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HomeSPONSORED CONTENTThe surhano: Tracing the roots of herbal therapy in the country

The surhano: Tracing the roots of herbal therapy in the country

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The Philippines during the precolonial times had been rife with documented cases of herbal healers, usually mystical, respected elders of the community that specializes not just on physical but spiritual healing.

A Short History of Medicine in the Philippines During The Spanish Regime, 1565-1898 by Jose Policarpio Bantug documented the roots of the country’s folk therapy

There was the babaylan, a kind of shaman or mystical woman who served as adviser of the leader of the tribe.

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The community would most likely have the village healer, a respected elderly in the village whom people go to for various ails and ills.

In the Spanish times, the colonizers introduced their own brand of healing, introducing the concept of hospitals and surgery. They also introduced to the vocabulary the cirujano, the surgeon, an expert fixing what traditional healers couldn’t.

Soon, however, the term cirujano was adopted into the local lexicon (siruhano). Through time, the term was adopted as surhano.

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Curiously enough, the surhano — far from being the modern doctor that its original meaning denotes — became the spiritual herbalist, combining both qualifies of the mystical adviser, and the village healer.

Arnel E. Joven’s Colonial Adaptations in Tropical Asia: Spanish Medicine in the Philippines in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries also documented the history of herbal medicine in the country and mentions the herbal culture of the early herbalists.

The surhano is one such herbalist (in fact surhano is often interchanged with arbolario in certain communities), the walking apothecary who can dispense herbal remedies for any affliction from toothache to hexes.

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The surhano has an endless array of bottled fresh herbs for any type of sickness.

But the surhano increasingly is called whenever an affliction is caused by the supernatural — a malicious duwende, a mischievous kama-kama,  or a vindictive tamawo. Or maybe a local manughiwit.

Whatever the affliction, the surhano is usually ready with his methods. It could be a simple salve for the stomach complete with a prayer ritual, or the healing would require something more complex, like an animal sacrifice (usually chicken).

Whatever the case is, whether the sickness has a mundane or otherwordly cause, the surhano is there.

In fact, there are certain villages still in the country where the surhano has a lot of influence in their way of life.

The surhano is the first herbalist (or arbularyo in the Tagalog regions).  Its legacy has been continued even in modern today, as the herbs are generally safer to use. It pays to know that there are imported, pricey ones and locally-made, more affordable ones like the ones made by Clinica Alternativo Medicina that produces supplements like DTX500, the first desugared sugar supplement that promises a host of benefits for the user.

The Clinica also produces Mighty Cee, the ascorbic acid or Vitamin C supplement that is currently enjoying brisk sales according to the Clinica. And with the popularity of herbal medicines and its modern incarnations now, it appears that the legacy of the local medicine man is here to stay.

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Hannah A. Papasin
Hannah A. Papasinhttp://facebook.com/hannah.mariveles
Writer. Critic. Professor. She started writing since primary school and now has two published textbooks on communication. A film buff, she's a Communication, Media Literacy and Journalism Professor of the University of St. La Salle-Bacolod, and has a Master's Degree in English.
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