A is For Anito and Albularyo

Yep, I am doing the Blogging From A to Z Challenge and to make it even harder, I’m blogging about something I don’t know that much about – other than it is the setting for the novel that I am currently working on (you see the muse up there on the right). 

I wrote about the overall theme for the April challenge here, which is my A to Z take on 1890’s Philippines. 

So without further ado, here’s letter A.


Before the Spanish “discovered” the Philippine islands in the 16th century – naming it after their king – and converted everyone they could find to Roman Catholicism, the inhabitants were primarily pagan.  They practiced a nature-based, polytheistic belief system, collectively called Anito, that included the worship of household deities and even the spirits of their ancestors.

The supreme god was Bathala, creator of heaven, earth and men.  Below him were other gods and goddesses – Idianale, Tagalog goddess of agriculture; Lakapati, Tagalog god of harvest; Sidapa, Visayan god of death; Apolaki, Pangasinan war god; Kidul, Kalinga god of thunder; Dal’lang, Ilocano goddess of beauty; Malyari, Zambal god of power and strength; Poko, Tagbanua god of the sea; and Kolyog, Ifugao god of earthquakes.

– via The Philippines: A Unique Nation by Sonia M. Zaide with Gregorio F. Zaide’s History of the Republic of the Philippines

These polytheistic practices were facilitated by the male priest or female priestess called katalona or babaylan, similar to shamans and other spiritual leaders.  However, with the colonization and conversion of its people to Catholicism, much of these practices were suppressed by the friars who ruled the country for the next 300 years until the Americans took over in 1898.

But old habits die hard, as we all know, and much of the incantations and spells of the katalona or babaylan were replaced by Catholic oraciones and prayers, this time performed by the albularyo, who incorporated the use of herbs, oils and various local minerals like alum into their sessions.  It became a form of folk healing and religion all rolled into one, if you will.

Albularyos can still be found in the barrios, the small towns outside of the city, and it’s not unusual to see someone call on the deities and gods of old when one goes to an albularyo to seek help, especially when easy access to modern medical facilities is unavailable.

Wooden images of the ancestors (Bulul) in a museum in Bontoc, Mountain Province, Philippines

Blogging A to Z Challenge