An albularyo or a hilot is a local medicine man or healer. The albularyo is knowledgeable in the application of medicinal herbs to cure various illnesses and their abilities are believed to be either spiritual or supernatural in origin.
An earlier Spanish term for the word albularyo is herbolario, which is related with cuandero and mediquillo. The title refers to an albularyo's ever-present collection of herbs, which he uses to heal maladies. Despite this, albularyo and hilot are usually synonymous, even though hilot refers to a person who uses massage techniques to heal.
An albularyo is believed to inherit his gifts from a family healers who consider their healing powers a "calling," a power or ability bestowed by a supernatural being, often, attributed to the Holy Spirit. This belief has become eclectic in nature, as albularyos invoke native enkantos as well as Christian saints or even members of the Holy Trinity. Albularyos are almost always lacking in formal education, and their skills are based on and honed from hand-me-down practices and custom, with a long period of understudy or apprenticeship with a local healer. Years of patience and study bring the healer into a familiarity with the knowledge and rituals of healing, the prayers, and the use of herbal medicinal plants. Some acquire an expertise in the art of pulse taking and diagnosis.
In the Philippines, the herbolario is initially a person who sold fresh, dried drugs, or plant roots which they either cultivated in their yards or collected in the wild. The curandero (or mediquillo) took on the task of healing and prescription. The drugs they prescribed to their patients came from the herbolario since the curandero had a traditional distrust on drugstores and Western medicine.
Botanist Eduardo Quisumbing relates the work of the herbolario with the duties of the ancient Greek rhizomatomi who are experts in the art of collecting and preparing drug plants. The rhizomatomi prepared roots of medicinal plants and collected certain plants only at certain times and with certain rites. They also practiced self-experimentation, testing prepared drugs, poisons and antidotes on themselves before making them available for general use.
Albularyos in the Philippines, especially in rural areas, are still in demand and has become a very cheap alternative and most of the time, the only option for many indigent folks. They are typically found in barrios or small barangays with people lined up outside. Albularyos do not necessarily ascribe to or believe in magic, but they are the destitute's alternative for medical relief in deeper rural areas. Diagnosis and treatments are made not only on the physical level but on an emotional or spiritual level as well.
Some of the albularyo's diagnostic rituals include the use of tawas and luop and treatment modalities like (tapal, lunas, kudlit, pang-kontra, bulong and orasyon) which are affected by the belief in creatures like nuno sa punso, dwende and lamang-lupa. They then become the general provider of folkloric health care, having the ability of driving away evil spirits.
Common to the healers is a fervent religiosity, which guides them in their healing practices. Their practices are profusely infused with good doses of prayers - whispered (bulong) or written (orasyon). Although most are available for daily consultations, some practice their craft only on Tuesdays and Fridays - days of the week coinciding with the feast of the Sto. Niño and the feast of the Black Nazarene. It is in those days that they believe that their healing powers is at its optimum.
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- Quisumbing, Eduardo. Medicinal Plants Of The Philippines. Manila: Katha Publishing Co., 1978
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