11.22.2009

The Cubrant and Portuguese Witch Doctors

Informant: Various/Individuals 25–65/Portuguese ancestry
Location: Various locations, Kauai

My family has always been devout Catholic throughout the generations. We’ve never been the type to believe in hocus pocus. My family came to Hawaii from Madeira and the Azores, Portugal, and with them they brought unconventional practices that mingled with their conventional religiousness.

There is a term that I have grown up all my life hearing: Cubrant. Roll your tongue when you say it, so it sounds a little more like “cublant.” I have no idea if I am spelling this right or not, as none of us have ever seen it written anywhere. This word roughly translates into “curse,” carrying much of the same meaning as the Japanese word “bachi.” I usually hear this word jokingly, when I hear someone saying something like “She put the cubrant on me!” I had never heard it used seriously, but the cubrant is not always a laughing matter.

When I was young, whenever I was in a stressful situation my stomach would double me over in pain. It was some sort of psychological response turned physical whenever something upset me. I was taken to doctors but nothing they gave me helped the pain or made it go away. Finally, deciding that someone had possibly put the cubrant on me, my parents took me to a Portuguese witch doctor.

I remember going into her house and being led to her bedroom. There, she made me lie down and proceeded to rub my stomach with oil (I believe it was olive oil). She massaged my stomach and prayed for I don’t know how long. What I didn’t know was that my mom brought with her the shirt that I had worn all day, because she needed something that contained my sweat. As payment she brought various things like canned foods, or a dozen eggs. Portuguese witch doctors never accepted money.

After I visited her, I never got stomach pains again.

When my older sister was younger, she had what my family called “opu huli,” which pretty much translates into “flipped stomach.” Another stomach ailment. My sister went to an Aunt of ours (who had died by the time I was born) who was also a Portuguese witch doctor. My mom brought her the shirt my sister wore all day, and again brought food as payment. She massaged my sister’s stomach with oil and prayed over her too, and she too was cured of the cubrant.

My dad remembers his father going to her for some sort of ailment, but he can’t remember what. What he does remember, though, is his dad sitting on a chair with a glass of water on his head. And this glass of water started bubbling. He also saw her put a candle under a glass and put it onto stomachs. This created a vacuum of sorts. It was said to relieve gas pains. The Chinese also do this in their folk medicine.

When my dad was younger, he went to this same aunt for a broken finger, which she massaged into place. These witch doctors were available for any sort of ailments, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at any time of the day or night.

My mother asked a cousin why she didn’t become a witch doctor too, and she replied “You can’t just become one. You either have it or you don’t.” I haven’t seen or heard of one since my childhood, and I don’t know if they exist here on the island anymore. I wish I knew what they were traditionally called. But I hope that there is someone out there still perpetuating this strange and wonderful part of Portuguese culture and folklore.

5 comments:

stephengomesjr said...

I can totally relate to this type of upbringing. My family is also portuguese in hawaii by way of azores! It is funny to here someone else say it out loud.

Anonymous said...

I too had boosh (spelling?) huli stomach and live here in Hawaii. There is a lady here on the Big Island that rubs.

Anonymous said...

i can relate to this a lot. when i met my boyfriend and his family and got to know them, they willingly letted me move into there house. My daughter (who had just turned 2 months when i met my boyfriend) was always a heavy sleeper. she slept through the whole night and woke up with in the 5oh clock hour. but the longer i stood here, everything about her changed. my bf had a girlfriend who had done a lot of bad things in his house and left a bad spirit when they had broken up. and that spirit was trying to get at my daughter. every day my daughter would scream, she couldnt sleep, she would always wake up at 3, on the dot, and i didnt know what was wrong. then my bf had asked me one night if i ever heard of cubrat, and in response i said no. he explained to me what it was and asked me if his grandma could pray my daughter, and i letted her do so. As she went into a quit room to pray, i began to yawn a lot. one after another after another. and my bf had told me "yup she get cubrant" as my bfs grandma was praying she still was fussy but quited down after a while. and then she had fallen asleep on her own and slept through the whole night. i was amazed at this. but till today, i try not to take my daughter out as much because anybody could give my daughter cubrant just by looking at her. people i dont know always tells me "awwww she has such pretty eyes" or "oh my gosh shes so adorable". but then again i do not want her sheltered. till thus day i can tell when she has cubrant by her cries. and i call my bfs grandma and i ask her to please pray my daughter. and she does so and lets me know when she is done. my daughter (now 5 months old) loves my bfs grandma and knows when shes around. she always smiles at her and wants to go to her. im so blessed to have her in my life as we live in a world full of hatred people who try to hate on us. i reside on the big island, in hilo town. and i love my bfs grandma for always making things better just with a simple prayer :)

Anonymous said...

i am surprised that there isn't more information about this on the internet. i am of hawaiian/ portuguese descent and my grandmother was one of the fabled "witch doctors". she and my granfather's families were from the azores, she grew up in kaneohe, oahu. my family moved to california in the 60's. i now live in LA and don't know any old-school portuguese folks i can ask about this stuff. what brought me here is a friend of mine (who knew my grandmother) called me and she thinks someone put cubrant on her...and since my grandma used to take care of it for us she thought i could help. i tried looking up some reference materials for her, but nothing. i just remember my grandmother saying a prayer over a glass of water then putting oil in the water and if the oil sank (which i saw it do a few times) you had a curse. this led to her needing a sweaty shirt from the cursed and saying lots of prayers. that's all i really remember. lots of people from the neighborhood came to her for help. and she would send them home curse free, with a home made sweet bread. if anyone knows a good source of info (just so i can know something about my family's heritage) can you please post a link? thank you!

seal'd said...

I am of Filipino desent, and I too remember as a kids (30 years ago) seeing my little cousin, who had the 'upsidedown' stomach, get rubbed and massaged by a an old Filipino lady 'witch doctor'. I remember she was super old looking, and the atmosphere during her visit was like hush-hush and secretive, but was I fascinated especially that she really did cure my cousins sickness. And that was also the one and last time I've met a witch doctor.