The Philippines is well known for having a rich culture and incredible history. As centuries passed, due to changes and discoveries, some part of our culture has been forgotten and gone while some were either continuously developed or has remained the same. Nevertheless, hilot, the ancient healing arts of Filipinos, is a piece of our traditional practices that has survived and is still being performed up to this day. Today, we will explore and compare our ancient healing arts with another Asian country’s – the traditional Chinese massage – not for competition but for the purpose of providing a better understanding of the two.
Hilot can be traced way back to the earliest civilization of the Philippines hundreds of years ago and is considered as one of the oldest and most mysterious arts in the country. It is believed to have been practiced by our forefathers long before the Spanish era. We can also say that Hilot already existed even before there were doctors in our country. Apparently, there is no written account of this art – of when and how it started or who were the people involved. It can also be concluded that a lot of Manghihilots (the person or shaman/priest who performs Hilot) do not document the important details of this craft to keep it secret from the public. Hilot can only be learned either from relatives (through hands-on practice) or inherited from their direct ancestors, passing it from generation to generation which is how this art has survived up to now.
Compared to the mysterious origins of the Filipino traditional massage, Chinese ancient massage actually has written records of when (about 4700 years ago) and how it came about. Surprisingly, it is considered as the oldest form of massage in the world. Its origins and principles were written in the book “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine” together with other Chinese medicinal traditions. This book has then been used as a foundation of other alternative therapies in China.
Though its origins and specifics are not clear, Hilot’s principles are no secret. It has a lot of similarities with ancient Chinese beliefs: the human body is made up of 4 principal elements – fire, water, air, and earth – and each element corresponds to particular biological body parts and elementals who purportedly cause it. Manghihilots believe that illnesses are caused by the lack of balance of certain elements within our body because excessive or inadequacy in any of these elements can cause disharmony which then causes pain.
As mentioned above, Chinese massage method has a similar principle with that of Hilot’s: it originated from the principle that diseases and illnesses arise due to a deficiency or imbalance in the energy in particular pathways or meridians in our body. Chinese massage is popular for its Yin and Yang, and its main focus is the forms of energy that they believe are inside our body. Ancient Chinese healers believed that through massage (touch therapy) and other precise bodywork techniques, our body’s energy will move more harmoniously through these pathways and creating a balance of energy would eventually enable our body to recover itself naturally.
Status of Traditional Healing Arts Today
Sadly, Hilot is not very popular in most cities in the Philippines nowadays due to the dominance of modern forms of treatments and medicines, extravagant equipment and facilities, and because of its very technique that lacks scientific explanations and credibility. Manghihilots are sometimes even accused of being frauds, which created a poor impression of our traditional healing art. On the other hand, even though Western and advanced treatments rule the country today, there is no doubt that Hilot is still alive and being practiced to varying degrees and levels, especially in our provinces.
Though it seems as if Hilot is slowly a dying art in the country, the traditional Chinese massage, however, has evolved and has continuously been developed since. Acupuncture and acupressure are now a well-known massage therapy and is being patronized by citizens in different countries around the world. Even the best spa in Manila, Philippines offers different traditional Chinese massage therapies (such as Pressure Points Massage, Acupuncture, and the likes) and still use traditional Chinese medicines.
Even though both traditional massages differ from where they come from, Hilot and traditional Chinese massage have a common goal – to fully heal our body, mind, and soul. These ancient arts are formulated not only for relaxation but for holistic healing too, making sure that each of us can achieve balance and harmony in our body and our environment which is what makes them different from other forms of modern massage these days.
Coming from different paths, we can only hope that both the traditional Filipino massage and ancient Chinese massage remain part of each country’s culture, be continuously developed, and be performed.