13 December, 2008

Into the Unexplained: Visayan White Magic [part 1 of 2]

I'm blogging about this on my phone, i can't seem to find any other way to relax or decompress...

To those of you, unfamiliar with the term "Visayan", this refers to a region in the Philippine archipelago called the Visayas Islands. Some people say that the Visayans have integrated their animistic pagan beliefs with their christian ones, which evolved for the past 400 years and made for a unique blend of folk christianity matched with lore and superstition. I'm of Visayan ancestry, and am currently here on vacation.

And I just finished a rather taxing ritual called the "pa-àso" or "pa-usok", which is like the incense burning rituals of the catholic church, with a quasi-christian-animistic twist. Talk about blessed candle wax, ginger, alanghiran, camangyan [a kind of incense], and saliva on burning coals, calling out the names of the archangels and the saints.

You ask me why?

Last Saturday, my 91 year old grandmother had an accident; she slipped while watching the work on the renovations to our new kitchen. The series of events that led to the accident were not that uncommon, by my standards. In fact, 3 of us were attending to her and were watching her in turns as she slept the afternoon away. When we thought she was secure, I endorsed her to my aunt who was a mere 5 metres away because I would go out for a bit to buy cake for my abuela [grandmother]. My aunt then decided to take out some trash out back while my cousin Irene also went in to check on her, still sleeping...

In less than two minutes of settling the trash out back, my aunt heard my abuela calling for her by the old kitchen table. "Kay...kay [ read as 'kai' , a visayan word used to refer to the female person in the immediate area], Dali bala, bistahi nabukulan ko!" roughly translated,
"Please come quickly, i hit my head and it's swollen."

Apparently, at that brief moment when she was left alone, my abuela got up from her bed, and went to where the new kitchen was, where the renovations were being made. It was near her room downstairs, adjacent to the old comedor. She was watching the workmen install tiles; and when she turned around, she slipped and hit the back of her head. But she was able to get up on her own, and sit by the table to call for my aunt. [ For a woman of 91, with a weak body, my abuela's spirit and will has allowed to her move at 'the speed of light' sometimes. One time, we were upstairs at the ancestral house busy with her 90th birthday preparations, we were shocked to find her behind us -able to brave the steep steps of the old stairs- saying, "I've never been up here for quite some time now."]

By the time i got back from the bakery about 5 or so minutes later, panic had ensued over the entire household. There was an ice bag over my abuela's head, my uncle in his wheelchair was pacing -make that rolling- back and forth, the other tennants at the commercial space were already gathered at the comedor and making emergency calls to my cousin at the hospital.

We took her to the hospital and had a full body x-ray and found nothing. The doctor then discharged her on the merit that her other physical symptoms do not manifest any head injury related damage. But to be sure, we crossed the mountainous range to Ilo-Ilo and had her undergo a CAT SCAN at Saint Paul's Hospital. And by some miracle, the CAT SCAN results show no neurological damage whatsoever, and the doctors cleared her.

However, three days after being discharged, my abuela's blood pressure would always shoot up whenever the sun would set. Last night, we had to sleep by her side to make sure she was okay. But there was still some cause for some alarm.

I remember having to quell the dog from outside her bedroom window from howling a few times last night. And my cousin Benja saw this insect, that by superstitious standards, was an omen of sorts.

To be safe, we covered our bases, we sent her to her doctor while we also had her nanny visit a local healer to have her clothes undergo a 'pa-luy-a'.

A "Pa-luy-a" is a ritual that a sick person undergoes. It varies from healer to healer. A piece of ginger, known locally as 'luya' or 'luy-a' is taken to a healer with the last piece of clothing the sick person wore. The healer then whispers an 'oraccion' or an incantation to the piece of ginger and cuts it in half, he then chews one of the halves, and wraps the other one with the piece of clothing and sends it back to be worn. With other healers, mastication is optional and the ginger remains whole.

Midway through both of these, we were informed that our Lola Inday passed away... We loved her dearly, and she would visit my abuela twice a week and would keep her company. She was admitted to the hospital the same day as my abuela, but stayed there when we were discharged. Displeased as I am with some of her offspring, my heart goes to her wherever she is...

And that was only the morning
[to be continued next blog: more rituals with fire, water, and palaspas, a 'palapak' with san vicente ferrer, and the other uses of salt ]

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