Friday, November 30, 2007

APONG LIWLIWA

Abet never saw him wearing slippers or shoes except on Saturdays when he attend the Sabadista church on top of the hill beside Apong Ino’s big house.

Most of the time, he goes walking barefoot around Almaguer with his crooked bamboo cane, as if in an eternal journey, his presence announced by the sudden escalation of frightened howls and yelps from the barrio’s canine population who seemed incapable of liking him.

It may be the way he looked --- the leathery wrinkled skin, a pronounced stoop, bowed legs, and a blind milky white right eye --- which has earned him second spot behind the kumaw as the favorite boggart used to force Almaguer’s children into their noontime siesta.

He just don’t like children it seems with Abet and what would be the Samahang Dilim having their fair share of being chased away and threatened with that crooked bamboo cane for no apparent reason.

Perhaps because he and his elfish wife never have children running around their small but neat bungalow-type house nestled on the slope of the hill just below Apong Ino’s big house; or his frustration and anger of not having a son who will carry on his name, or a daughter who will look after them in their golden years.

But what really made him a barrio legend, at least among the children of Almaguer, is his galing-galing.

He is said to be able to drink gallons of water and is so heavy that cars and tricycles will suddenly have flat tires once he rides on them.

Abet heard that his favorite prank is to ask for a sip of water that those who go to work in the fields carry with them in orange or red plastic kerosene containers, which he will drain in one drinking leaving nothing for the flustered host/s who have to fetch a new supply in the barrio which is a good walking away; or asking for a ride from the tricycle drivers who will later wonder why all 3 tires went flat at the same time.

The legend has grown to a point where those in the fields would politely decline his request for water and the tricycle drivers his request for a ride.

And it seems to be a good joke he shared with them as indicated by the smiles and laughter that would punctuate every request and denial.

The last time Abet saw him was during Amang Lakay’s wake.

Apong Liwliwa died shortly after.

Then his elfish wife too.

Bertong Langis noticed that their house on the hill slope is gone the last time he dropped by in Almaguer.

He wondered where Apong Liwliwa’s galing-galing was passed on…


PHOTOS (top to bottom):
CAINTA, RIZAL: The town was established in 1571 and its church completed in 1715 by the Jesuits. The church was seriously damaged during World War II and has been rebuilt with only the outer walls remaining of the old structure. It underwent a restoration process after the war which lasted until 1968.

TAYTAY, RIZAL. The first church was built of light materials in 1579 along the coast of the Manila de Bay. Because of threats from frequent floods, the church was relocated to its present site by Fr. Pedro Chirino (SJ) in 1591where another church was probably built 8 years later. This was replaced in 1603 by the first stone church to be built outside Manila. A new and bigger church was built by Fr. Juan de Salazar in 1630. This was damaged by a typhoon in 1632 and repaired by the seculars in 1768 then by the Augustinian Recollects in 1864. The church was burned down in 1899 during the Filipino-American War, probably rebuilt, and enlarged in the 1970s during which the remnants of the previous structures were incorporated into the fa├žade.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

SERGEANT A. AND THE MANGGAGAMUDS OF ALMAGUER

The house is a 2-storey affair: galvanized iron roof with patches of earthy red where the rust has set; unpainted wooden planks grayed by time and exposure to the elements; the ground floor hollow blocked much later, added as an afterthought like the protruding extension for the kitchen. It was much like Amang Lakay’s and all the middle class houses in Almaguer. It is tucked in a street corner beside the small church, a huge mango tree standing guard in the front yard, which Abet and the Samahang Dilim always passed by when they go roaming in the laud.

Napigsa ti gamud na, Insan”, RR of the Samahang Dilim told him one day, referring to the small old woman with graying hair and Chinese eyes in the house-beside-the-church-with-a-big-mango-tree-in-front, while they were lolling in Manong Van’s covered banauang bridge, passing a single stick of Hope menthol cigarette between them. Abet stared at the house. There’s nothing sinister about it. The old woman may look like a witch but she ain’t one as far as he is concerned. No, he don’t believe in gamuds and silently sneers at the neighbors who place thorny potted plants in their front yards and bullets in their pockets to ward away the evil of the manggagamud. Not until Sergeant A came along.

Auntie Ibang brought Sergeant A to Almaguer from Fort Magsaysay. The medium-built, fair skinned, and almost brooding sergeant is supposed to be an expert in exorcising the spell of manggagamuds. The hollow blocked ground floor of Amang Lakay’s GI-roofed and wooden planked house served as the exorcism room. Sergeant A would place something between the toes of his patients and they would blabber away, supposedly possessed by the manggagamuds who jinxed them. That is how the manggagamuds get caught.

