Traditional Medicine in the Colonial Philippines

Scholars, anthropologists, and historians have played an important role in the documentation of Filipino healing methodologies. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, Spanish medical (colonial) missionaries collected, studied, and made significant records of Philippine medicinal plants and herbs that Filipino traditional medical practitioners or herbolarios had been prescribing since the precolonial period. Because the herbolarios left little writings about their own practices, the missionaries’ works are our primary resources for studying Filipino traditional medicine.

This Course gives us an intimate and concise portrait of a defined medical tradition, and so, documents an important component of ways of life and epistemologies that practitioners and Filipinos can recuperate and benefit from. Today, when access to health and medical care remains beyond the reach of most Filipinos in the countryside, this course presents an invitation to reflect on a particular aspect of traditional medicine and Philippine culture and harness its potential bringing us a triumph of history as a “usable past.” Thus, fulfilling the mission of the Knights of Hope - Hospitallers. The author of this course has visited the Philippines many times, has lectured for the Philippino Association of Alternative Medicine, has made field trips to the wilderness, has been on radio with international celebrity host Mr. Lucaya, and has personally witnessed Filipino psychic surgery.

Leprosy, or Hansen's disease, has attracted scholarly inquiry for a number of right reasons. For one, scholars can examine the ways by which societies and regimes of power have made sense of a disease that has caused mass suffering in different places at different times. While it is now known that the microbe Mycobacterium leprae causes leprosy, the disease's longevity had allowed it to gain various cultural meanings in the past, ranging from its Judeo-Christian association with impurity and sin, to miasmatic interpretations to its association with lewd behavior and lack of hygiene—notions that are general knowledge in the literature. In the Philippines the history of leprosy has inspired scholarship, from Enrico Azicate's MA thesis, "Medicine in the Philippines: An Historical Perspective" (University of the Philippines, 1989) to Warwick Anderson's "Leprosy and Citizenship" (positions 1998:707–30). Yet, there are more stories to tell.

Again, we find our humoral theme of medicine emerging, the important concepts of hot and cold energetically, we believed borrowed from coastal China but developed into its own form of unique therapeutics.

25 clock hours