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.