Saturday, September 12, 2015


Virgil Mayor Apostol presents Preface to Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions
(North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2010)


Scholars, anthropologists, and historians have played an important role in the documentation of Filipino healing methodologies. Yet, to a certain extent, their concentration of fieldwork occurred in other regions than those of the northern Philippines. Although not too distinct from the other peoples of the Philippines, the people of the north have their own cultures and linguistics, diversely characterizing them as individual, yet related, subgroups of insular and island Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander peoples.

The healing arts of northern Luzon have, in fact, been touched upon but were mainly discussed in publications by foreign authors, such as in medical anthropological reports and dissertations, and are a great contribution to the collective research. Others wrote about traditional healing not only from the healer’s perspective but also from their own. Some were out to debunk the various folk practices or superstitions, claiming that there is no medical relevance. On the other hand, others highly praised the diverse skills and healing potential of the practices found throughout the archipelago.

A special feature article presented in Life magazine read, “What we call alternative medicine is traditional medicine for 80 percent of the world, and what we call traditional medicine is only a few centuries old.”[1] This statement backs up the fact that in the Philippines practitioners of traditional medicine outnumber practitioners of biomedicine (allopathy), with at least 40,000 traditional birth attendants and 100,000 herbalists—high figures that do not even account for the thousands of manghihilots (traditional healers), acupuncturists, and other practitioners.[2] In the United States, however, the reverse ratio applies in that the availability of Filipino healers is smaller than practitioners of allopathic medicine. This leaves a void for the Filipino who would rather go to a traditional Filipino healer for an ankle sprain or fever, but who would not hesitate to go to the hospital for an erupting appendix.

The above issues brought me to some important questions when preparing this first volume: What is my point of view? What do I want to convey? What will be the reaction of the thousands of individuals who will read the contents of this book?

First of all, I believe it is important to present traditional healing as it is practiced and to show the cultural, psychological, and historical framework from which these practices evolved. Although I have presented certain aspects in a scholarly manner, in no way do I claim to be a scholar with a doctorate degree from some prominent university. Passed-on knowledge, actual cases, personal research, and the products of inquisitive, rational, creative, and spiritual minds support my writing. Thus, this answers the first and second questions.

My point of view is a collective one, based on both my ancestral lineage and other respected practitioners of Filipino healing traditions who have shared actual experiences, true stories, and legends. Many of the terms and methods are common in the amianan or northernmost part of the Philippines. This may mislead others to think that I am biased towards the northern people, the Ilokanos and their neighbors in particular, but to use another language or dialect (unless used as a comparison) in describing practices other than from where they developed would be a grave mistake, because the local language or dialect used is perhaps the most accurate in terms of expression and meaning. While on the topic of the amianan, I was struck when I came across a passage in a foreword written by Jose M. Cruz, SJ, for William Henry Scott’s Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society in which he wrote that Scott had notes for a chapter on the Ilocos (people of the Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur provinces), but his passing away prevented its completion.[3] Thus, this unfinished history gave me greater inspiration to conduct my research even deeper.

The answer to the third question about reader reaction to this book required some pondering. In presenting these teachings, I am endeavoring to take the middle path, a transitional stage, or nonlinear approach, intermeshing esoteric and metaphysical beliefs with progressive scientific explanations. For those who are strictly left-brain thinkers, they may “logically” have difficulty in this transition. On the other hand, right-brain thinkers may “feel” that the scientific explanations are too dense and limiting. In my style of presentation, I hope to balance both left-brain and right-brain thinkers into becoming “whole-brain” thinkers and healers.

In many ways, this book is a personal interpretation of an existing “indigenous scientific” point of view, not one that involves numerous tests, recording of data, and hooking up to computers and machines of all sorts, but simply put, an indigenous science based on highly developed ancient practices that get results! In this way, traditionalists can feel at home with the numerous case studies, principles, and practices. At the same time, people who are driven by an analytical mind can be challenged to learn and discover a scientific basis to centuries-old traditions that have been successfully used to heal the body, mind, heart, and soul. Bias towards one way of learning is an injustice. But by taking the middle path, I believe that both sides are honored, forming a bridge for those who wish to experience the other side that for some is mysterious, alien, and perhaps even backward. This also gives them greater potential to pioneer new ideologies by breaking away from conventional thought and discovering hidden truths through the acceptance of “infinite possibilities.” To attain this, philosophies on healing are included for contemplation and inspiration.

