Saturday, October 8, 2011

black virgin of Siquijor

“…a saint carrying a skull and with a wound on her forehead.
She reportedly walks around town at the strike of midnight!”

Badjao kid in the pier
The vessel is supposed to drop anchor in the capital town Siquijor, Siquijor. But because the waves were big and the harbor shallow that day, the captain diverted the trip to another port, farther east in the town called Larena.

The cabin smelled like yesterday’s lunch. Sour with a hint of tuba. I stood up to stretch my leg and the smell of ammonia and white flower wafted from the first row seats. The two ladies across my seat looked pale with their barf bags laid on the wet floor. The cranking aircon didn’t help by letting a sour, salty and rusty smell that filled the air.

That part of the trip, when the ferry navigated gingerly through the cove meant everything turned all right. The waves the size of bus stopped pelting from all directions. Otherwise, if it stretched for another hour, I would’ve the feeling the dilapidated fast ferry would split open any moment.

The sky was clear, the clouds fast moving and the cove with its pea-green water looked calm. Everyone heaved a sigh, a few started talking, that the cabin felt warmer and mustier.

Larena is a 30-minute drive from Siquijor. Compared to the open Siquijor pier, the natural harbor of Larena, deep and covered by a ridge is the natural choice for bigger boats and other vessels to dock, especially during monsoon season.   

The car rental service which was advised by the Siquijor station about the diverted voyage came to meet my group in time. We were warmly welcomed by the driver. A smile was painted on his face but his eyes, black and penetrating, there was a certain look in them.  

After forty-minutes on the road that cuts the island, we finally arrived in our hotel located at the edge of a fire tree forest. The trees were bursting with red and orange flowers. The dead leaves littered on the road cracked as the tires rolled unto them. There was a power outage that day in the whole island so I opened the terrace door of my room and let the afternoon sea breeze do the cooling. 

I drew the curtain--caked with dust at the bottom--to one side and right before my eyes lay the postcard-pretty beach under the blue, spotless sky. The white stretch of beach looked rather blinding. Save for a few children swimming in the cove, the resort was eerily peaceful that afternoon.

By four, when it was cooler to go out and explore a few sights nearby, I told the driver we were planning to see the black virgin saint—a saint who was carrying a skull and with a wound on her forehead. He appeared clueless and asked the other staff where to find it. The staff also had no idea. Since a writer friend of mine gave me the needed information before I set on this trip, I told the driver we were going to the Spanish-era church in Maria town. It turned out our hotel is in Maria. He obliged and a few minutes later, we were already in the church.

The church ground was quiet. My friend reminded me to seek approval first from the parish priest. I went to the convent and look for the priest. Apparently, he was not around but the secretary faced me and I told her about my purpose. She got the key and opened the main door of the church.

The icon was kept at the storage room behind the retablo. (update: the saint is now encased in a glass and kept at the left side of the church altar)

It felt weird going inside the storage room. There was St. Lazarus by the doorway and many other saints I could not name. At the far end of the room, cobwebs and all, stood before me the image of the virgin saint.

the skull and the inverted crucifix

St. Rita de Cascia
In the course of my conversation with the caretaker, I was informed that the saint's name is Santa Rita de Cascia--the patroness of abuse victims, against loneliness, against sterility, bodily ills, desperate causes, difficult marriages, forgotten causes, impossible causes, infertility, lost causes, parenthood, sick people, sickness, sterility, victims of physical spouse abuse, widows, wounds. *sigh*

The next day, my group continued our dark tourism journey into the depth of the island. First, we drove to a house tucked in the hills of San Juan town to visit a mananambal (faith healer), a bolobolo practitioner named Lola Conching, the lady with a mutya or black stone. (update: Juan Ponce of Siqujor town, the most well-known mananambal passed away a few months ago. I met him once, the third time I visited Siquijor three years ago). She owns a black-colored stone which reportedly contained healing powers. She uttered some orasyon, submerged the black stone into a glass filled with water and by using a bamboo straw, blow the clear water.

my photos got lost. photos i lifted from this source

She put the glass near my body and stopped near major organs. If the water turned cloudy in the course of her blowing, then, it was an indication I had a major illness in that part. The water turned muddy when she blew near my groin area. Inside my head I was like what the ...! In my groin area pa! She emptied the glass and replaced the water. She did it for three more times until the water became clearer even if she blew on it. She said I was healed. I gave her a smile and put the donation inside the jar.

centuries-old balite tree with its eternal spring with wading pool

Next stop is the centuries-old balite (rain tree) in Lazi. After I explained to my expat students the beliefs of Filipinos in asking permission in entering places like this by saying tabi-tabi po as well as other beings like kapri, engkanto and diwata and their relevance to the big, old, eerie tree, we took some photos and continued the tour.

