Folk, Rock, and Rural: An Interview with Mark Vincent Omega
by Norberto Roldan
Norberto Roldan (NR): How and when did you meet Kanade Yagi?
Mark Vincent Omega (MO): I first heard of Kanade Yagi when you informed me that our first artist-in-residence at the Water District, which opened in early May of 2019, was going to be her.1 Kanade came to Roxas City in August of that same year and I only met her for the first time when I picked her up from the airport.
NR: What was her main research interest in Capiz, a province that has remained basically rural as its economy is primarily dependent on aquaculture and agriculture?
MO: Kanade came to conduct research regarding the panaming (defense) practices of our local folk healers. Her main interest was to initially map out different healing practices and discover various approaches to the folk healing phenomenon that appear to be unpopular and incomprehensible compared to western medicine.
NR: How did you start your journey into the land of folk healers?
MO: I first introduced Kanade to Jason Rufino, a visual artist and also a professional tattoo artist in Roxas, whose abuelo (grandfather) happens to be a cirujano (healer) practicing in his community. Jason’s interdisciplinary practice resonates well with Kanade’s interest in folk healing practices so he became one of the first interlocutors after introducing her to his grandfather.
The second healer we met was just within close proximity of the Water District. She is a former midwife who now practices faith healing with practical and herbal medicine through the use of different herbs such as pito-pito. She deals with common illnesses such as fever, colds, and dysmenorrhea, and she can counter an usog on small children.2
NR: Do you have anecdotes of some of the more interesting and peculiar encounters she had with the folk healers?
MO: There was one time when Kanade and I visited this healer who lives within the city. After initial formalities at the receiving area, Kanade requested if she could document the interview as she would always do with all her interviews. The healer’s family was hesitant with the idea because they were worried about their privacy. The family had a previous experience when videos of their home were posted on the internet without their consent and that incident stirred some issues. So, we asked if it would be okay to record just the audio of the conversation, which they willingly agreed to.
I also noticed that Kanade always takes photos of the healers she meets using a 35mm film camera, to document the rare encounter and also for posterity as she would send these snapshots to the families as a reminder of their time spent together during her travels.
NR: Can you share your experiences with some of the folk and faith healers you have met during the research? Where did you find them?
MO: During the first week, we visited three municipalities. Our first encounter and visit was with Jason's grandfather, Joaquin Rufino. A well-known cirujano based in Lanot at the outskirts of the city, Joaquin is known to practice exorcism and he can make contact with alienated beings either through a Christian orasyon (incantation) or through a paranormal mode.
Outside the capital city, we went to a town called Sigma where we met a woman healer who specialized in animal bites, specifically from dogs. Using the tandok process, the method involves cleansing the wound with a charcoal-like material that sucks poison from rabies bites. According to the woman, her healing skill was passed on to her by the original tandok healer through a surreal dream.
An interesting encounter happened in the town of Panay.3 We met a healer who uses the natural elements of a mystical and mysterious tree known as anagas.4 Leaves from this tree are left to dry, burned into ashes, mixed with coconut oil, and applied to rashes and infected parts of the body, accompanied with the chanting of the word baylo (exchange). The anagas tree is common in dry thickets and secondary forests in the island, and is generally regarded as poisonous. Most people may be immune to the poison coming from the hairs of the leaves, but the sap from the leaves can cause painful swelling and blisters once it comes into contact with the skin. The healing ritual starts with a family member approaching the tree and asking for its dried leaves in exchange for certain objects that belong to the sick person. These objects are then hung onto the branches of the tree. From an aesthetics point of view, one can imagine the tree as an art installation with hanging objects.
Outside the province of Capiz, we headed to the town of Concepcion in Iloilo to meet a folk healer practicing botbot. Botbotan is a healing process that involves psychic surgery, a paranormal phenomenon that is undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary practices among faith healers. Although we haven’t witnessed an actual “surgery” during the time of our visit, the faith healer explained the process to us which involves preparing an elixir for the patient to drink. While chanting prayers, the healer carries out what sounds like a real operation. With his bare hands, he opens up a part of the body and pulls out dead tissues and malignant matters. Since the 1950s, there have been many reports of bare-handed surgeries, undergone by thousands of local and foreign patients, and witnessed by scores of observers in the Philippines.
NR: As her local research assistant and guide, what were the things you learned from your interaction with Kanade, her research and residency in Roxas?
MO: As Kanade’s research assistant and guide, I was introduced to the unknown and I witnessed her curiosities, explorations, and discoveries of the mystic and enigmatic practices of folk healers. I have observed that most healing practices are aided by plants, herbal concoctions, and elixir preparations and so I was made aware of the study of ethnobotany. I have broadened my knowledge of some herbal remedies and their efficacies. When you come to understand that ethnobotany is a science, you somehow realize that aside from the performativity of the healing ritual, there is really no element of magic that comes into play. I have also learned to be more respectful of cultural practices, traditions, and the people who believe in them, especially in rural areas where people tend to be more sensitive about their beliefs and practices.
NR: How was it working with Kanade as an artist? Have you maintained your connection and friendship with her? How?
MO: As an artist myself, I have fully enjoyed her company during our travels. I have introduced her to artist friends across the Visayas and built a new network for camaraderie and future collaborations. I still maintain my connection with her to this day, especially during these trying times of the pandemic. I hope I will have the opportunity to work with her again in the near future.
1 Water District is an artist-run platform. It occupies the former Roxas Metropolitan Water District. www.facebook.com/waterdistrict.rxs
2 “Usog or balis is a topic in psycho-medicine in Filipino Psychology (but considered just as a Filipino superstition in Western Psychology) where an affliction or psychological disorder is attributed to a greeting by a stranger, or an evil eye hex. It usually affects an unsuspecting child, usually an infant or toddler, who has been greeted by a visitor or a stranger.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usog
3 Panay, officially known as the Municipality of Panay, is a tourist destination located in the province of Capiz.
4 For more information on the anagas tree, visit: tkdlph.com/index.php/ct-menu-item-3/ct-menu-item-7/4704-anagas-k-bis and islandgirltraveller.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/unveil-the-mystery-the-anagas-tree/.
This interview was conducted via Messenger in November 2021. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Mark Vincent Omega was born in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in 1986. Before he finally settled in Roxas in 2014, he resided in Manila, Iloilo, Cebu, and Leyte. He is a project-based experimental sound artist who was a member of the technical and curatorial team behind VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018; a performer during WSK X: Festival of the Recently Possible in October 2019; and technical coordinator the Jejak-Tabi Exchange: Wandering Asian Contemporary Performance in Roxas in January 2020. His recent works delve into the field of noise, yet frequently drift into numerous sonic trajectories including free improvisation, dark industrial, drone, minimal, and environmental-ambient sound.