It's said that, if you look at Siquijor at night, the island becomes bathed in an eerie glow. The glow looked so much like fire, that the colonizing Spaniards dubbed it "Isla del Fuego" (lit. "Island of Fire.")
Today, we know that the glow is due to the hundreds and thousands of fireflies coming out at night. But a few suggest that all those fires were the work of witches and sorcerers concocting their brews. Whether you believe in such things or not, there's no question that Siquijor draws tourists from all beliefs and walks of life.
Let's take a look at some of those tourist draws below.
Like most of the Philippines during the Spanish era, the residents of Siquijor converted to Catholicism. Two of the churches on the island are the Lazi (or San Isidro Labrador Parish) Church and the St. Francis de Assisi Church.
The Lazi Church is, as its name suggests, located in the town of Lazi, near the southeast part of the island. It's a neoclassical style church, built mostly of wood and sea stones, and is known for its large, U-shaped bahay na bato convent. The National Museum of the Philippines declared the church a National Cultural Treasure, and it was shortlisted for the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006. You can get there by taking a jeep or tricycle from the port of Siquijor.
Meanwhile, the St. Francis de Assisi Church is in the northwestern part of the island. The church is made of white coral stones, and has a tin roof which used to be made of nipa (palm tree). It looks old from the outside, but the inside is well-kept and charming in a way large churches aren't. Like most Spanish churches, it has a bell tower and convent which doubled as a refuge against invasions by marauders.
The Balete Tree of Campalanas, Lazi
In the Philippines, balete trees are believed to be the favorite haunt of supernatural creatures like the kapre and tikbalang, and the one in the village of Campalanas in Lazi is no exception.
Locals believe that the tree is at least a few centuries old, because not even the oldest villagers can remember the tree in its infancy. Regardless, it's quite beautiful to look at, and is one of the most photographed trees on the island. If you're lucky, you might even capture an otherworldly being on camera!
The Statue of St. Rita de Cascia
This image is considered one of the most unintentionally horrifying statues in the Philippines, and for good reason. Out of her soot-black veil, "Black Magic Maria" seems to stare at you with wide, judging eyes. Also, she carries a skull and inverted cross in her hands, and locals believe that the statue comes alive once it gets dark.
Despite her nickname, "Black Magic Maria" isn't actually that of the Virgin Mary. Rather, it's that of the martyr St. Rita, whose many misfortunes included the death of her husband and sons. At any rate, you can visit this mysterious image at the Church of Divine Providence in the eastern town of Maria, Siquijor.
The Taong-Tuod of Maria
But St. Rita isn't the only attraction in the town of Maria. If you ask the locals where the taong tuod ("man tree") is, they will take you to a forest towards a tree that eerily resembles a man. Like the balete tree in Campalanas, the taong tuod is said to be home to spirits, and you'd do well to ask permission from them before you take any photographs or get too close to the tree.
At the center of Siquijor is Mt. Bandilaan, the highest point on the island. It's a good place to visit during Holy Week, because you can watch Siquijor's famous sorcerers, shamans and witches in action. But even if you can't visit the mountain during that time, no worries: The peak provides a great view of the entirety of Siquijor nonetheless.
Of Dancing Dolls and Magic Balls
Siquijor's sorcerers have been extensively studied by paranormal researchers like Jaime Licauco, who wrote about them here. Aside from the mananambals (healers) and mambabarangs (sorcerers who use barang beetles to inflict harm on people), Licauco also mentions practitioners of bolo-bolo and dancing dolls.
In bolo-bolo, the practitioner fills a glass with water and a black ball, blows in it through a straw and walks around a patient repeatedly. If the water remains clear, the patient is healthy. But if the water becomes murky, or it starts to fill with mysterious objects, it means the patient is sick, and the bolo-bolo practitioner has to repeat the procedure until the water clears up.
The dancing doll phenomenon, on the other hand, is more straightforward. With three pieces of bamboo, the practitioner rhythmically beats the ground and makes his paper dolls dance. Some say there's a trick to this, and that the practitioner is in fact using undetectable strings to manipulate the dolls, but this has yet to be proven.
Siquijor's Other Wonders
Aside from the mystical attractions mentioned above, Siquijor is also home to beautiful beaches, friendly people and a low crime rate. Perhaps the island owes its beauty to the powerful sorcerers who keep watch over it; perhaps not. In any case, why not add Isla del Fuego to your itinerary this year? You might just have the supernatural experience of a lifetime.