We arrived in Lazi town a few minutes later and checked out Lazi convent—said to be the biggest convent of its kind in the whole of Asia. The roof is indeed as tall as the whole structure. There was so much space. A small portion housed the relics and other memorabilia. Museum entrance fee is Php50.00.

Lazi Convent

One part of the second floor has been used as a classroom for the local Catholic high school. The old kitchen has its interesting kaleidoscopic glass windows and enormous working area. I went inside the museum and secretly took some photos sans the flash. At the back end of the museum is an expansive azotea made of bricks. There was a Spanish-style water cistern and brick oven at its edges.

enchanted Cambughanay falls

To cap the afternoon, we took the drive to Cambughanay waterfalls, believed to be enchanted. Many lives were mysteriously taken by the falls year after year especially during the tail-end of the school year, the locals said. In local dialect we call it taw-an or abangan. I told my student to be extra careful. A few minutes, I let my guards down and jumped from the falls and did it again several times. It was a refreshing dip and yes, scary as well!

On our last day in Siqujor, we moved to Villa Marmarine Resort in Siquijor town. The very friendly Japanese couple was there to meet us when we checked in. They simply evoked a certain positive aura, an air of warmth and a disarming touch of old-world charm.

the blogger having a down time at Villa Marmarine Resort

Actually, 10% of your hotel bill supports the scholarship program of the resort. The owner, Mr. Daman Harada, is a former elementary school teacher in an international school. Together with his wife Marie, the Japanese couple makes sure your stay is memorable.

The laid back island life, wi-fi, (3) Balinese cottages, 2 km. white beach, the 5 star service provided by the staff lead by Flor and the couple's warm hospitality makes you wish time stops and just stay in the comforts of VillaMarmarine.

to complete the experience, we ordered black pasta in Villa Marmarine restaurant. photo source

This is shameless plugging but what can you expect from a satisfied guest?

On my way out on a rented motorcycle (Php30.00/hr) I found in town, I chanced upon an old lady sitting alone by the windowsill. The perpetual summer in the island quickens the dust as I pull over the motorcycle. She scans the distance that separates us while I inched my way toward her. I asked her if it was okay I took her picture. She nodded, motioned me to come closer. Then, we talked about the secrets the island holds.

the mysterious lady

 *This is a part of a series of blog carnival articles made possible by Pinoy Travel Bloggers--a dynamic group of Filipino travel bloggers whose main advocacy is to promote domestic tourism in the Philippines. For this edition on black tourism, Gael Hilotin of is host. Click this link for the complete line-up >>>


  1. I was born and raised in an island, where superstition is part of growing up. Candidly, the stories I heard about Siquijor scared me most! With your post, I am now destined to conquer my fear and see Siquijor myself. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. come to the island of fire, come and discover siquijor :D

  3. You have such an awesome site. I really like it. :) Keep it up!

  4. Your blog post makes me wanna go to Siquijor very soon! Love the Badjao kid pic :-)

  5. thanks and thanks for stopping by robert. see you on the road!

  6. salamat!

    the best time to visit the island is during holy week or all souls' day Gabz!

  7. ang mysterious tlga ang siquijor..
    no offense para dun sa black vigin at sa mga deboto nito, pero parang pang witch yung imahen na yun, iba yung feeling.. parang gusto ko din puntahan..

  8. I love the way you write RV, parang si Hemingway lang. ;) Plus, this post is really interesting, I can't wait to visit Siquijor next year. Thanks for sharing your wonderfulexperience. Will take note of this.

  9. thanks gael :) i'm sure you'll have an amazing time in sijuijor

  10. i'll definitely take note of this... thanks for this post :)


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