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Vol. V,    No. 17      June 5 - 11, 2005      Quezon City, Philippines











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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


Chestcore 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 precognition.

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.

Scarce resources

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 launching campaigns.

Today, seven of those trained are giving health services in Malibcong, receiving a quarterly allowance of P300 generated by the villagers themselves.

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 and kulintang.

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.

Armed skirmishes


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 livelihood.

"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




© 2004 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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