JD of the Samahang Dilim and his sisters were supposedly jinxed by their own aunt. So is Manang Baning --- sister-in-law to the aunt --- who then went around Almaguer after the supposed exorcism, carrying with her a sefia photograph of her child who died supposedly because of her hipag’s gamud. And there was that unforgettable episode with JD’s father.

Ukinnam Patupat, aramidek nga camel diyay bakam!”, that’s JD’s father (or Patupat which is his birnas) cursing himself while under the spell of Sergeant A. The voice is supposedly that of Manong Milo, a bachelor who lives with his brother and sister in a small house behind the small church that is beside the house-beside-the-church-with-a-big-mango-tree-in-front, and whom Manong Patupat entrusted a cow as a pataraken. Manong Patupat later rushed to Manong Milo’s house after the exorcism session but he is not there.

A day after, Manang Liming who is JD’s aunt, Manang Baning’s hipag, Manong Patupat’s sister, and Abet’s capidua came to see Sergeant A in Amang Lakay’s house. The sergeant supposedly commanded her to come during yesterday’s exorcism rites so he can cure her. They spent time cloistered with Auntie Ibang inside the kamalig where Abet saw egg yolks being thrown out. When they came out, Auntie Ibang happily told those anxiously waiting in Amang Lakay’s compound that Manang Liming’s power of the gamud has been exorcised.

These proofs made Abet a believer (he is sure his cabagyans and capiduas could not have been acting during the exorcism rites). But he still has his doubts. Perhaps it is because Manong Lito, despite his faults, just does not fit in as a manggagamud. And Manang Liming, snakelike eyes that seem to bore and all, is a close family relative. During the last night wake for Abet’s mother, Manang Liming came and hugged him tightly. It was a cold night but Abet felt the warm and true emotions of his capidua. He hugged her back.
Many years later, Abet was invited as a resource person on campus journalism in Fort Magsaysay and would again meet Sergeant A. “I’m trying to get a college degree. Para pa-promote naman,” Sergeant A told him. Abet forgot to ask the sergeant how many gamuds and manggagamuds he has healed since their Almaguer meeting.
PHOTOS (top to bottom):
BAGABAG, NUEVA VIZCAYA. The town was first established in 1743 as an ecclesiastical mission for the Dominican’s attempt to subjugate the proud Ifugaos. By 1746, parochial buildings were reported to be existing and probably replaced by bigger and stronger structures between 1777 and 1794 by Fr. Alejandro Vidal (OP) then Fr. Juan del Rey (OP). These were razed by fire in 1839 and rebuilt, including the unfinished bell tower, by Fr. Raimundo Gonzalo (OP) and Fr. Remigio del Alamo (OP).
KIANGAN, IFUGAO. Kiangan’s American colonial era UCCP church was built by the American missionary Myrtle Metzger in 1926 upon the establishment of the nearby Ifugao Academy --- the first high school in the province. (3) Its St. Joseph’s church is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Ifugao and was built in 1910 by Fr. Jerome Moerman.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

THE GHOSTS OF OUIDAH

He reached Ouidah after an hour of travelling from Cotonou. It is an old settlement having been established in the 15th century by Ahoho who worship Dangbe the python. The air and relics speak of the legends from the past; of a shameful history that enriched the colonial powers of old Europe at the expense of millions of Africans. Ouidah was a slave trading post.

While the tourist bus wandered and the driver and the tour guide argued on where to go, he feasted on the flashing images of Ouidah: colonial designed houses with whitewashed walls of packed red earth, cobbled streets and neat little shops, ramrod straight and bare breast women walking and balancing heavy loads on their heads, the occasional Caucasian tourist in shorts and sandals and de rigueur camera. Then it popped out from nowhere, a beautiful anomaly in the movie he was watching.

The dominant and elegant Basilica of Ouidah is definitely French in the style of the Rheims Cathedral. He never knew it was there, and the suddenness of its appearance transformed the next moments into a surreal experience punctuated by the maniacal clicking of his Nikon D40. Until a hissing sound woke him from his moment of stupor. He felt the dry wind prodding him, outside the churchyard, across the street, to a decrepit enclosure. He found himself in an ancient Vodoun temple which the imposing Basilica failed to exorcise.


That is when he saw them: a bare young boy huddled in a dark corner with his almost naked mother and father. They started walking down the street, the man carrying his son and followed by his wife. He started walking too, amused at the eerie and light feeling that suddenly enveloped him but confused by his helplessness. He was led into the market where those that he followed disappeared into the maze of humanity before showing themselves again as they enter the gate of the Portuguese fort. He was drawn inside too, enjoying a moment of sanity in the shadows of an old chapel before going into a burst of fleeting exhilaration which transported him to a giant tree where he saw them again --- the man and his wife --- walking around, as if lost, as if in a soulless trance.