Another factor that inspired this writing began after I realized the complex history of the Filipino people, a history that ultimately influenced our modern mentality and views on who and what we once were as indigenous peoples with diverse practices and traditions. This first volume, along with the preceding manuscripts, were written with the intent to help heal the aftermath of a colonial mentality and to bring Filipinos, wherever they are, back to their roots so that the nation can pick up where it left off and develop from its original path. This does not mean returning to precolonial times. Rather, I want to point out that we have thousands of centuries in the making of a diverse group of people with an indigenous psychological and sociological structure that we use to function in life. For people to act as if they have the traits of a foreign race—its background and culture that evolved from different historical, psychological, sociological, and even political conditions—can result in an identity crisis. It is an obvious historical fact that Western cultures have crept into Philippine society and the peoples’ psyche, even though the psychology of the people is undeniably a median between Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander cultures.
Lumiel Kim-Hammerich, doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and a friend and healer who grew up with Filipinos in Hawai‘i, expressed a keen observation of the people in a letter:

The Philippine culture is a uniquely indigenous culture that has been neglected for aeons because the colonization of these people distorted their culture enough so that it is almost unrecognizable in the modern world. What the Philippines is missing is a sense of legacy and pride in their uniqueness. Instead, the people have fallen under the spell of the Western world, and their priorities and goals are a hollow echo of the old, outmoded values of Western civilization. The Filipino people are starved for an identity that goes beyond Spain and America. They don’t want to be some other stepchild. They deserve to claim their inheritance.[4]

Although our Islamic cousins in the south and our mountain and other indigenous cousins in the north have successfully resisted colonization, the majority of the people have fallen victim to it, affecting our past and present views, which ultimately affects our future progress. In the words of the late Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos:

Having been colonized for so long, we have to rediscover ourselves. European culture is the legacy of kings and the commerce of merchant bankers. Our own culture has been suppressed by centuries of colonial subjugation. For us, therefore, development is an aspect of decolonization, and that cannot be achieved without restoring to our people the pride of identity.[5]

To restore our “pride of identity” means to have self-respect for who and what we are based on our ancient past, and to embrace, practice, and promote our cultural traditions, not only among ourselves but also among our future generations. Other countries have strived to maintain or attain this and so should Filipinos, no matter where they stand.

Topics on esoteric, metaphysical, sociological, and psychological aspects of healing are dispersed throughout the book. My intention is to give the reader a fair idea of the animistic and spiritual foundation from which many of the Filipino healing practices evolved, not to mention, the culture and society itself.

More and more health professionals are returning to the roots of healing, integrating vast practices ranging from shamanism to traditional (indigenous) medicine with conventional or allopathic medicine. Science and metaphysics—the physical and the spiritual—are merging. Wholeness is sought and achieved. According to Roland Werner, physician and researcher of Malay ethnomedicine:

Critics say that there are considerable limitations of traditional medical practices as compared with modern medical procedures. But there is a significant difference of traditional medicine: the very integral relationship between health, disease, and the wider moral, social, and cultural environment in which members of society participate.[6]

I wish to continue sharing my desire to spread the message of the existence and practice of the Filipino healing traditions on a worldwide scale, and to help them be recognized with the other great healing modalities. My achievement and contribution, along with the highlights of my never-ending journey, I present to you in this book.

[1] Colt, “The Healing Revolution.”
[2] Sy, “Doing Bioethics in the Philippines.”
[3] Scott, Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society, viii.
[4] Kim-Hammerich, letter to author, September 28, 2001.
[5] President Ferdinand E. Marcos, quoted in Philippine Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports. The Children of Lam-ang, xi.
[6] Werner, Bomoh/Dukun, 11l.


Virgil Mayor Apostol, BBA, B.MSc, HHP, who goes by the moniker "Nagabuaya," descends from a maternal and paternal bloodline of indigenous healers, and has also been blessed to receive the teachings of other respected elders. He has dedicated himself to the research, development, and promotion of his ancestral Ilokano traditions. His background includes: founder of Applied Sciences of Indigenous Healing; author of Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions (North Atlantic Books, 2010); co-author of Healing Hands of Hilot (1997); instructor of Didya Mudgara: Warrior Club Calisthenics; educational speaker; and workshop presenter. In March of 2015, Apostol was bestowed the honorary title of “Open Eye Master” from the School of Pyramids, thereby initiated into the International Circle of Masters. He is based in Southern California.

No comments:

Post a Comment