A Witch Doctor from Siquijor Island

Witch Doctors in Siquijor: Real Black Magic in the Visayas?



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The nearby island of Siquijor is famous for its faith healers and shamans (some call them witches or witch doctors). During the Holy Week festivities this year I went over for a short visit to see the Stations of the Cross on a mountain on Siquijor, the famous haunted Balete tree, and also paid a visit to one of the local shamans with Rosanna Brillantes-Meyer, a Fulbright Scholar who spent a year working on a documentary film about the shamanistic healing practices still in use on Siquijor.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    This fisherman sailed by in a small handmade boat just as the sun set behind the island of Negros.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    Here's one of the Stations of the Cross near the top of the mountain.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    A few minutes after we arrived at the top of the mountain to have a light lunch, the Jesus figure came along on the path.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    The top of the mountain had three crosses to complete the stations of the cross.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    After visiting the Stations of the Cross, we visited one of Siquijor's famous Shaman's with Fulbright Scholar Rosanna Brillantes-Meyer and her husband John. Rosanna spent a year on Siquijor working on a documentary film about the shamanistic healing practices still in use on the island. To read more about her documentary project, you should visit her website, it's great! At the entrance to the Shaman's house, this really creepy dog was keeping watch. It looked a little bit like a werewolf to me, but maybe this is appropriate for the dog of a man who practices sometimes obscure magic?

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    Once inside the Shaman's house, we had to decide what kind of procedure we wanted him to perform on us. Initially, Melissa Rickert asked him if he could perform a fertility spell since she and Kyle are hoping to have a child after their Peace Corps service. I was surprised and more than a little impressed when he said he didn't know how to do that spell since he could have done literally anything and we would have paid him his tribute anyway. Instead, I volunteered to have a healing massage done. I didn't really have anything to be healed, I just didn't want to drink one of the homemade potions he had made--some of them apparently composed of an exhumed corpse! Photo by Erica Chan

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    Maybe he was looking for the phantom source of my maladies, but at times the healing was a bit painful! Photo by Erica Chan

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    The kids in the house had probably seen procedures like this performed many times before. Photo by Erica Chan

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    After poking and prodding me for a few minutes, the Shaman uncorked an aromatic bottle of oil and used it to rub into my back. It smelled mostly like coconut oil, no exhumed corpses mixed in for "flavoring". Photo by Erica Chan

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    By the end, it felt more like a regular massage, and really did make me feel better. Photo by Erica Chan

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    John Meyer, Melissa and Erica waited outside for the magic to be finished.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    This is a photo of a kid on a bike going by Kyle and Melissa's nipa house on Siquijor Island near Larena.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    This weathered goat was guarding the path from Kyle and Melissa's house the next morning when I left to go back to Dumaguete. I only half jokingly thought that maybe this aged fellow maybe had some Shaman stories of his own.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    The next morning (Good Friday) we woke up early to go climb one of the mountains on Siquijor to see the stations of the cross they have there. These goldfish were for sale near the beginning of the trail, though I'm not sure why!

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    Holy Week is one of the huge nationwide holidays in the Philippines, and on Good Friday this large crowd turned out to come visit the stations of the cross.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    The famous Balete tree of Siquijor is several hundred years old.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    Tendril-like roots extend down from the Balete tree to form an eerie canopy for visitors to walk through. Due to the island's supernatural influences, the tree is believed to be haunted.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    After seeing the Balete Tree up close, I can see why the people think it's full of ghosts; it feels like the roots are going to ensnare you as you walk through to the other side.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    After passing safely through the tunnel of stringy roots, I impersonated one of the Balete ghosts.

  • Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005

    Siquijor Island Witch Doctor & Holy Week celebrations - March 2005
    Every year one of the Siquijor Islanders plays the part of Jesus and walks between the stations with this large wooden cross, praying at each stop.