Thursday, January 23, 2014

This Modern Hilot: New Spin on a Traditional Practice
A Fresh Customary Belief That is Sure to Become a Recent Classic, a Contemporary Vintage, And the Latest and Greatest of Ancient Doctrines.

7 December 2006

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: Recalling an event from 7 years ago, helped by notes and photos.
Previous Post: White Privilege in the Philippines




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In a previous post (made 7 years ago), I told the story of how one of my Uncle The Kapitan's dogs, Spot, spotted a snake. You might notice from the photo that he was chained up. Now, some of the dogs in the Family property are usually chained up by day or isolated into dog runs because they are... let's say, unpredictable. In the Philippines, when you have a big space to protect, you need a lot of dogs. When you have a lot of dogs, you don't always have the time to people-train them, to know friend from foe. "Basta tumatahol, pwede na" (So long as they bark, that's enough), I was told.

But Spot was one of the 'special' dogs.

Being one of the free roaming dogs in the Family property, day or night, Spot was very loyal, intensely protective, and very affectionate to my Uncle's kids - especially their youngest, Fritz, with whom he had a particular bond. I was told that when Spot was still a pup, he would follow Fritz everywhere, almost like a close-in security detail.

But, as I mentioned, Spot had a particularly edgy temperament, which only got worse

Continued...

...which only got worse as he matured. Perhaps being #2 dog to the more mature and significantly smarter Blackie made him all the more eager to prove himself and insinuate himself into any situation. One day, one of the Kagawads of Barangay Tumana, came to see Uncle Tito to discuss matters. Now, this Kagawad did this often enough that even Blackie would usually only bark a few times, look at me for reassurance after I say "It's ok, leave it", and resume doing whatever he was doing (licking his balls, usually). But Spot chose to take action. On that one particular December morning - the very next day after I had just come back from Ilocos - he attacked and bit the Kagawad.

Uncle Tito obviously took responsibility for the incident. After chaining Spot for observation and isolation, he volunteered to bring the Kagawad to a hospital and pay for whatever treatment was necessary. Now, Spot, like all the other dogs in the Family property, has had all his shots. But, Rabies was (still is) a real concern in those parts - Uncle Tito was acting on a "Better safe than sorry" mantra. The Kagawad however, insisted that he take him instead to a more "traditional" medical practitioner.

This got me all excited that I decided to tag along. We drove to the Sitio of Caybanban in the neighbouring Barangay of Parada, - a hilly place with twisty roads where, during my youth, my cousins and I regularly challenged ourselves in our bikes. Now, I have forgotten whether the good Kagawad called the traditional practitioner who treated him that day a Hilot (a masseuse/physical therapist type who sets dislocated joints, massages sprains, and if so trained, acts as midwife or komadrona), an Albularyo (Herbolario, in addition to performing hilot, also concocts herbal medicine, potions, and perhaps even spells), or just a simple "Faith Healer" (a catch-all term for anyone who claims to cure using mysticism), but to me it was all the same: Just the thought of witnessing traditional folk medicine was enough to get me excited. I imagined an older person, well versed in herbal medicine, applying all sorts of tried and true potions, prescribing foul tasting but effective oral syrups, and rubbing healing oils, all while saying a prayer in Latin. I even imagined that maybe, just maybe, I would get a glimpse of some of these formulas being concocted. The ingredients: the local flora and fauna. The methods: Pre-colonial. But the faith: Catholic with Philippine animism mixed in. Oh yes, the Vatican would disapprove! Blasphemous as it might be, this Filipino practice has existed for a long time, and I really really wanted to witness it again.

I say "again" because, in my childhood of spills, falls, and many other mishaps, I certainly made numerous trips to a Hilot, and am well aware of the practice. The old Hilot we used to go to was an old man who would always say a prayer before practicing his "gift" - that's what it was, a "gift" from the supernatural. He then would call the patient over and feel their pulse, and from that, he could tell what was wrong. Payment is strictly by donation. ...which he would never personally touch, you have to slip it in to a donation box. That donation box, as far as I know, never went towards his own pockets, but rather into the humble mini chapel where he would perform his treatments. It was really quite a labour of love, a public service, with the healer as a tool of the spiritual world to do good on this Earth. 

Ambigat, 'no?

However, I was never bit by a dog, so I wouldn't know how a traditional counter-rabies cure would be or could be. Besides, I don't think our Hilot then ventured beyond physical therapy style stuff. To be honest, my folks would definitely have just brought me to a hospital, as with everything else that requires real medicine and a real medical practitioner.

Yes, I said it. I know it sounds dismissive but what can I say? My Dad has a Masters in Animal Science, and my Mother is also an educated professional in her field - they would not have taken any chances in anything more severe than childhood play injuries. That's not to say that they never kept an open mind on these things, as my trips to a hilot for minor sprains and muscle strains would indicate.

That same open mind was what I applied to approach the treatment the good  Kagawad was about to recieve for Spot's bite.
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...and I was still very disappointed.

Instead of leaves and herbal remedies, this hilot had a box of over-the-counter medication - local versions of Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Paracetamol. Sacred, prayer-infused coconut oil soaked with wild roots was nowhere to be found, in its place instead was Greencross rubbing alcohol - probably good for disinfecting animal bites, but anyone could do that in their own time.

Ok, so there are some modern touches, that's ok, right?

The real deal breaker for me came when this hilot whipped out electrical leads and started shocking the affected area. "To kill the rabies", I was told.

I could almost imagine the reasoning which arrived at this conclusion: "Electricity kills things; Electricity therefore will kill these little rabies things!" Hell, that's probably giving too much credit. It was probably more like: "Electricity = Magic!". Doubtful that she even knew that Rabies is viral. All throughout the discussion, I got the distinct impression that they assumed that Rabies is something that dogs possess naturally - like a freaking Venom! I don't know how the vaccine factored in to their worldview, but it was clear to me that they thought Rabies was just something dogs naturally had, yet did not always succumb to immediately.

This was not the Babaylan of yore, the Albularyo of history, nor was it in any way mystical or spiritual. No herbal knowledge passed down from generations, and nothing organic about the whole ordeal.

Traditional Medicine? This was modern quackery at its finest. Judgemental a bit? Not really. Even Uncle Tito murmured that this quack was wack.

Don't get me wrong, the Philippines does indeed have a rich history of genuinely Traditional Medicine - you just have to look at the right place. This wasn't it.

Nonetheless, I contented myself with the thought that at least Spot was already under watch. It did worry me that if he goes 'Old Yeller' on us, then I'd have to go all 'Travis' on him. 


As for the Kagawad... well I guess that would have been a good cue to tell order him to seek real medical attention.

Fast Forward to a month later and Spot was still ok, alert enough to spot Cobras, and the Kagawad was as strong as ever for the Barangay Hall Christmas Party. Like I said, Spot had all his shots, and that one act of aggression was isolated. However, for that alone, my Uncle sentenced him to Kamalig/Silo guard duty for the rest of his life. No more roaming around being one of the favoured free dogs.



Next Post: Spot was here


Related Post: A Snake!

FlickR album

Further Reading into Philippine Mystics/Albularyos/Traditional Healing:
 Mystical Siquijor - My Sari Sari Store

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