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.


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.

Anonymous said...

I am Portuguese/Filipino my father was half Portuguese and half Filipino my mom was a mix of Portuguese and some other nationality's, I remember my Grandma praying for people usually only family with a water glass on top of the person with a headache I went to see and she sort of growled get out of here one of the rare times my Grandmother ever did that and I ran off to play in her taro patch I loved the run off ditch but I remember her there with a saucer on the persons head and the glass bubbling supposedly to relive migraine headaches I say supposedly being I abandoned one of the biggest parts of my heritage and left the catholic church and became a Christian and the bible says do not associate with witches or those with a familiar sprit I have gone with my mom to Pray and exercise a demon that got in a little 13 yr. old girl now she was barely 100 lbs. wet yet because of the demon in her she tossed me like a rag doll and I am a 240 lb. guy so that was impossible for this little girl yet she did it because she played with some wicca stuff that other girls were doing so for this Portuguese I will put my faith in Jesus Christ and leave fatsadas alone yes a Portuguese witch is called a fatsada if my memory serves right I learned of the word through a glen grant book and according to the story there was a dog catcher in the 30s or earlier he killed a dog with BAD mange from what the story said the owner was a fatsada and she cursed him and to this day his descendants cant own dogs without the dog dyeing of something or another and asked my uncle who speaks Portuguese what was fatsada to see pretending I knew nothing and he said a witch then quickly changed the subject as if it was something not to be spoken about

Anonymous said...

my spelling may be wrong on fatsada but that's about as good as I can remember the spelling from the story in the book it was almost 15 years ago

Anonymous said...

i also forgot my Grandma growled get out of here to me because she told me later the headache she was removing would come to me and being I ran to the taro patch to play she was content I was far away enough

Kateri Tennberg said...

Wow Anon, those are some pretty crazy stories!

Anonymous said...

Living in Hawaii and being of Hawaiian and Portuguese descent, the "feiticeira" or witch in Portuguese, was a very taboo subject. My grandma on my mothers side would say that they are evil, and that they read tarot cards and can put curses on people. Although my grandmother on my fathers side had a totally different opinion on the subject. She said her grandmother who adopted or who had "hanai" my grandmother was of full Portuguese descent but was raised in Hawaii and the Hawaiian ways of life. She told me that her grandmother was a feitceira AND a devout Catholic. She said her grandmother used certain "prayers" to do or achieve certain things, but never for evil. But thats just my personal experience with the whole subject. From Wai'anae, O'ahu by the way!

Courandeira said...

The correct spelling is Feitseira which means one with the evil eye.
A witch is called a Bruxa (pronounced Broosha)
A Courandeira is a healer of the body or performs exorcism on the possessed soul.
A Mulher de Boush, or Bush lady as she is called in Hawaii, is a Courandeira who heals stomach ailments through massage and prayer.
My grandmother said that the Feitseiras are always the first in the church and the last to leave. If you put a silver coin in the holy water phone at the entrance of the church the Feitseira cannot pass through. Do the same at home and no evil will come into your home.
Feliz Dia de Bruxa! (Happy Halloween or Happy day of the witch!)
Laura Paresa
Maui Portuguese Cultural Club

Kateri T said...

Thank you for that info, Courandeira! Now I know what these things are called and how they are spelled!

Sunshine Aloha said...

Can help me find someone here in Honolulu Hawaii i seriously need help my mother put a curse on me since i was a child thank you

Anonymous said...

How can I speak with a feiticeira on the Big Island?

Anonymous said...

Per my grandmother, the feiticeira were fairy's.

Unknown said...

This is all interesting! My Ohana Portuguese is from São Miguel in the Açores too. My mom tells stories as a keiki of watching healing by a grand aunt who was what we called a white witch or healer did all the things spoken here. The boiling water forehead prayers, oils, candle glass, and for keiki the stomach turn "Vinvaroush"(sp?).

My mom tells me she was to get my grea great grandpas power as a feiticeiro/bruxa a black witch who had the power of vibrant. But my Vovo told my nana not to let her on my GG Grandpas death bed because he wanted to pass his power to her. It was told when he died in California where my family moved and they entered the room a murder of crows flew out the room! Chicken skin fo' sure! But most was good for midwives and healing. Also part Filipino and Hawaiian had kahuna and witch doctor healers with Anting anting! Aloha!

Unknown said...

Do you know of any white witches in hawaii? Are white witches also called feiticeira? I'd like to speak to one. For help my family came from Azores & Medeira thank you

Anonymous said...

Wow , I have read most of these posts and am amazed that the Azorean culture goes that far back in Hawaii. I was born in Sao Miguel Azores left there when I was 7 when we moved to Canada. I was brought up around witches and healers but I didn't pay much attention to it as it seemed like the norm in my culture. Anytime something went wrong or some one was sick off they went to a witch or healer, though it fascinated me when I got older no one really liked to talk about it, the prayers used in rituals are all secret and the spells and concoctions are never talked about out loud. I have seen good and kinda bad or rather strange things in my life. My mother has the gift of sight and reading cards but she stayed away from that stuff most of her life my father was what I consider now a type of healer, he too saw things and heard things. So many stories about them living in haunted house where the furniture would move around but no one around anymore to tell me the actual facts to these stories. If you visit Portugal or the Azores islands today you can still find these witches and healers today but its still very much kept a secret, I have never been able to find books or any type of writings on this topic. I do know of one book that was used for good and evil witchcraft called the Oracoes a Sao Cipriano.This topic is definitely one I wish had more research as I believe it is still very much alive today just that the witches and healers are still very private and secretive, which makes me wonder could they be the real deal because they are kept so secret. Anyway it was great to read about this, it isn't something people talk about anymore. I think I come from a bloodline of Bruxas but I cant be sure just a gut feeling I have had all my life but never acted on.

Witch- Bruxa
Healer- Curador
Evil Eye- Olho Maligno
I still remember all these words as if it were yesterday.

Kateri said...

@Anonymous that is fascinating! I hope i'm not breaking some sort of taboo by writing about it. I'd love to go to the Azores some day and maybe find out some more information about this topic as it has always interested me!