banyan or “Balete” in the vernacular, is a ghoulish looking fig that often has its roots growing outside and either clutching around structures or trees, or hanging loose like limping tentacles. This oldest tree in Siquijor can grow big and spread so widely that its shed is said to cover an entire hectare of land. At night, with its creepy extended branches and hanging roots, it can be mistaken as a monstrous swamp creature out to grab everything within its reach.
The spooky look of Siquijor’s oldest tree has earned infamy of being an abode of evil, and being a regular feature in most of Siquijor’s rural landscape, this oldest tree has helped make Siquijor a source of mystical intrigue known in the country.
Banyan is actually an Indian original. This oldest tree in Siquijor was known in India as a shelter for merchants selling their trade in the outskirts of town. “Banyan” is actually what the Portuguese called such Indian merchants, and with time, the tree itself became known as banyan. In 1873 the tree was first exported to Hawaii, where its shed was said to shelter a fourth of an acre of land there. Around the same time, this oldest tree found its way to the Philippines, particularly in Siquijor, perhaps when Spanish and Portuguese explorers crossed path in their voyages and shared goods. Or probably through migratory birds.
Banyan starts as a small seed that grows mostly in cracks or crevices of structures or other tree trunks and then sends its roots out in every direction. A banyan trunk sprouts and grows, but soon banyan roots outgrow the trunk and cover it altogether. The tree could grow in gargantuan proportions that some of these oldest trees in Siquijor are said to contain hollow parts inside that could house palatial caves made of the banyan roots. A lot of local herbal quack doctors (“arbolaryo’) actually set up temple-like caverns or grottos in such places where they concoct their special mystical potions amid eerie rituals.
Banyan, or Balelte, the oldest tree in Siquijor, adds a lot to the aura of mysticism that the island already possesses. Lots of visitors have been enchanted by Siquijor natural wonders; this oldest tree is but a feature of them.