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FILIPINO TRADITIONAL MEDICINE

Filipino Traditional Medicine has been in practice for more than a thousand years
as recorded in the annals of Asian travelers starting circa the 8th century A.D. Even
before the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines (1521-1898), traders from China, India
and Persia have been visiting the islands of Southeast Asia. Thus, health scholars will be
able to trace influences of the Great Traditions in Medicine, namely, Traditional Chinese
Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic Indian Medicine and Yunani-Tibb (Greek-Persian)
Medicine in Filipino Traditional Medicine.

Spanish Colonial Era. The Spanish chroniclers and friars also documented in full detail
accounts of indigenous healing as practiced in the different islands of the country.
Foremost among the Hispanic literature in the Philippines are the botanical descriptions
of medicinal plants and trees and their uses by various types of traditional healers. On the
other hand, with the Catholic Christianity that Spain brought, the colonizers suppressed
traditional healing practices which were labeled as pagan and “works of the devil”. The
medical and health systems of Spain during its early colonial era in the Philippines,
however, was not yet the modern scientific medicine as practiced in Europe in the late
19th century but was also a mix of European traditional medicine mainly using natural
substances as herbs and minerals. Hispanic medicine was also greatly influenced by
Yunani-Tibb (Greek-Persian) medicine since Spain was under the Moors of Persia and
Arabia during the first centenaries of the Second Millennium. Thus, when scholars
examine present day Filipino Traditional Medicine, elements of pre-modern Hispanic
medicine and Yunani-Tibb can be appreciated.

Modern European medicine, as a product of the industrial revolution and advancements


in science, came only to the Philippines with the establishment of a College of Medicine
in the University of Sto. Tomas in the latter part of the 19th century. However education
was only available to the children of the Spanish colonizers and a few Filipino mestizo
elite, thus modern European medicine was not accessible and available to the ordinary
Filipino.

American Colonial Era. It was only during the American Colonial Era (1898-1946) that
universal education was made available to all Filipinos. North American medicine was
inevitably introduced with the establishment of the Philippine Medical School, now the
University of the Philippines College of Medicine. With North American health and
medical systems imbedded in government and society, Filipino Traditional Medicine has
been sidelined and mainly ignored. However, North American medicine being the
dominant culture, invariably elements of the new colonizer’s medicine made inroads also
in the practice of Filipino Traditional Healing such as the use of synthetic medicines
especially in the urban and peri-urban areas.

Globalization. With the increasing intensity of globalization starting in the late 20th
century to the present, Europeans and North Americans also became open to accepting
and absorbing the best of the great and little traditions of medicine of Asia into their
conventional medical and health practices. Asia, on the other hand, has also embraced the
European and North American models of health and medical care. The new art and
science of Integrative Medicine otherwise known also as Complimentary and Alternative
Medicine, North-South Medicine and Holistic Health and Medicine is thus born.

DEFINITION:
Traditional medicine also known as indigenous health knowledge and
practices include approaches, knowledge and beliefs incorporating plants, animal
and /or mineral based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises,
applied singularly or in combination to maintain well-being, as well as treat,
diagnose or prevent illness
As it exists today is thus a diverse mix of indigenous healing knowledge,
attitudes, skills and practices that has included a blend of great traditions of medicine of
China, India, Greek-Persia and the conventional medicine of Europe and North America,
while basically retaining its distinct socio-cultural characteristics.
Traditional medicine in the Philippines is an organized body of beliefs and
practices anchored on a defined body of beliefs and practices anchored on a defined
belief system and expressed in the concepts and behavior reflective of its indigenous
nature and mechanics. It has locally accepted concepts of the causes of disease, using
instinct and unique techniques of diagnosis, and applies varied methods of treatment. It
is practiced by trained and service-motivated traditional healers. It has an abundant local
pharmacopeia for its treatment requirements. It is patronized by a supportive clientele
coming from the different socio-economic levels of society.