Then they picked the sleeping child and went their way, disappearing for moment in a patch of complete darkness, reappearing like ghosts, and continuing their journey until coming to another tree where they again performed the odd ritual of going around it. He was about to ask about the child who is no longer with them but a thousand tiny pythons came off his mouth as he tried to speak. That is when he saw the heavy manacles bruising their wrists and ankles, and the silent tears that poured from their empty eye sockets. They walked to the sea behind an invisible door that slammed the past behind them. Forever. The salty water parted to take them in. He strained his eyes to their journey until they disappeared. He felt cold…






PHOTOS (top to bottom):
(1) The Basilica of Ouidah was built in the early 20th century in front of (2) the Temple of Pythons where a Vodoun priest regularly commune with the spirit of Dangbe. The voodoo practice of the
Caribbean was introduced by slaves originating from what is now the Republic of Benin
(3) The chapel of the old Portuguese fort was built in 1856. The fort is one of the 5 that were built by the Portuguese, the French, English, Dutch and Danes as their slave trade posts. Only the Portuguese fort remained and when the newly independent state of Benin asked for a discussion of the fort’s status, the angry Portuguese burned it to the ground in 1961 during Benin’s first independence day celebration. It has been restored and is now the Historic Museum of Ouidah.
(4) The slaves would circle the Tree of Hope 3 times in the hope of coming back. It is the fifth stop in Ouidah’s La Route des Esclaves (The Route of Slaves) that commenced in the slave market where the slaves are sold, then the forts where they stayed in dark rooms called Zomais to prepare them for their sea journey to the Americas, then the Tree of Forgetfulness where they went around 9 times (7 times for the women) to symbolically forget everything about their origin. Those who will not survive are buried in the mass grave before the Tree of Hope.
(5) The Door of No Return leads to the ships that took the slaves across the Atlantic Ocean. (6) A voodoo temple now stands guard in the hallowed grounds of the Door of Nor return that has been declared as a UNESCO heritage site. Slavery was proposed by a priest and adviser to the Spanish court, Fr. Bartholome Las Cassas, to provide the labor for developing the New World of the Americas and was authorized by Pope Nicolas V on 08 January 1454. It was abolished in all of the English colonies in 1833, in all of the French colonies in 1848, in the United States in 1865, in Cuba in 1886, and in Brazil in 1888.
(7) A Beninese in a pensive mood along the Atlantic coast of the Door of No Return, as if waiting for those who went and never came back many years ago.
(8) Petrol or gas is sold on street stands like this beside a colonial era Beninese house in Ouidah.
(MAIN REFERENCE: Martin de Souza’s “Ouidah: A Bit of History”)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

SLEEPLESS IN BENIN

Finally, a non-Asian visa.

I was invited to attend the Africa and culminating round of the International Network of Alternative Financing Institutions’ (INAFI) global conference on microfinance, migration and development on 4-13 November of this year in Cotonou, Benin. I was also a participant in the previous Asian round that was held in Tagaytay, Philippines in 2006, and would have given a foot to attend the Latin American and first round that was held in Zacatecas, Mexico in 2004.

I did not sleep much on the eve of my departure and have to perk (and treat) myself to a despedida lunch of soya chicken mami on my way to the airport the following day. It is a special occasion for me having fulfilled 3 longstanding wishes: (1) to be out of country at least once a year, (2) a non-Asian visa finally pasted in my passport, and (3) going to Africa. (These are actually a great leap from my single pre-2002 wish of having my passport marked before expiring, which I upped to having a visa because all my travels before 2005 were in southeast Asia that do not require one, which led me to my non-Asian travel wish. Yeah, I just upgraded my wish list to include travels to Europe and North/Latin America and Australia and Antarctica because the aim now is to have the bragging right of having been to the 7 continents). The mami did not fit for the occasion but it is pansit so it will do.

It was a long and sleepless flight. Manila to Hongkong is almost 2 hours and we have to kill 3 hours at the Chep Lap Kok airport for the connecting flight to Paris. Which is a good thing because we stumbled on the Taiwan Beef Noodle restaurant, self-proclaimed King of Beef Noodles with a prominently displayed 2006 King of Catering medallion, where my boss treated me to a huge bowl of beef spare ribs noodles. Then a 13-hour haul shooting across 7 time zones which tested the flexibility of my body clock. The Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was a disappointment because the restaurant in our terminal do not have noodles in its menu. And we have 7 hours to count off before the plane to Cotonou.


