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Silebra I Chamorro: the healing powers of the suruhana

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Biba Mes Chamoru! We here at KUAM take pride in the local culture and for Chamorro month we will put our team to the test. We are celebrating the history and culture by showing you the traditional ways.

When I was young and got sick, my parents always gave me a choice - the clinic or the Suruhana. Surprisingly, I'd pick the latter...probably because the lady looked a lot like my grandmother, which automatically made her less scary than the doctor. I remember going to the woman's home, drinking a nasty-tasting concoction, and spending the rest of my visit throwing-up on the side of her home - like everyone else was at this woman's house, which I believed must've been covered in strangers' vomit.

As an adult, when I get sick, I pick the former. I go to the doctor, then the pharmacy and spend lots of money on pills and creams for whatever ailment I'm suffering at the moment.

What I learned in my recent trip to Sagan Kotturan Chamoru is we don't really call them suruhanas anymore - the preferred name is "yo'amte" which means "healer" in Chamorro.

At Guma Yo'amte in Tamuning, Yo'amte Frances Meno toured me around their modest garden, each plant serving a purpose. After they're pounded down and boiled or burned, they can clear congestion, earaches, and encourage fertility. Auntie Frances' specialty, however, is spiritual healing. "I can sense if you have a follower or there's something," she explained.

And no, she's not talking about Instagram followers. She's referring to spirits...some can bring great distress to an individual - be it nightmares or sores - she's seen it all. These are the followers you get when you've disrespected our ancestors. Though the remedy varies, it often involves a special kind of coconut oil and plenty of chanting.

"A lot of the non-believers, I'm not saying for everyone to believe, but eventually they do believe when it happens to them," she said.

And, just when I thought exorcisms were only in the movies, Auntie Frances said, "I've done exorcism but I've stopped. I've done it where the spirit will get into that individual person's body."

While she helps to administer the healing, Auntie Frances won't take the credit, pointing to the sky as she said, "The one that does the healing is the one up there. He's the healer. To me, God is the healer. 0149 and then you still have to think of your ancestors to heal to."

Each Yo'amte has a different healing ability. For Yo'amte Betty Malakai, she has the gift of touch. "It's a gift and learned from the families that pass it on - even though you want to run away from it, you cannot because it's already in the blood," she said.

Many of the people who seek her help are expectant mothers with breached babies. Auntie Betty can turn the baby in the right position and avoid a c-section. "Sometimes when I touch their body I can tell and know what part of the body I need to start at for them to relieve the problem that they have," she said.

Because they're not licensed doctors, I had to ask: what do they call their clients? Yo'amte Susan Aguon tells me, saying, "I call them my guests because they came to see me. And they are ailing, not feeling good, or have had traumas and ailments that has not gone away, and they are seeking the right kind of help."

Whatever ailment you're suffering, Auntie Susan recommends you see a licensed doctor first. "I strongly suggest that they have gone through that because I want to rule out the fact that if there's anything broken in their bones or things that western medicine can take care of, I prefer that they do. Follow through with that," she said.

But, will this Chamoru tradition survive the 21st Century? Apprentice Jonah Cabiles hopes so. The 22-year-old recently returned to Guam, wanting to connect with his roots. "This pre-dates western medicine. Our ancestors were able to live off the land and I think preserving that knowledge is very important, especially now when that might be in danger in a few generations," he said.

It wasn't until the cameras were off did I really believe in the healing abilities of Yo'amte. As we said our goodbyes, Auntie Susan pulled me in for a long embrace and whispered in my ear... while we'll keep what she said to me a secret, I left covered in tears - feeling happy that a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Let's just say, you have to feel it to believe it.

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