The healing ways of Antique’s ‘maaram’
The baby was crying in pain from a gaping sore in her head and her hair was shedding off. Her young mother decided to bring her to the house of Remedios Maniba in Tibiao town, Antique province, despite the crowd of ailing people waiting to be cured.
During the healing ritual that day in June, Angelic Mariano Valentin, 23, was surprised to see what the petite, dark-skinned woman pulled out from the ear of her 10-month-old child–small live beetles. A few days later, she said in Kinaray-a: “My daughter’s open sore was gone and she stopped crying.”
Maniba, 61, also known as “Nanay Medios,” is a maaram, one of three known active practitioners in Tibiao. She has been chosen to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather and two brothers.
Scenic Antique, where mountains kiss the sea, is considered a place of the maaram, the Karay-a shaman who knows the ways of the spirit world and speaks to the elementals in Kinaray-a or Hinaraya. Kinaray-a is the language of Antique (from “hantik-hantik,” or big, black ants) and the upland communities of Iloilo and Capiz provinces.
Good and bad
“The Karay-as [people] believed in the existence of the spirit world and the elementals, but don’t worship them. Particularly, the denizens of the spirit world have human forms and they live the way human beings live,” lexicographer and ethnographer Gen. Vicente C. Pangantihon said in his book “Karay-a Rice Tradition Revisited.”
“Just as there are bad and good human beings, there are also bad and good denizens of the spirit world. The bad and the good are in constant strife,” Pangantihon said.
It is not known how many maaram there are in Antique, but in Tibiao, they are Maniba and Tatay Musyot, both of Barangay Malabor, and Nanay Lourdes of Barangay Alegre.
Maniba has been a shaman since she was 30 years old. Her grandfather, Martino Francisco, and his two brothers–Isko and Syano Absalon–were also healers during their time; none of Francisco’s children, however, “qualified” as healers or had accepted the power of healing.
Maniba’s parents were farmers and she grew up in a poor household. She was not able to finish Grade 2, but she knows how to write, read or even speak English, she said.
Her house is just next to the main road of Malabor, full of her grandchildren and relatives playing around. On most days of the week, patients line up for treatment.
The living room serves as the healing room with four sofas, a small table, cupboards and two small chairs with a small window, creating an eerie setting for the healing ritual.
“Paluy-a” is one of the common practices of a maaram. During the ritual, the shaman determines whether a patient’s illness is caused by supernatural spite or other issues.
Maniba would scrub ginger lightly on the patient’s forehead, hands and feet while whispering prayers and asking help from God.
In the case of Valentin’s baby, she used cotton balls and blessed coconut oil, native herbs and a wooden cross given by her Lolo Martino during the five-minute healing ritual to remove the beetles from an ear. In other patients, she would pull out a rusting nail, broken glass, needle and small stones from their bodies.
In 2011, Erlinda, who declined to give her family name, 58, and her three children from Manila went through a similar ritual. She said she was surprised when live, baby fruit bats were removed from their bellies.
According to Maniba, the creature was an indication that the family was bewitched. She placed the newly retrieved bats over the bagahan (hot coals) to kill them. “They feel well after that,” she said.
The tales of treatment, however, could not be confirmed independently or explained medically or scientifically.
Asked about the maaram’s ways, Dr. Miguel A. Labrague of Tibiao said in Kinaray-a, “The truth is I am not a believer of that.”
But he added: “It really works on people who have faith. Some patients could be healed maybe because of their faith. Sometimes it has an effect on your immune system.”
Gift and curse
Tuesdays and Fridays are the busiest healing days for Maniba. According to her, it is on these days that her healing gift is potent. At least 20 people from all walks of life visit her for treatment.
There were times when she had to travel to Australia and Hong Kong upon the invitation of patients.
“An Australian patient with his family went to my house just this year to say thank you to me because he got better after the ritual,” Maniba said in the vernacular. “It makes me happy to know that most of my patients go back to my house and say thank you after they get well.”
Maniba considers her powers a gift and a curse. “It is not easy to become a healer. I could cure the patients but somehow the negativity is reflected back on me,” she said.
Lately, she has been limiting the number of patients going to her house. She believes that the very reason her husband had severe pneumonia and insomnia, and three of her daughters had high fever and stomach pain was that the black elemental spirits were taking revenge on her.
“Because they have a low spirit or inner being, they suffer the misfortune as retribution of the black spirits,” she said.
Maniba and her husband have eight children and 25 grandchildren.
Maniba revealed that once a person fully accepts her role as the maaram, he or she would never get rich.
“Since I was taught by my grandfather Lolo Martino to be a healer, I have lived a simple life. You cannot receive any compensation or ask anything from your patient. You just have to accept any token amount usually a coin so that the illness will not relapse on me,” she said.