HEALTH AND ILLNESS IN FILIPINO TRADITIONAL HEALING

Health and wellness is thus created when there is balance and harmony in the
universe, in humankind and in the human body. Illness is a result of a state of imbalance
and disharmony in the universe, in humankind and in the human body. This is the major
paradigm of Filipino Traditional Healing. This is completely different from the paradigm
of germs and microbes as the major causes of illnesses in European-North American
medicine. Note however, of late, European-North American medicine has accepted that
there are beneficial bacteria aside from just harmful bacteria; and pro-biotics as oppose to
antibiotics.

However in the theory of the causes of health and illnesses regarding degenerative
diseases or lifestyle diseases, there are resonances between Traditional Healing and
European-North American where good diet/nutrition versus bad diet/nutrition, distress
versus relaxation, a life of activity and exercise versus sedentary life, good habits versus
bad habits, virtues versus vices all play roles in creating cardiovascular diseases, diabetes,
cancer, depression and accidents.

WORLD VIEW OF FILIPINO TRADITIONAL MEDICINE


1. THEORY OF MACROCOSM AND MICROCOSM (KALAWAKAN AT
SANGKATAUHAN)
Filipino traditional healers believe that the universe (macrocosm) and humankind
(microcosm) are interlinked and intertwined. That whatever happens in the universe has
an effect on humankind and vice versa. Humankind must respect the environment
whether living or non-living, seen and unseen are interrelated and should be in harmony
and peace. Any disrespect or disruption of this basic positive relationship will lead to
destruction and death.
2. THEORY OF ELEMENTS (KALIKASAN)
All things on earth and the universe are compose of the four basic elements of
earth, wind, fire and water. Each element has their own characteristics and manifestations
in every object that expresses their uses and effects. Each element is interrelated with the
other elements and must remain in harmony and balance to achieve peace, calm, and
serenity. These elements are also applied to health and illness.
3. THEORY OF HUMOURS
Hot and Cold. (Init at Lamig).Every object on earth, living and non-living are also
labeled as either hot or cold. In Traditional Chinese Medicine this is the yin (cold) and
the yang (hot). Balance and harmony must also be achieved between hot and cold within
the human body and in the environment. A dominance of one humour will lead to a
disease state (pasma/pasmo, pilay/pi-ang). Hot and cold labels are applied to medicinal
plants, food, aroma, daily life activities and diseases. A disease labeled hot would be
treated by a medicinal plant labeled as cold to achieve balance, thus restoring good
health.
4. THEORY OF ENERGY AND BALANCE (KISIG AT PATAS)
Energy is created by the interaction of opposit forces. However, all of these
opposite forces must achieve a state of balance abd hearmony. To achive health and
wellness interactions in the human body must be in balance and harmony.
MODALITIES OF FILIPINO TRADITIONAL HEALING:

1. The Paligo - Mixtures of air-dried tropical and indigenous aromatic leaves and
flowers with medicinal properties are made into a warm decoction whose volume is
calibrated to ensure a rinsing bath. Mixtures are classified into hot-cold (init/lamig)
balancing rinsing bath; an earth-wind-fire-water herbal balancing rinsing bath; and a
Binat Regulator (Stress Regulator) herbal rinse. The term Binat defies a direct or literal
translation in English. Binat is a state of dis-ease or severe discomfort that results when a
person who has undergone a stressful (work related stress) or change of life situation
(grief due to loss of a loved one) or a body-mind-spirit fatigue (childbirth) or a prolonged
fever/cough/cold illness, upon the first few hours or first day of feeling well, returns to
her/his normal daily routine. In Traditional Filipino Healing, the holistic body has not yet
fully recovered despite the subjective feeling of the concerned person. Thus, a return to
Binat or the state of disease and severe discomfort.

2. The Oslob - Is a steam inhalation from infusions of air-dried aromatic


medicinal herbs and plants usually given to persons with a state of imbalance and
harmony especially from excess of cold energy? The patient for Oslob is placed under a
one person tent made of cotton cloth where the hot infusion is administered.

