Paubra, A Lost Art Paubra is a practice of the mystic arts awaiting to be passed down, with no one to inherit.
Jeff G. Tolentino
Smoke from the kerosene lamp made its way through his arms. One gripping the rosary bead and the other making their way through her forehead. Her wrist, facing upward greeted the cold body of the ginger stripped of its skin. By the time the smoke has risen and dissipated into the cracks of the ceiling, his craft, a doll conjured from the mixture of water and flour has taken its rest on the finest china in the house. Awaiting its fate, the mystic art of Paubra that cures one’s illness by sealing them through vessels destined to be lost has now itself, nowhere to be found.
Locked up within figures shaped to resemble that of a human being, the curses they contain is a plague. Bounded by incantations, these dolls of dough are isolated from human contact, for the ones who dare meddle with it shall suffer the fate of the ones before them.
INTO THE UNKNOWN
Going on foot half a two-kilometer hike off the national road, the last cemented road splits downward to a single bootleg trail. Eager to meet the first and probably the last foot traffic of the day, the flora of abundant mountain bushes brushes dewdrops off a familiar foot.
Surrounded by mountainous terrains and steep ravines, the only means to reach what was once a burgeoning community is by foot. In an early summer night, more than just the deafening cicadas and the lurking predators of the livestock, people fear not of what they can see in the dark but that of the unseen. The elemental deities, spirits, and mythical creatures that in the wake of the night afflict curses to an unsuspecting passerby who bypasses their turf.
“Some places are not to be wandered with because it is a home for the unseen. These are entities that have existed way before us and we must respect their territories. If you ever found yourself having a fever or noticing lumps growing into your skin after going somewhere you haven’t been before, may it be caves, forest, or swamps then there might be a possibility that you have angered a spirit. If that happens, you need to do the ritual of Paubra,” shared Brayna Tolentino, a resident born and raised in Sitio Capitoguan, in Guimaras.
Spoken in the native tongue, Paubra means “to make something” or “to have something done.” Like all other practices that are rooted into the works of faith healers or albularyos, the ritual takes power over its offerings and incantations. The one thing that makes it distinct from other practices of traditional healing is that for the ritual to work, the curses will have to be extracted from the victim and sealed into a vessel.
“Paubra involves several steps. The first of it would be for the albularyo to determine whether you really have been afflicted by a curse, and if so, how powerful is the spirit that has cursed you. Often a powerful curse would need an equally skilled albularyo for it to be cured. Then, sacrifices need to be made and these sacrifices depend on what the spirit demands. Often, offerings include the blood of a black chicken or alive black pig,” Tiyay Brayna detailed.
VESSELS AND CURSES
Following the belief of the holy hour, the rituals and prayers are conducted at six in the afternoon. Presided by an albularyo a ceremony for the offerings to be accepted by the troubled spirit is done. Through incantations known only to the albularyo, the victim’s plea for forgiveness is made known, together with the offering is a human-like doll of dough crafted by the albularyo in which the illness is to be sealed. This craft, serving as a vessel is then displayed into some remote location deemed lost and hidden from the human world.
“I remember suffering from a debilitating illness once, my whole body was in pain, my head felt like it was being hammered into concrete. I have been going at it for almost a week and with medicines not working, I decided to consult an albularyo and he said I had angered a powerful deity while chopping firewood in the forest. The albularyo crafted a doll that resembled me, and it is where my illness is to be transferred and sealed. He first molded a ball of dough which became a head, he then took a pair of oyangya seeds (Abrus precatorius), with its red and black color, became the eyes of the doll,” she narrated.
Along with incantations and the vessel in which the curse is contained, for Tiyay Brayna is an experience she will never forget.
“After a few days, I slowly recovered. My appetite has improved, and my illness is gone. As for the doll of dough, it was hidden in a nearby grove to where the albularyo has said I have angered a deity. Since then I have never returned to that place. With a warning to never disturb its rest, my illness is lost, sealed within a vessel that should never be found again.”
THE MODERN TIMES
The belief of having something greater and is unseen has long been entangled with the history and culture of the Filipino people. As an archipelago, the natural barriers of the country are often the reason why some places remain to be in an archaic practice despite the rise of modern medicine.
“Here in our place, the medical practice of dealing with diseases is rare. Aside from the terrain barriers that separates this place from the capital, medical expenses and professional fees of doctors are beyond what people can afford,” she shared.
To compensate for lack of resources in a community, specifically that of healthcare, traditional methods of healing became the only refuge of the people. As to the perspective of modern medicine, these traditional ways of healing need not necessarily be abandoned, it needs only to be supplemented by science proven methods.
“Traditional medicine is a health practice with strong historical and cultural roots. Since it has often evolved as part of a particular cultural heritage, the forms of traditional medicine vary widely across the Region. Some forms are highly developed and well documented. They are based on systematized knowledge, comprehensive methodology and historical experience. It is sometimes the only available and affordable option, especially in remote or under-served areas. Thus, it plays an important role in primary health care,” an article by the World Health Organization reads.
A LOST ART
Looking back a few decades back, Sitio Capituguan was the center of commerce. Merchants with their goods were on double to catch a three AM ferry across the Iloilo-Guimaras strait. Along its shoreline were barges carrying Phosphorus rich minerals from the fertilizer mine. A once bustling community of people, diverse in origin and sharing one culture and tradition is now a community of 20.
“The times have changed; the present generation barely knows of this practice. The people here have sought a comfortable life in the city; a place where almost everything is at hand. As years pass by, more of us will leave, may it be in a better place or into the next life. To those of us who remain, the practice might as well be a distant memory. This practice with its way of sealing curses has now itself been sealed,” she concluded.
The sun retiring to the mountains overlooking the strait has painted the sky. The same foot found themselves doubling up the mountain following a single bootleg trail. With a trail left behind, a culture has been told and a story made. Awaiting its next successor in the mystic art of Paubra.
A practice awaiting to be passed on to the next generation with no one to inherit.
Published: April 25, 2022