Re-imagining and reviving hilot for current and future generations

 by Michaela Cruz

Throughout my childhood in the Philippines, my family looked to a womxn named Aling Fe to relieve us of any ailments. We called her the manghihilot which if translated to English means healer. She would find the knots in our bodies and massage it away with her tough calloused hands. It seemed to restore the balance in my young body. The practice and belief in a healing touch are central in the ancient Filipino medical system referred to as hilot. Analogous to Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the system also requires knowledge and use of medicinal plants. When I had flu-like symptoms my mother would bathe me in boiled water decocted with the skin of apple fruits, its leaves or twigs and citrus rinds. The heat and aroma gave me instant relief. I never questioned why she was doing this but later in life, I discovered that parts of apple trees are used in herbal medicine for anti-inflammation. Today when I think of my experiences with hilot I am grateful to womxn such as Aling Fe and my mother for passing down this traditional knowledge. I also realized that the practice of hilot as the giver or receiver requires empathy, a great deal of focus, reflection and prayer. I perceive these as guiding principles for the healing of our bodies as marginalized communities.

After completing my undergraduate in Plant Science, I was called to remember and reaffirm my experience with the teachings and gifts of hilot. Part of the calling was to honour the womxn who graciously passed down the teachings through their healing touch, healing energies, healing words and healing love. This reflection has since prefaced the rest of my life. I was prompted to assert something bigger than myself and to sustain the practices that have helped me through maladies, imbalances, fatigue and mental unrest. I decided to start a monthly workshop series that involves hands-on sessions on food and medicinal plants that grow in and around the urban landscape of Toronto. I thought that one way to start my journey of remembrance was to mend my relationship with the land I currently inhabit and to make connections with lives (human and non-human) that I share it with. The series was named Healing Hands because my long-term goal is to cultivate a healing touch within myself and perhaps others. I strongly believe reclamation of medical traditions involves realizing healing outside of Western medicine by unearthing experiences with ancient healing practices and incorporating them in our day to day. I hope to ensure the transfer of hilot to younger generations in its historical as well as reimagined form. I believe these sessions have the capacity to spark social and cultural innovation. Some of the Intentions/thoughts/ideas/goals include:

  • honouring indigeneity
  • growing/re-growing roots
  • unearthing erased histories
  • food as fuel/food as medicine/medicine as food
  •  recognizing and continuing our elders’ legacies
  • gaining more respect for the lands we inhabit
  • acknowledging settler privilege: walking lighter
  • reimagining the land before the urban
  • revealing our blind spots and unlearning
  • practicing unconditional gratitude
  • loving our beings and all other beings
  • nurturing solidarity
  • allowing us to reawaken our child-like sensibilities
  • cultivating our artisan/artist selves
  • a remedy for the week’s grind

To learn more about monthly workshop series please visit:

Micheala Cruz
Michaela Carmela facilitates the Healing Hands Botanical Workshop Series in Toronto. She is an aspiring grower with hopes to fuel and heal others through plants.

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