“The Philippines! The land of my people!” I sang as we headed to our terminal gate. Chris looked down, smiled, and shook his head. This had been my mantra for the past two months. Ever since we had booked our tickets to the Philippines.
It was Christmas of 2010. We had decided to continue the tradition of experiencing Christmas in another country. The year before it was the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. A Christmas made of shwarmas, desert safaris, and religious mourning rituals.
This year, after much debate, we settled on the Philippines. The country comprised of 7,107 islands drew us in for many reasons. Being of half-Filipino descent, I had been regaled with stories of Filipino Christmases by my grandparents. A holiday where Christmas carolers still sung from house to house, Christmas parties are celebrated with a feast (complete with lechon, a delicious whole roasted pig), and there’s no shortage of Tanduay rum.
I had always wanted to go to the Philippines, but I knew Chris would need a little convincing. Being the storytellers and travel videographers that we are, he wanted to know what hidden adventures we could uncover while there. It didn’t take him long before he discovered the magical island of Siquijor.
Siquijor, referred to as Isla del Fuego (“Island of Fire”) during the Spanish colonial period, is the third smallest island in the Filipine archipelago. The Spanish coined the term “Island of Fire” for the mysterious glow surrounding the island after sunset. This glow actually game from the swarms of fireflies that called Siquijor home. Aside from its beautiful beaches, fireflies and friendly people, Siquijor is also widely known for its witches and healers. That’s all we needed to know. We bought our tickets and packed our bags for Siquijor, the island shrouded in mystery and enchantment.
After stops in Manilla and Dumaguete, we found ourselves settling in to a nice beachfront hut at Casa de la Playa on Siquijor island. We were introduced to the resort’s owner Terry, a German ex-pat who has taken nicely to island life. Terry informed us that she knew where a few of the island’s “healers” lived. There were two kinds of witches (locally known as “mananambals”) that inhabited the island of Siquijor. The white magic healers and the black magic sorcerers.
It wasn’t until after the Christmas celebrations, feasts, and parties that we were able to actually make it out to one of the healers. I had my preconceived notions of what meeting this “white magician” would be like. Visions of dancing brooms, bubbling cauldrons, and magic wands floated through my head.
Was I wrong? Not completely. We left behind the sunny, white sand beaches and trekked deep inside the lush, misty center of the island. After slushing our way through a muddy, forested path we came along a few wooden shacks in the middle of a small clearing. A mother hen scooted her half dozen chicks out of our way as we walked to the hut situated in the center of the others. There was smoke escaping from the doorway and a young man in only his shorts was using a machete to chop what looked like a pile of bones.
It gets better. Upon entering the hut we saw a cauldron (okay, a pot) bubbling and steaming atop a fire. To enhance the experience, there was also a cat that was suspiciously staring at us as it kept an eye on the brewing cauldron.
We sat down upon wooden stools as Terry translated the healer’s daughter-in-law, Indie. She informed us that the white healer, Juan Ponce was 95, blind, and no longer practicing white magic. Instead, he passed down his skills and traditions to her in the same way that they were passed down from his father.
We asked Indie was she could do for us. “Everything”, she replied. Chris ended up asking her to heal his shoulder blade that had been bothering him for years. She went to another room of the hut and emerged holding a small jar with an oil-like substance inside. She had Chris remove his shirt as she gingerly massaged his shoulder in a circular motion. Chris said that he was relieved of his pain almost immediately.
Not having any current ailments, I asked Juan Ponce if there was anything he could suggest for myself. He had Indie bring us an assortment of amulets. The wooden figures were packed with an array of herbs and oils that were meant to heal and protect the owner. We each bought one in the shape of a cross and tucked them into our pockets.
After leaving Juan Ponce both Chris and I felt refreshed. We had stumbled upon a tradition that we didn’t know existed until a few weeks before. Do we believe in the magical healing powers of Juan Ponce and Indie? That, we’re not sure. We do know that Chris’s shoulder no longer causes him any problems, and our amulets are still on our key rings.
As for our time in the Philippines? I couldn’t have asked for more. It is after all, the land of my people.
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