The Lost Charm

Dis­ap­pointed, my Tatay re­solved to for­get the whole Leyte af­fair, never to hear from his un­cle again. The dis­pute over their in­her­i­tance may have cat­alyzed my Lolo’s de­ci­sion to de sert Leyte and se­vere ties with Mondo for­ever.

Palawan News - - OPINION -

My late fa­ther’s brother, had some vivid mem­o­ries of my Lolo ( grand­fa­ther), Paulino Bar­cos, Sr. He once men­tioned that Paulino and Mondo, his older brother, had a strife. Paulino left and trav­eled south where he tried to raise a fam­ily; Mondo and Leyte were al­most for­got­ten as my fa­ther and un­cle grew up on an­other is­land. Mondo was a tam­balan or spirit medium who held apungs ( gather­ing), a rit­ual of be­stow­ing charms to fa­vored in­di­vid­u­als. Most tam­bal­ans in­her­ited their sta­tus from an older tam­balan they were ap­pren­ticed to. Blood­lines were par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in choos­ing an ap­pren­tice to con­tinue the craft. Shamans in pre- colo­nial Filipino com­mu­ni­ties were con­sid­ered very spe­cial per­sons, high­lyre­spected in their com­mu­ni­ties and king­doms who were con­sid­ered spir­i­tual lead­ers, psy­chopomps, heal­ers, seers. Sooner or later, as an adult, my fa­ther learned of the then- liv­ing mys­ti­cal kin. Cu­ri­ous, he vis­ited Leyte and hoped to re­ceive one bir­tud or charm ( vir­tud in Span­ish mean­ing power). He also wanted to per­suade his un­cle to share with him the prop­erty that Paulino had left, of which he felt he had the pat­ri­mo­nial hered­i­tary right. Upon my fa­ther’s ar­rival, he was sur­prised when he was sum­moned although not send­ing a tele­gram to in­form any­one of his visit days be­fore the dreaded By­ernes Santo night of the Se­m­ana Santa. ( Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, By­ernes Santo is when God al­lows the spir­its to roam freely and can be lured, cap­tured, har­nessed and en­slaved by the brave and mighty.) My fa­ther felt ghoul­ish once face- to- face with Mondo. His un­cle was ap­a­thetic and never in­quired about his younger brother’s death. The awaited Fri­day night pro­ceeded with a huge bon­fire. A na­tive pig was slaugh­tered with en­trails blood and bone of­fered to please the deities. Rel­a­tives from sur­round­ing ar­eas be­gan to show up hop­ing for a bir­tud. The tam­balan read orasyon from his small book of chants while be­ing served rice liquor which in­tox­i­cated him heav­ily. Hys­te­ria and ex­or­cism fol­lowed as he was tied tightly around a huge co­conut tree fronting the blaze. Dif­fer­ent voices bat­tled for pos­ses­sion of his body un­til he fell ‘ dead’ calm. Mondo, by that point loos­ened from the ropes, would grab some­thing from the air and em­bed it unto the body of the kin re­quest­ing it. Each per­son was granted only one bir­tud. No more no less. My Tatay had this crazy idea of ask­ing for the bir­tud ni San David which is be­lieved to lure any woman one fan­cies. He stood in line but Mondo’s ( or the de­mons’) re­sponse was to con­sult a higher ‘ spirit’ first. ‘ Ridicu­lous!’, my fa­ther snorted. ‘ Pend­ing for Ap­proval’. Later that night he re­ceived the an­swer… Ac­cess De­nied! The next day as soon as Mondo sobered up, my fa­ther asked him for the share of land. His re­sponse was a sim­ple No. The awk­ward re­union ended cold. Dis­ap­pointed, my Tatay re­solved to for­get the whole Leyte af­fair, never to hear from his un­cle again. The dis­pute over their in­her­i­tance may have cat­alyzed my Lolo’s de­ci­sion to desert Leyte and se­vere ties with Mondo for­ever. r was it? My grand­fa­ther crossed the Suri­gao Strait. A body of wa­ter in Pi­noy su­per­sti­tion is a cleans­ing power that reaches beyond the phys­i­cal body. It cleanses our spirit. I won­dered if my Lolo crossed those deep wa­ters as a sym­bol of de­lib­er­ately cross­ing off the whole div­ina­tion busi­ness. In a way, he turned his back on his roots, fam­ily, and her­itage. He mi­grated – away from the chains of spiritism and bro­ken free from the enslaving tra­di­tion of serv­ing en­ti­ties. Chang­ing his name from Bar­cos to Bal­cos would con­ceal his affin­ity to oc­cultism as he in­te­grated into a ‘ new’ so­ci­ety. He would as­sume a new iden­tity and start afresh in a new land.

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