3. The Hilot - is an eclectic mix of indigenous traditional massage techniques


from seven major ethno-linguistic cultural areas of the Philippines bringing forth the best
in each practice ensuring a joyful yet serene total body experience. A distinct feature is
the use of strips of warm banana leaves applied to the different parts of the body at
various stages of the massage therapy.

4. The Dinalisay - These are decoctions of a mixture of medicinal herbs


indigenous to the Philippines, grown in certified organic farm communities. The
Dinalisay are classified in to hot Dinalisay, cold Dinalisay, Earth Dinalisay, Wind
Dinalisay, Fire Dinalisay and Water Dinalisay – all aim at restoring balance to any state
of disequilibrium.

5. The Kisig Galing - This is the use of biomagnetic energy healing of naturally
gifted Filipino Traditional Healers. With the use of their hands as outlets for transfer of
positive biomagnetic energy (Kisig) from their own personal biomagnetic energy (Kisig)
and the positive energy from the environment to the person in dis-ease, they are able to
heal (Galing) parts of the body or the energy channels or the total body that may have
states of imbalance and disharmony.

6. The Unang Lana - This is the Filipino Virgin Coconut Oil. Made only from the
flesh of freshly picked 90 day old coconuts, which are cold pressed to extract the first
coconut oil (Unang Lana), the clear colorless virgin oil with a distinct sweet aroma is
used as a total body rub, a hair tonic, a massage liniment, a facial mask or even a daily
jigger drink for health and wellness, restoration of body balance and harmony,
rejuvenation and body thermogenesis. All these effects are due to its high content levels
of monolaurines or lauric acid, vitamin E and other anti-oxidants.

7. The Tapik Kawayan - This the use of one centimeter thick, five centimeter long
bamboo (Kawayan) sticks to tap (Tapik) certain body areas identified through hand
palpation to have biomagnetic energy blocks or predominance of cold humours. The
Tapik Kawayan releases the energy blocks to allow once more the free flow of
biomagmetic energy in the affected body parts or the release of cold humours to achieve
a balance of hot/cold (init/lamig) humours.

HOLISTIC APPROACH ADDRESSING THE MIND AND BODY THROUGH


CULTURAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

Many traditional Filipino healers heal from both a scientific and spiritual
backround and holistic attitude. Since the cultural roots stem from an animistic base
where spirituality is high and esoteric devotees have an uncanny ability to tap into altered
states of consciousness in order to obtain information.

Within this cultural and sociological perspective, a holistic approach is needed to


heal the mind, body and soul.

Example: One was to fall and hurt their back.

Medical professional – ask questions that are “symptom-oriented” such as


“where” does it hurt ----- diagnosis, provide physical treatment and offer a prognosis.
Traditional Filipino healer – ask questions that are “ origin-oriented” such
as “why” that person fell in the first place ----- provide physical treatment, counsel the
individual on spiritual matters relating to physical event.

HILOT
It is known as one of the practices of Filipino traditional medicine. It is conceived as a
healing system. This is because hilot is intertwined with herbalism, bonesetting,
midwifery, as well as esoteric practices such as faith or spiritual healing.
It is an eclectic mix of indigenous traditional massage techniques from seven major
ethno-linguistic cultural areas of the Philippines bringing forth the best in each practice
ensuring a joyful yet serene total body experience. A distinct feature is the use of strips of
warm banana leaves applied to the different parts of the body at various stages of the
massage therapy.
It is a way of life for the Filipinos. The age-old massage practice is indigenously Filipino
and is associated with mysticism and elderly healers. Prior to the popularity and
emergence of sophisticated and modern medical practices in the Philippines. Philippine
massage or hilot was the massive form of healthcare. However, when modern medicine
gained traction in the country, Philippine massage was set aside.
Because of the recent resurgence of alternative medicine and practices, the old ways of
healing, including the Philippine massage has been re-established. Now, because of the
known and proven benefits of the practice, Philippine massage is given a much needed
and well-deserved makeover. Thus, Philippine massage is now offered along with other
different healing and relaxing massage techniques in upscale hotels and spas worldwide.

