Yes, They Really Do Call Him A Quack Doctor

While to native-English speakers ‘quack doctor’, or the term, ‘quack’, signifies a fraud or charlatan practising, usually medicine, but it can be some other profession, this is not the case in the Philippines. The term ‘quack doctor’ is used by Filipinos without any hint of sarcasm or amusement. It is the ‘official’ title of those who practice the native healing arts, known as ‘Hilot’ and ‘Albularyo’.

quack doctor

A Hawker of Salves

The word ‘quack’ has nothing to do with the sound a duck makes; it derives from the Dutch word ‘kwakzalver’, literally meaning a hawker of salve. A salve being some kind of potion or cream used to treat a malady. Quack, in medieval times, meant ‘shout’ and so these salve hawkers sold their wares by shouting out the merits of their potions in the marketplace. The term got to the Philippines most probably via the USA, where quacks were also known as ‘snake oil salesmen’ for selling various cure-alls that really cured little if anything.

In the Philippines, the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century put the local shamans and healers, known as ‘Babylan’, on notice. They survived by syncretizing their own native chants and spells with Latin verses and prayers borrowed from Catholicism, becoming known as ‘manggagawa’, ‘manghihilot’ and ‘arbularyo’. As modern, western medicine spread and became more available these ‘faith healers’ as some refer to them, took more of a back seat but still today offer a level of health care to the poor and isolated that the official health system can’t match.

Hilot And Albularyo

Hilot is a muscular/skeletal health system, much like chiropracty or osteopathy. It focuses on manipulating bones and joints and muscles. The herbal healing is the realm of the Albularyo. Together they are known as the ‘quack doctor’ and often practise both elements of the healing arts, or folk medicine. They are affordable, locals often paying just P20 for a consultation and treatment. I always paid P50 or P100, but then I am a kano, afterall. What I can attest to is that the ones I have been treated by earned their money. They fixed whatever ailed me.

Many foreigners suffer from heat rash, or ‘prickly pear’ as some call it. The cure is for the quack to spit some chewed up herb all over the rash covered area of the body and within a day, the rash is gone. A bit gross, I accept, but effective. Another area of expertise is if you have a bad back. Forget the chiropractor doing an ‘adjustment’ and cracking your spine within a millimetre of quadriplegia; I had my back taken care of by the quack and to this day I regret not packing him in my suitcase and bringing him back to Sydney with me. He fixed my mother’s knee and, had she been able to receive regular treatment I doubt she would have needed the reconstructive surgery a few years later that still gives her grief.

Pitchforks And Burning Torches, Pinoy Style

I firmly believe that, having lived in the same barangay all their lives and descended from others who have also served the same community, these quacks are worth consulting for a large range of locally caught ailments. If they didn’t have a pretty good success rate they would have been run out of town years, even several generations ago. Filipinos can be very forgiving but get them mad enough and they will run amok and take action. So if the quack is still there serving his community, he must be doing something right. Next time you have a heat rash, ear ache, sprained back… ask the asawa to take you to the quack. Keep an open mind but be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), Dip.Bus, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis.


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2 comments on “Yes, They Really Do Call Him A Quack Doctor
  1. Dolores Varkovi says:

    Can you please email me where I can come to see the hilot. Can you please email your phone number if possible. Thank you!

  2. Jeff Harvie says:

    I don’t have any phone numbers of hilots, sorry. And I wouldn’t waste your time either.