As you might imagine, I’m an individual who is open to new discoveries and new information. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to have all kinds of new discoveries visiting countries I’ve never visited before, including the Philippines. Early on in my research about the Philippines I discovered that the island of Siquijor (pronounced SEE-kee-hor) is home to some of the traditional native healers. I wasn’t quite too sure what to think of my resulting research.
Siquijor has a history of being shrouded in sorcery, magic, healing, and mystery. Some research I found highlighted the sorcery and the mananambals, the traditional healers. Other research I found discussed white magic and black magic. And still yet other research talked about people coming from all parts of the world to gain access to plants and herbs that are grown only in that area.
I’d frankly never given a lot of thought to white magic or black magic so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of everything I read and heard. But my interests in discovering what’s happening elsewhere in the world related to wellness and spirituality compelled me to find out more about this mysterious island and practices. I quickly concluded that I would visit Siquijor to visit with the mananambals.
In the Philippines, English is fairly common in many areas, especially in Manila. But it is also a land of over 7000 islands and many different languages, depending on the area you are in. On Siquijor, the primary language is Cebuano and the national language of the Philippines is Tagalog, both of which I wish I’d learned before my arrival.
I’d done my research in advance of arriving to the island and had a list of individuals I wanted to interview and speak with. Many of the individuals with the most expertise in the traditional healing methods are elderly and I soon discovered that many of the people I wanted to speak with had actually passed away. Somehow that discovery seemed to make the intention of my visit there that much more compelling. So often in our history of humankind, ancient wisdom has been lost before it has been able to be passed on, and here I was, in a position to try to help pass along the knowledge. Not to be deterred, I quickly pressed on and made plans to speak with everyone I could.
Perhaps the most famous and well-known healer on the island of Siquijor today is a woman who goes by the name Lola Conching (nee Lola Consolacion Achay). The word for grandmother in Tagalog is Lola so Lola’s literal name is Grandmother Conching. Lola is an 86 year old bolo bolo healer who practices to this day. She is a dynamo who amazed me at her dedication and energy at this practice and I was soon to discover it was a calling that she did not initially answer.
To my western mind, bolo bolo as a healing method is mysterious, unique, and left me with more questions than answers. Each time I visited Lola, I arrived with an interpreter who had varying degrees of mastery with the English language to help me understand some of what Lola was saying. Any errors in this article remain mine alone.
Lola first had a dream calling her to become a bolo bolo healer in the later 1960’s and she originally refused. She didn’t want to be a bolo bolo healer but eventually she acquiesced and she has been healing whomever shows up at her door ever since. Her dedication to helping people amazed me. Her age notwithstanding, if someone arrives on her door at 6 AM, she is out on her porch doing her healing work. She also has quite a sense of humor, even though much of it I’m sure was lost in translation. She told me several times that if she doesn’t pray to the saints each night they will wake her up and not let her sleep until she does.
The most simplistic way to describe a bolo bolo session is that the practitioner uses a black stone, a glass of water, and a bamboo straw to facilitate healing of the client. When you arrive at Lola’s bamboo hut, or bahay kubo, other people are often already there being seen by Lola or waiting for their turn. The first day I watched a healing session, I sat with rapt attention as she worked on a young man from the village who complained of incessant scratching and itching as a result of numerous insect bites.
When Lola begins the healing, she prays to the saints and to the Virgin Mary. Her client seated in front of her, she takes a clear drinking glass, drops in a special, smooth black stone, and fills the glass with water from a plastic pitcher. She studies the water, as does everyone else, and the water is clear. After she prays, she takes her bamboo straw which is about six inches long and begins blowing air through the straw into the water. While she is doing this, Lola moves the water glass over the body of her client.
What happens next is unusual. As Lola continues this process over the body of the client, the water becomes murky and filled with particulates. Occasionally, Lola will stop the process, inspect the water in the glass, toss the water out, rinse the glass and the process begins again. After several rounds of this, when Lola blows through the straw the water remains completely clear and the healing has concluded. Lola again says prayers, blows air onto the client in various places, rubs a bit of sacred oil on the client’s skin and the session is over.
I’ve spoken with various individuals about the bolo bolo healing process in addition to Lola through my interpreter.
The process of the water turning murky and filled with particulates is as mysterious as it sounds. I saw Lola drink from the water and she was very gracious to do all of her work methodically in my sight and answer my questions, I think to show there wasn’t any sleight of hand or something hidden happening. The premise is that whatever contaminants or imbalance occurring is somehow passed through the water during the healing process. When the water remains clear, the healing for that session is concluded. Nearly throughout the process are Lola’s reverently spoken prayers.
Lola doesn’t require or request any payment from her clients, although most people give her a donation of some kind. Bolo bolo doesn’t work for more serious forms of illness such as cancer and Lola will tell people if she cannot help them. But for conditions such as various pains, skin ailments or even some digestive issues, there are clients who claim this healing method has worked for them.
When I went, because I didn’t have an originating issue, I actually participated in the bolo bolo healing sessions but they were deemed as being for cleansing only. At the time I was a little hyped up as a result of finally getting to meet and interview Lola. Yet as the sessions with Lola began, I felt an inexplicable sense of calmness descend upon me. After my sessions with Lola, I felt wonderful and curious to know more about what I had just participated in.
Most people on the island will go to Cebu or larger cities to get medical help for cancer or serious conditions. But having access to Lola for other health issues really is beneficial to them given their limitations of funds and medical care facilities. Lola is not the only bolo bolo healer and her reputation is not limited to those on the island. Many individuals come from far away to work with her.
During my last visit with Lola, she explained to me the power of her calling to become a bolo bolo healer. Lola didn’t really want to be a bolo bolo healer but she kept being visited by dreams telling her that was her destiny and purpose. Even after she had begun her work as a bolo bolo healer, at one point she left her black stone far away from her home intentionally but discovered that mysteriously, upon her return home, the stone she’d left behind was already there. That day Lola accepted her role as a bolo bolo healer whole-heartedly.
Clearly bolo bolo healing has not been rigorously, scientifically tested as a healing method. Most indigenous healing methods have not. Whether individuals who are treated with bolo bolo or other native healing methods are impacted by the practitioner’s healing abilities, their own intentions, or some mixture with the placebo effect, I don’t know.
What I do know is that there are all kinds of healing methods in this world that are worthy of study and evaluation. To dismiss practices and approaches that are not immediately understood or comprehended, prevents us from gaining the knowledge resulting from that examination.
Ultimately what I’ve come to understand the most is just how much more learning there is to do. There are wellness practitioners just like Lola everywhere around the globe. They are tirelessly dedicated to service, to healing and improving lives. At a minimum, the least I can do is try to gain further understanding about their methods.