MANILA, November 7, 2005 (STAR) By Tingting Cojuangco - What are you doing?" I asked a Maguindanaon when I saw him pour sugar into a hole where a wimpy coconut was waiting to be planted. "To sweeten the fruits of the coconut at kasama rin ang maraming pagbubunga."

I also saw a house constructed with a payer from the Qur’an tied to a post. Deposited into the hole where the house’s center post was to be laid was water and coins. Just as we Christians do.

Supreme beings have various names; one is Ombo. The Tagalogs call good spirits anito, and the bad spirits mangalo. Among the Visayans and Mindanaoans, spirits were diwatas and neither temples nor special sites were designated for their worship. Deities were everywhere anyway. Various objects of nature, heavenly bodies, the sea, the lakes and rivers, the mountains, the trees and animals were gods. The crow was adored as the lord of the earth, or maylupa. The crocodile was an object of reverence called nuno, or grandfather, by various Southern tribes. The world of spirits moves around us, and we still believe that today.

Ritual offerings were performed by priests, generally women, called katalonan, babaylan or shaman. I hunt for traditions, the likes followed by our indigenous brothers who practice folk religion in the provinces and even urban areas.

One sure thing, animistic practices will live on with us as conduit of the past for the present and future.

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This column will not be complete without my telling you about magic in Tawi-Tawi.

Once, there was a very exceptional volleyball player from the Regional Agricultural College whose name was Wadja. Although a small fellow, he jumped high with his spikes on that his shoulders were at level with the top of the net. He easily "killed" the ball and directed it to any opening on the opposite court. So, he was sought after at every inter-scholastic meet. In fact, it was only when Wadja joined the team that Mindanao won first place in volleyball competitions.

For his ability, he was sought by local teams to challenge the province’s opposing team. Bets for Wadja’s team reached as high as P1,000 in 1991 that opposing teams avoided participating whenever Wadja played.

It came to pass that a game was scheduled in a remote barangay. This competition was agreed upon with the understanding that Wadja would not participate. Nevertheless, as the barrio team did not know Wadja, he played.

Wadja’s team did whatever they could to disguise his presence. The scores were close and Wadja’s team was leading. Because of the intensity of the game, fans from Wadja’s team began to shout his name.

The other team and their supporters discovered that Wadja was indeed playing and they felt cheated. They sought the help of an old man known in the barrio as possessing of magical powers through prayers. He agreed to help the losing team.

During another game, the old man took a thin stick, uttered prayers, and snapped the stick in two. He timed the breaking of the stick to coincide with Wadja jumping high up. As Wadja came down, he broke a leg.

Wadja never recovered. He has never been able to play again and now walks with a cane.

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Governor Pax S. Mangundadatu of Sultan Kudarat Province is the seventh generation descendant of the Royal House of Buayan in Maguindanao. His experience with his crocodile ancestors is revered:

"One afternoon, my son-in-law Raden fell asleep by Lake Buluan, Maguindanao. He awoke to find his face lopsided. We didn’t know what happened except that he had watched the crocodiles in the lake, which he should not have done. An old friend told us to perform the pagbubuwaya by Lake Buluan."

Raden’s face was disfigured for three weeks. After the pagbubuwaya, Raden was cured in a week’s time.

Governor Pax recalled his family had not performed the pagbubuwaya in a very long time in spite of its being a duty of the community.

For Pax, a believer of the crocodile folklore like many in Central Mindanao, he attributes his rescue from his enemies to a crocodile ancestor. On Dec. 28, 1988 at high noon, Pax said, "I rode on a patrol boat on my way to attack the MNLF headquarters. While returning gunfire, we realized our boat was burning and I jumped off. Some of us didn’t know how to swim. I was struggling for 30 minutes when I remembered that the buayas were my ancestors and asked for their intercession to save my life. Suddenly, a banca arrived with a man. He took me out of the water and brought me to land and disappeared. To this day, I believe I was saved by a ‘crocodile man’."

The adoration of crocodiles persists, as my ethnographic studies revealed in 1995. In fact, when a crocodile was caught in Lake Buluan and the community heard of it, they begged the crocodile be returned into the lake for it would bring the community bad luck because the fisherman had disturbed their relative-creature. It was promptly returned in the lake.

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I met Abdul, an Iranun from Basilan, who taught me the crocodile worship his parents from Zamboanga del Sur perform a month after a woman gives birth. It is pretty much the same as the Maguindanaoans, except that in Maguindanao the crocodile is placed on a small raft to sail down the river as an offering.

Here are the preparations from Abdul.

The figure of a crocodile is formed from boiled tapul sticky rice and placed on top of banana leaves. Chicken is cleaned and boiled. Four eggs were hard-boiled. The crocodile’s head is special, so it is made of yellow rice, the color of royalty.

The hard-boiled eggs are placed on the crocodile’s eye and two more below the crocodile’s neck because they believe the crocodile has four eyes. How else would he see in the blackish waters when he wallows in?

On the back of the crocodile’s neck near the front leg the boiled chicken is placed with its breast upward. Bananas form his claws, placed on each of his four legs. If there are no bananas, the elongated sugar candy called lukot-lukot formed like an egg roll simulates the claws.

The scales of the buaya are made of the pancakes called pañalam made of flour and red sugar piled bit by bit on the crocodile’s back one on top of each other, sometimes covering the crocodile completely, or placed edge to edge in a line all over his back. Chicken blood is placed in front of the buaya inside a coconut shell.

Cigarettes are placed under the leaves holding the crocodile in case anyone wants to smoke after eating the "crocodile." Prayers are uttered by the imam or pandita. The chicken blood is placed on top of the mother’s hands. She turns around the crocodile a few times and sits to eat first. Others follow after her.

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Tarlac in the north has its own customs. It was a melancholy day in Sta. Ignacia, Tarlac when alternating light and dark left us baffled about the weather. I saw a white T-shirt on a hanger swinging from a branch of a tree.

"We put it there so it wouldn’t rain," Amy Antonio told me in 1997.

So has Nueva Ecija. Just recently, a man cut a branch of a tree and fell ill with high fever in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija. An atang (thanksgiving and food offering) was performed to remove the evil spirits from his sick body.

Thelma the wife prepared one coconut, one bottle of gin, nine black and nine white cigarettes, one candy, one piece of bread, 1/2 kilo each of pork and chicken, one glass of water, one cup of rice, one cup of malagkit and two pieces of white candles. Thelma boiled the rice and the malagkit rice. She broke the coconut into halves and put the boiled rice in one half of the coconut shell. On the other half, she placed the sticky rice. She placed all the items in a bilao or basket. At 6 p.m., the spirits would be appeased by the food offering. The following day, at 5:30 a.m., the ingredients had turned into a cure and she applied it on the aching parts of her husband’s body while praying.

Naive? Even silly, it seems… nevertheless an observation made was that education has not made us forget our ancestors’ superstitions.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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