Abra’s Timmawidan and Other Healers
In Abra province’s
Malibcong town, herbal medicines and timmawidan or born healers
supply the health servises that local health officials are often unable to
give for lack of resources. Indigenous women trained as health volunteers
fill in the void particularly in epidemic outbreaks.
By Jhong dela Cruz
dentist Rowena Pascual (left) attends to Buanao kids' medical needs
MALIBCONG, Abra – The indigenous peoples
tribes in the highly-militarized, poor province of Abra
have a way of healing local ailments amid the seemingly scant attention
given by government authorities for health services. Herbal medicines and
born healers or timmawidan come in handy whenever a tribal member
gets sick. Likewise, there are community workers who provide health
support in this province in northern Philippines.
In the hinterland village of Buanao,
residents rely on plants like gawed, kulanting and dung-ilay
for medical use. Their abundance comes in harmony with the villagers’
local shamans called timmawidan.
Crispin Balweg, 63, brother of slain rebel priest Conrado Balweg, is a
timmawidan. A timmawidan is believed to be gifted with prophecy
– he is able to detect diseases and say whether the person afflicted would
live or die.
Balweg is known to possess healing powers
with the aid of herbal plants that are found in his village such as
gawed, a local antidote for cough, nausea, stomach and headache.
Buanao has five born healers, four of them
elder women. Balweg is the only elder man.
Buanao villagers believe the timmawidan
is empowered by the village's spirit idol sangasang, embodied in a
stone-made monument enshrined at the entry of the villages. In effect, the
timmawidan is the sangasang’s medium for healing and
Bangilo district is home to descendants of
the Igubang warrior tribe of Kalinga. After the last world war, the
Igubang designed the idol to watch over the villagers.
Balweg said the sangasang has protected them from
decimation through the shamans who were able to predict the outbreak of
diseases and inflict harm on outsiders who disrupt the peace.
A timmawidan also leads in
community rituals intended to bring good luck and implore the spirit to
spare the villagers from omen.
A ritual called dulaketan which is officiated by
the healer is performed by offering tapuy (rice wine), sacrificial
animal, the traditional cañao and chanting. The ritual is marked by a
salipit, a pair of animal ears, clasped firmly by a twig and stuck in
the stone symbol.
Village chief Perfecto Matnao laments of scarce resources coming from the
local government for health services. He explained that while indigenous
practices such as the ways of timmawidan and the belief in
sangasang in curing local ailments remain strong, they also expected
local health officials to render health services.
Thrice a year, two midwives from the
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) would integrate in the
community for two months to assess their health condition and address
their urgent concerns, said Matnao.
The village is supposed to secure for a quarter at least P77,000
from the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). But, Matnao said, actual health
services are hardly visible.
Worse, the construction of an 8x8-meter health center has not
been finished since it began in 2001. The unfinished structure now looks
abandoned, with decrepit with dilapidated ceilings and weather-beaten
walls. An assortment of debris and trash has messed up the floor.
Early this year, the barangay council passed a resolution urging
the local government and non-government organizations to help finish the
center and support its maintenance soon after for the benefit of the
villages of Lat-oy, Buanao and Um-nap.
Poor clinic facilities and bad terrain also burden the local
officials. Last year, a relative of Matnao died of “gulpe” – a tremendous
seizure due to typhoid fever - while being brought on foot by villagers
across the rugged slopes to the nearest hospital.
Among the diseases that commonly hit the villagers but are
hardly attended due to scarce resources are tuberculosis, typhoid fever,
malaria, gastritis and urinary tract infection (UTI), according to the
Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera (Chestcore),
an NGO promoting community-based health assistance in the region.
Health rights advocacy
Dr. Ana Marie Leung, executive director of Chestcore, said there
were the health condition of villagers was worse when her group first
arrived in 1985. That year they trained a team of Community Health Workers
(CHWs). The training included 64 villagers, aged 20-50 years, mostly
women, with modules such as first aid, diagnosis, health planning and
Today, seven of those trained are giving health services in
Malibcong, receiving a quarterly allowance of P300 generated by the
After two decades last month, Chestcore health professionals and
volunteers returned to conduct another medical mission, as part of the
activities for the 21st Cordillera Day Celebration held here.
Esperanza Gumanab, 54, a resident health worker complained of scarce
government funding for facilities and medicines. In 1986, she recalled a
TB epidemic spread in nearby Lacub town infecting at least 26 persons.
Antibiotics such as streptomycin and amoxicillin procured by local
officials lasted for only 17 days. In response, Gumanab's team of health
workers sustained the treatment by using herbal medicines like dung-ilay
In 1990, the health workers put up a drug cooperative, Botika ng
Bayan, to make cheap drugs available for the villagers in Buanao. "But the
coop was short-lived as most of the villagers were poor. Medicines were
lent to them and they weren't able to pay," Dr. Leung said.
Frequent skirmishes between military
troops and New Peoples Army (NPA) guerrillas also affected the delivery of
health services, Gumanab said.
Leung said military clearing operations would last for weeks
prompting health workers to hide the medicines. Government soldiers had
accused Chestcore of supplying the NPA guerrillas with medical support.
Because of this, health trainings are now accompanied with human rights
orientation, teaching the CHWs about community rights advocacy apart from
health services, Leung said.
CHWs are also active members of the Bangilo peoples organization
Tadek (Takderan ken Aywanan ti Daga, Ekolohiya ken Kultura) which was
formed in 1998 with a mission to defend ancestral land, life and
"Indigenous practices such as the belief in sangasang and
timmawidan must be kept as long as they do not harm the villagers and
impede their progress in health awareness," Leung said.
"The active role of villagers in combating
health problems must be highlighted," she said. "The community provides a
strong support system to the indigenous tribes in the psycho-social aspect
of any health awareness campaigns." Bulatlat
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