Aphrodisiacs, poisons, and healing during precolonial Visayas

Ryan Tallo
·2 min read

IN CELEBRATION of the 500 years of Christianity in Philippine soil this year, experts present during the 5th anniversary of Palm Grass Hotel’s Kapihan ni Lumaya looked back to the precolonial Visayas through food as an instrument of pleasure and resistance.

One of the anniversary activities was the Lami ug Palami forum on Feb. 28, 2021, which Palm Grass Hotel organized in cooperation with the Department of Education Region 7, Museo Sugbo, and National Nutrition Council.

The forum discussed aphrodisiacs, poisons, and healing during the precolonial Visayas and early Spanish arrival to the Philippines.

The online forum’s speakers were:

  • Dr. Rolando Borrinaga, Visayas historian and UP professor

  • Dr. Romeo Quijano, herbalist, pharmacologist, toxicologist, and former professor at the UP College of Medicine

  • Inday Weng, a tambalan or a healer from Daanbantayan

Early Visayan diet

According to Quijano, since the precolonial times, rice has been eaten by the Visayans. Root crops, such as gabi, gaway (taro), ube (yam), and kamote were also part of the diet of the early Visayans.

They were also known to eat fish and other seafood. In essence, early Visayans were a rice-and-fish-eating culture. Pigs and chickens were not eaten daily because these animals were considered ritual food items.

Tuba, a Visayan coconut wine beverage, was a staple drink for the early Visayans.

Borrinaga said that the precolonial Visayan society drinks tuba every day. Raha Humabon and his men were seen drinking tuba when Magellan visited Cebu. Humabon was also seen drinking tuba with a makeshift straw from a big jar.

Gamuro, not balangay

Society in the precolonial Visayas was known as gamuro or chiefdom. The gamuro was equivalent to the Tagalog balangay. A datu has executive, legislative, and judicial power over the gamuro. In essence, a gamuro or balangay functioned as tiny nations.

These gamuros may confederate to become a lalawigan, which is ruled by a Raha.

Magellan ate bats?

Ferdinand Magellan and his company may have possibly eaten bats during their visit to Cebu. Giant bats locally known as kabug are among the list of possible food items that may have been offered to Magellan.

Pork linaga or sinugba, fish, bibingka, and fruits are also believed to be included in the list. Magellan may have also been served tuba as refreshments.

Poisons and aphrodisiacs

During the battle of Mactan, the weapons used by the natives were poisoned. The arrows, spears, and kampilans were believed to be poisoned with toxic plants and poisonous animals.

Some of the survivors of the battle were invited to a feast and poisoned.

Fish and other seafood, which were abundant and easily available at the time, were considered to be sources of aphrodisiacs for the early Visayans.