Epidemic and pandemic: Bohol’s historical experience

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Epidemic and pandemic: Bohol’s historical experience

Topic |  


Before the arrival of the Spaniards to the Philippines, the people of Bohol already have sickness and diseases.  Through experience and study, our local thaumaturgist (tambalan) developed cures for the sicknesses and diseases.

If you will research on our local cures using plants and massages you will find out that they are similar to those of Southern India.

When Gen. Legazpi arrived in Bohol in 1565, Tuasanmalea, the pilot of the captured local “parao” told Gen. Legazpi that they have been to China, Thailand, Borneo and Patan in Southern India.  Therefore we not be surprised if our cures and medicines will have similarities with India and China.


Advanced Cures

In 1844, the French traveller Jean Mallat wrote that many Frenchmen and Europeans came to the Philippines and in the Visayas to study and observe how the local medicine men treat diseases.  He said that the Europeans observed that our thaumaturgist could cure diseases that were considered untreatable in Europe.   The European doctors brought the local plants to Europe and studied them.

During the time of the Spaniards a Spanish priest by the name of Fr. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion (Note: The name is Juan Felix.  De La Encarnacion was his devotion.) collected the names of the plants, trees, and shrubs. He was assigned for a long time in Siquijor, which was part of the province of Bohol.

In 1852, while Fr. Juan Felix wrote a Spanish-Bisaya dictionary and the medicinal plants and the description how to use them for a particular sickness was included in the dictionary.  In the year 2006 I delivered a lecture at San Sebastian College (now a university) regarding the medicinal plants.  My audience were members of the Augustinian Recollect congregation.

I told my audience that it is not true that we did not have a medical system in Bohol.  The problem was that our medicine men in Bohol were persecuted by the Spanish priests.  Those that were persecuted hid in the Island of Siquijor, which was the farthest part of the province of Bohol.  Those that remained in Bohol tried to change tack by attributing the cures to the saints.

Until now you will notice that Siquijor is still famous for their medicine men (tambalan).  Only very few know that there are still good thaumaturgists in Bohol.


Epidemic and Pandemic


All the different groups of people in the world experienced their own epidemics.  Those who found the cure or developed the immunity survived, the others perished.

When Christopher Columbus and the Europeans came to Central America, the native Incas and other tribes were nearly wiped out because they did not have the immunity of the venereal diseases of the Incas and brought this diseases in epidemic proportion into Europe.

The first known pandemic was recorded during the time of Genghis Khan (1167-1227).  (Note: Pan-is a prefix for all or a very wide area).


The empire that was established by the Mongols under the leadership of Genghis Khan and his descendants spanned from China, India, to Russia, and Bulgaria.  (Note: Kublai Khan in China was a grandson of Genghis Khan.)

The conquest for the empire was lead by four (4) sons of Genghis Khan.  Genghis Khan made it a policy that the skilled people in the conquered lands will be divided into four (4).  All these skilled people will be shared equally.


For example, the brother that conquered China sent skilled people his brothers assigned to a different part of the empire.  So a Chinese doctor, engineer, baker, pharmacist, etc., became available in India, Russia, Bulgaria, and Middle East.

Like the skilled workers in Russia were also sent to other parts of the empire.  Therefore Genghis Khan cause the distribution of knowledge to spread throughout his empire that stretches from China, India, Russia, and Bulgaria in Europe.

People and races became mixed and with it were the diseases.  Since the doctors were also well distributed, there were professionals who know how to cure the diseases and they can also consult the other professionals coming from other countries.

One of the disease that came from China and spread in Europe was the plague or black death.  Bear in mind that the Chinese doctors who knew how to treat the plague were only up to Bulgaria and Russia.  The plague pandemic almost wiped out the population of Europe by killing at least one-third of the population in Europe.

The gunpowder that was invented in China was used by the Chinese for fireworks.  The Muslims Pakistan, Tazekhistan, etc. used it for their canons.  The canons were miniaturized in Europe and became rifles.  In turn the rifles were used by the Europeans to conquer China and other parts of the world, including the Philippines.

Our Attitude

Fr. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion’s dictionary listed hundreds of curative plants.  However, every now and then epidemics will occur in Bohol.

In 1898 the Spanish Sanitation System in Bohol consisted only of one medical doctor and three vaccinators.  So the local thaumaturgist or tambalan had a good practice in curing diseases.  The drawback in producing a tambalanis that they were not schooled.  Medical knowledge were a family secret transmitted from father to son but usually “father to grandson”.

During the Spanish era, it was not easy to be a tambalan because you must have to adjust to the whims of the Spanish priest.

According to the Spanish priest the epidemic was to be cured by prayers to the saints.  When an epidemic occur, the people will gather at the church to pray the rosary and perform the “Aurora” or dawn prayers and procession around the town.  Any cure must be attributed to God and the Saints and deaths will be attributed to the devil or as a “Will of God”.

When the British-American Protestant missionary James Graham arrived in Tagbilaran in 1907, he endeavored to effect a cure by applying western medicine.  Dr. Graham was a very good physician but he was a blind follower of western medicine only.

He dismissed the local cure as harmful and prohibited its use.  Unfortunately the Americans brought an educational system that only priese western culture.

Anything local is not good and everything western is good Dr. Graham forgot that the God he was preaching.  Jesus Christ, was not a westerner but an easterner like the Boholanos.


Until the present the Filipinos are still sagmakor xenophile (lover of thing foreign). We are waiting for a western cure for the COVID-19.  There is supposed to be a medicine invented by a Filipino doctor and used in his home province of Zambales.  Unfortunately our FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) issued a cease and desist order to a medicine that is already licensed.

The last time I know is that Indonesia is now making clinical trials in order to use the Filipino invented drug.

During Spanish times and until recently the Churches always insist that prayer is always the best medicine.  However, nowadays I am surprised that the churches are surrendering their stand.  I no longer see the “Aurora” or dawn prayers and procession.

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