Siquijor becomes a popular destination for the curious during Holy Week. Every year, tourists and healing practitioners from all over come to this mystical island to witness its resident healers go through the ritual of looking for ingredients from sea and forest, cooking them into potions, and using these to cast spells or cure disease or bring ease to multifarious burdens of human life. Why Holy Week? It is believed this is the best time the healers get to test or recharge their skills. The photographer Veejay Villafranca has been drawn to the subjects of faith and religion throughout most of his young career as a documentary photographer, and he photographed the healers’ festival in Barangay San Antonio in Siquijor in 2006, following his work on the Nazareno and the Traslacion.
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While he has explored other subjects such as climate change (he released his first book last year called Signos) and the communities of Baseco, he continues to expand his coverage on this topic of faith. Currently, select pieces from this body of work are in a small show called Barrio Sagrado, at Purveyr Post in Don Pedro Street, Poblacion.
Here, Villafranca has chosen 20 pictures that will take us through the rituals of Barangay San Antonio in Siquijor, give us a glimpse of its esteemed shamans and various characters, and invite us to see what else in this island casts a magnetic spell.
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A view of the Lazi convent from the church across the street. Lazi town is one of the major attractions in Siquijor and the jump off point going to San Antonio where most of the healers congregate during Semana Santa.
Tatay Pedro, one of the famed healers in Siquijor, holds an amulet sold outside of his house to tourists and also devotees of their practice. He passed on last 2008 at the age of 80.
A healer awaits his customers outside his house in San Juan town.
An elder healer watches his grand daughter perform ‘bolo-bolo’ where the healer blows through a glass half-filled with water with their healing rock inside with the aim of purifying the patient of illnesses or ailments.
The famed Juan ‘Dako’ inside his house checking on his concoction for healing.
The late Juan ‘Dako’ outside his house in San Antonio, Siquijor.
Dried plants, herbs and other elements gathered from sea to forest await to be processed during Semana Santa as most healers believe Lent is the best time to test and recharge their healing skills.
A local healer checks on her plant haul from the forest.
Healers and practitioners of folk medicine hike up to the mountain to gather ingredients for their potions.
A faith healer who also has the ability to read through their clients, entertains one of her regulars who’s seeking her cousin’s lost husband. Most faith healers don’t accept fixed payments but it is mandatory to donate any amount after each session.
Catholic devotees attend a procession early morning of Good Friday.
Semana Santa brings a range of practitioners from all over the Philippines (mostly from Visayas and Mindanao) who congregate in Siquijor Island to purchase goods that they use in healing and rituals.
Local healers gather human bones from a cemetery in Siquijor Island. Human bones and other objects from the sea and forest are used in concocting potions healers use in their trade.
Noel Torremocha (L) sits by his late father-in-law Nong Pedro Tumapon, a revered folk healer from Siquijor.
A recipe for potions.
A folk healer cooks a concoction inside the forest during Good Friday activities in Siquijor.
Most elder healers gather deep in the forest in concocting a potion that is believed to be used for hexing.
A small church leading to San Antonio town.
Locals bath by the sea in Siquijor island as part of their preparation for Semana Santa activities.
Amidst all the folk beliefs, Siquijor still boasts of beautiful scenery and friendly locals that draw a stream of regular tourists yearly.
Photographs by Veejay Villafranca