Being sick is an inevitable part of life. It’s a universal human experience we share with everyone at all times. Modern medicine has rendered many sicknesses and diseases obsolete and increased our life expectancy.
However, this is different from our pre-colonial ancestors in the Philippines. Faith in their deities was important in healing the sick. The babaylan priestesses served as vessels of healing gods and goddesses.
To be healed, one must pray or offer sacrifices to the appropriate deities, not unlike other ancient cultures from around the world. I wanted to know the names of the higher powers our pre-colonial ancestors must have prayed to when they or someone in their family was sick.
In the Bagobo tradition, a god called Malaki t’ohu A’waig was said to be the hero of the head of the waters. His primary function was to cure the sickness of any tribesman. For the Subanun, they had a god named Tagma-sa-langit, who was said to protect those who were sick. This was often useful since sick people were easy pickings for their enemies. Being under the protection of a god signifies that they’re not fair game.
The Batak deity Maguimba supplied all the necessities of Batak daily life, including providing cures for all illnesses. Interestingly, Maguimba can also bring back the dead to life. For the Tagalogs, the god Linga is responsible for curing diseases. He is also the deity of medicine. And lastly, for the people of Zambales, the god of health and sickness is Akasi, said to be as powerful as the great god Malayari.
Some deities in pre-colonial times can be considered specialists as they cure people but only for specific ailments. The Bisayan many-eyed goddess Dalikamata was said to cure illnesses in the eyes.
In the T’boli culture, two deities specialize in specific health problems. Fun Blekes was the god of skin diseases, while Fun Saskulo was the god of head diseases.
Some deities specialize in the health of animals and livestock. Ikapati was the Tagalog goddess of cultivated land and the herd’s health. On the other hand, Gemang was the guardian of wild beasts. Hunters pray to Gemang to keep their hunting dogs healthy to fulfill the hunt with the deity’s permission.
Bringers of Sickness
On the other side of the spectrum, these deities have the function of bringing about sickness to mortals. Isneg culture talks about a female deity called Dagdagamiyan, who makes children sick. These children are supposedly guilty of playing where the harvest is being done.
A god called Makaptan in Bisayan tradition was said to want to make humans suffer from sickness because he has never partaken in any food or drink on earth. He is a co-ruler of Kamariitan with the deity Sidapa. Also, in Bisaya tradition, we get Bulalakaw, a bird god who brings illnesses. Another malevolent deity is Manggagaway of the Tagalog. He is an agent of the evil god Sitan and is responsible for spreading diseases.
Binangewan of the Agta people is a manifestation of their great creator. He is responsible for changes in the world which include sickness and death.
Dealing with minor sicknesses like the flu or a headache can be pretty annoying while experiencing severe diseases like cancer or having a chronic condition can be devastating. Either way, being sick is a reminder of one’s mortality. It is a tiring, confusing, and unpleasant part of our lives. It is no wonder that our pre-colonial ancestors find solace, comfort, or at the very least some understanding by praying to deities of health.
Today, despite the wonders of medicine, we still find ourselves praying for those suffering from afflictions. The gods may have changed, but the act of asking for divine power remains the same.