There is not much in Cotonou but Hotel Du Lac where we stayed is along the Oueme River as it empties into the Atlantic Ocean offering a great view on all sides. The Cotonou time zone (-7 hours to Manila time) is yet to sink into my psyche so I pulled through my first night surfing the French language TV programs, counting the lights of the ships moored in the Atlantic coast, reading Harry Potter’s encounter with Sirius Black, and answering the crossword puzzles I brought along. At 5 am, I went down to the al fresco restaurant and took my first photo of a fisherman in a boat crossing the river mouth. The buildings across the river are still asleep and the lights of the Ancien Pont Bridge is faintly etched on the water.
The next nights are not any better but the daily 10-minute nap during the ride from the hotel to the Palais des Congres where the conference was held is enough to recharge me. Perhaps it is the energy of the century-old Notre Dame des Apotres across the bridge, vibrant and noticeable in its alternating red and white color, pulsating through my sleeplessness every time I passed through. Or the pansit that was served on the second day of the conference which tempered our protein-heavy fare.


My body clock finally adjusted to the Cotonou time. But then, it’s time to go home…

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Soya chicken mami at the NLEX, (2) my boss working on a bowl of noodles at Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok airport, (3) the sun rising at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, (4) the mouth of the Oueme River and Atlantic Ocean as seen from Hotel Du Lac, (5) pretty Beninese mademoiselles who served as conference ushers, (6) Beninese lunch with pansit, and (7) Cotonou’s 105-year old Notre Dame des Apotres.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

UNDAS

As a child growing up in Almaguer, undas for Abet is that part of the year when roasting tupig pervades the air and every house has a kankanin to give. He envied his cousins who would go to the municipal cemetery on a mountain slope in the ili to clean and paint the tombs of those who passed away. He would always tag along.

Abet’s family have their share of deaths but they seem not be so much enamored in that undas thing. Perhaps it was the Sabadista in them. When he was older, he and his brother Eric would search for the almost forgotten tomb of their younger sister who died when they were practically babies and paint it with what’s left of the white latex they were given (and paid for) for somebody else’s nitso. They would badger Precy to pay Manong Rolly for the lettering work --- the name of the dead plus the date of birth and death at one peso per letter/number with an ornamental cross drawing (there is a bunch of flowers sometimes) and the usual R.I.P. initials as bonuses.

They tried looking for Lola Senang’s middle class tomb too but there was somebody else inside. The nitso has been sold and they don’t know where the bones were moved. Then Lolo Porong’s pauper grave but they can’t remember where he’s been buried; the markings on the wooden crosses sticking from the sticky red earth in disorganized tilts have faded with time and forgetfulness.

In Mapandan, Abet once escaped from the Saturday church service to collect molten wax to sell and hawk candles in the cemetery near the Sabadista complex where they lived. “Kandel! Kandel! Kandel!” he was shouting dressed in his church finery when Precy found him. He got a good whipping for that.

Much later, he would be a regular at Manong Ireneo’s splendid army tomb with his cousins and Samahang Dilim cohorts Ruben and Junie (6 foot tall and talented basketeer Manong Ireneo died in an ambush in Patikul, Jolo at the age of 19). But really, he was drawn there more by the military emblems that attract the attention of the ballasitangs and babbalasangs.

In 2004, Precy died of colon cancer. A vault was built on top of Kid Buntal’s tomb in Almaguer’s own cemetery (Amang Lakay was the first to be buried there). There she was interred along with the remains of her daughter from the ili’s cemetery. The nitso was covered with a tile finish. There will be no annual paint jobs. And the names and dates with a very Sabadista “See You in the Resurrection Morning” epitaph were carved in a granite slab. Manong Rolly have migrated to the States.



This year’s undas is the second in a row that Abet missed after the death of his parents. He was in Japan the last time. This year, he is busy preparing for a trip to Benin. He ain’t forgetting though. He always drops by during every trip to the North. But he misses the tupig terribly. Pansit has become the undas staple.

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Eric at Amang Lakay’s tomb; the top portion would be later occupied by Uncle Kidlat. (2) Inang Baket’s tomb before the great flood of 2005. (3) Manong Ireneo's military tomb in the ili. (4-5) Cousins Balong (left) and Anong (right) atop their grandparents and tita’s tomb. (6) Ghosts in a playful mood at the terrace of our house in Bacal 2 on the night of Halloween 2005 (from left): Tita Em-em, Bulan, Balong, Bokyo, Tita Tess, Nana (partially hidden).