Philippine massage, with its all-natural and holistic approach, is becoming a significant
part of a wellness regime. Researchers, sociologists and experts assert that the Philippine
massage is both a culture and a philosophy. It is better than other massages because it
relieves stress and at the same time heals and rejuvenates.

Philippine massage is based on thinking and principle that the human body is composed
of major elements, namely, water, fire, air and earth. The application and practice of the
massage is aimed at harmonizing such elements. Water signifies the blood, fire by the
electric impulses in the body, air by the air people breathe and earth by the body's flesh
and bones. Practitioners of Philippine massage assert that is those elements in the body
are not functioning and existing in proportion, there would be sickness and discomfort.
Philippine massage is all about attaining that proportion and harmony.

What is more unique and ideal about Philippine massage is that the massage techniques
are often integrated and complemented by herbal medicines. That is why the
effectiveness and potency of the massage practice goes beyond what normal massage
types usually carry out. In the Philippines , the massage makes use of the most popular
and useful herbs like the tanglad, lagundi, sambong and more native plants that have
healing and therapeutic properties.

Modern science has been testifying to the natural healing properties of the Philippine
massage. Observers assert that the practice is empowered by the scientific basis that
usually backs and explains the reasonability and effectiveness of the massage therapy.
While Philippine massage is regarded in the Philippines as a form of a cheaper and more
affordable alternative medicine, across the globe, the massage is fast becoming an
important therapeutic program.

THREE FORMS OF TREATMENT

1. Faith healing through prayer.

2. Herbal medicine.

3. Massage and body manipulation.

TYPES OF HILOT IN THE COMMUNITY


1. Comadrona – expert in post-natal massage.
2. Acupressurist – aligns nerves and balances electrical energy.
3. Reflexologist – drains excess energy.
4. Herbalist – uses herbal in healing.
Hands-on therapy in the Philippines is a tradition as old as its first inhabitants on the
islands. Known in the local languages and dialects as:
Hilot or Hilut (Tagalog, Dumagat, Manobo, Bicolano, Visayan)
Aplos (Bontoc)
Aptus (Ivatan)
Unar (Kalinga)
Kemkem (Pangasinan)
Ilot or Ilut (Ilocano, Itawis, Zambal, Pampango)
Ilu (Ibanag)
Ilat (Isneg)
Elot (Ilongot)
Agod or Agud (Maguindanaon, Maranao)
Hagud (Bukidnon)
Ablon (Northern Ilocano) – accomplished hands-on yet differs from massage. The
main emphasis in treatment focuses on the neurovascular bundles and vessels such as
nerves and veins (urat) and tendons, sinews, ligaments (pennet). Proper assessing and
unique manipulation makes ablon effective.
WHEN HEALING THE “WHOLE” PERSON, THE FOLLOWING AREAS ARE
CONSIDERED:
Physical Level: When an imbalance, injury, or disability takes place, the practitioner of
Ablon manipulates the neurovascular and musculoskeletal systems through pulling,
stretching, pressure, joint mobilization, and other indigenous therapies in order to
promote equilibrium.
Mental Level: During the consultation process, body mechanics may be analyzed to help
point out the probable cause and effect of the patient’s condition.
Emotional Level: Emotional tendencies can play a major role on the physical body.
Trauma, for example, can be recorded on a cellular level and expressed through physical
holding patterns. The experienced healer would facilitate the release of these patterns and
associated emotions through the application of Ablon to corresponding urat.
Spiritual Level: The ancient healers realized that at least 80-90% of illnesses were
spiritual in nature, while the remaining 10-20% as physical. Supporting this belief is the
saying, “Where the mind goes, the body follows.” It is therefore important to realize that
peace, harmony, and humility should be attained as a way of creating a healthy
environment.