Monday, April 14, 2008

“PATAO” ( A WITCHES' SYMBOL?)


I grew up in the hinterlands of Taloctoc, Kalinga Apayao. I stayed in Baguio City till I was 6 years old and then went home with my family to the province to continue schooling, as my paternal grandfather was from there. Taloctoc was a paradise to me then because it was far from the deafening honks of gas- emitting vehicles and away from the barrage of audio “machines”. It was a 2- hour hike (if you are a seasoned hiker) from Lubuagan, the town proper but a 5 – hour hike for me, because I was not used to the hard mountainous trek. I used to take a refreshing dip in the clear cascading waters, basked in the peacefulness of the place and then while my time away picking the juiciest guavas in the riverbank, before I finally went home.
( Nowadays, however; a narrow road was constructed to connect it with the next municipality which is Pasil.)

The barrio lies snugly between a river that had snaked its way at the edge of the barrio and the towering mountains that stood like sentinels all around it. It was a very small barrio consisting of more or less 200 families only. Undiscovered terrain was everywhere and together with this, strange things happen that science could not explain. I grew up hearing about fire –birds sitting atop a soon to be dead person, people getting lost and coming back weeks later with strange tales of another world, of another dimension. My father himself told us about how he went in circles in the woods and could only find his way home when he performed certain rituals that the old folk usually did when they were in the same predicament. I, myself saw mist turn into strange shadows and disappeared before my very eyes. These memories were relegated to the background however, as I returned to Baguio for my college education. They became dreamlike and unreal as I embraced city life and concluded that what is real must be logically explained .

After college, I started working here in Angeles City and forgot all about those “strange experiences. One day, however, we were invited to the wedding of my younger brother- Benny - and I was eager to attend as I have not seen my 8 siblings for a long time.

Of course, the relatives and native folk from Taloctoc were invited; we try our best to look back to our roots. The wedding ceremony was native inspired also. There were “gangsa” (gongs) , “Tadok” (native dancing) and “Ullalim” and “salidummay” ( native songs) . The young and old alike “gonged” and “salidsided”. It seems the whole barrio was there. I was bustling from one place to another like a waitress, serving food and wine as we were short of manpower. My grandmother was there too (God bless her soul, now) and she approached and whispered to me: “ Nuw, awad da Lubay, inka kanida ta maila daka” ( Lubay and company are here, go and greet them hello). Lubay was one of the old folk who they believed had paranormal powers. She possessed a “patao” ( a small wooden, carved image of a man’s face and chest, about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide). Those who owned “pataos” were feared as they were believed to have supernatural powers.
“Lola, I will deliver these drinks first. I will do that later, “ I reassured her.
“ Inka ot, te unikad mapatao ka.” (Go and greet them first, or they will feel bad about it.) she said worried..
“Lola, don’t worry, I will, “ and I went on, thinking they will understand as they can see the number of people waiting to be served , at least they had food already.

Just as soon as I turned my back, I heard the voice of Lubay , “ Sa anak pay cion anaya? Ot ipon umali sina?” (This is Cion’s daughter isn’t she? Why does she not acknowledge us?) . Just as soon as she said this, a strange feeling crept over me. A heavy, eerie feeling of unease. Then my knees buckled and my breathing had begun to go shallow. I felt nauseated and I started to sweat profusely. I wanted to lay down badly. I hurried to my sister’s room and went straight to the bed.
My grandmother noticed my absence and looked for me. “What happened to you?” she asked worried; as I was tossing and turning in bed, apparently ill.
“I don’t feel well, “ I croaked.
“ I told you,” she said accusingly, “I told you to talk to them.”
In spite of my condition, I smiled, “Really , Lola, how could you believe all those superstitious beliefs”.
She hurriedly went outside and came back with Lubay. There were several people now gawking over me. They all have worried faces, as I grew weaker and weaker. I was so weak to protest as Lubay told me to keep still.
“ Inkayon eh anito, Ikkayon adte igow yo. “ (“You - bad spirits, leave this girl alone, go back to where you came from.) She kept murmuring this over and over and some gobbledygook I did not understand, as she blew her tobacco smoke starting from my head down to my toes.
As she was doing this, I was saying to myself : “My God, how could I allow myself to undergo this. This is ridiculous!”
But while the ritual was going on, I began to feel better. Just as she blew at the last of my toes, ALL the unpleasant feelings disappeared like magic. I am not exaggerating this. The “sickness” just disappeared like I never felt them. In fact, I stood up immediately – without a trace of any of the earlier symptoms. My siblings were relieved as they went back to their merry-making. The old folk had little reaction as they expected that to happen. I - in turn - was incredulous, not yet believing that they were gone in a flash. How could that be? I did not even believe in all that nonsense and yet - I was “cured”.

From then on, I tried not to be cynical of any paranormal experience that I read and hear. I had kept an open mind and accepted the fact that there are indeed paranormal occurrences around us; that it is an area that could be explored and discovered. Until now, I still cannot fully explain what had happened to me on
that day. Perhaps I will have the answers later on in this lifetime.

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