Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sario, a ba-liw


Sario is one of the old ones who still remember the “deep” language, as they call it. He helps Pastor Rice transcribe rituals in Kalahan while I enter and edit the info on the computer. Sario’s father and grandfather were mabaki – ritual leaders. He is widely known and respected, the kind of man who travels alone to the far places and who the children whisper about when he passes slowly through town. Like many of the Kalahan men, he carries the ak-bote, a goat-hide backpack bound to his back with rattan straps. Somehow his forehead wrinkles formed a permanent fold that makes him look constantly surprised; the fold raises his eyebrows up above glasses that obscure his squinty eyes. He sometimes lets two patches of his mustache on either side of his lips grow out into a straggly gray strands. I think they look like the tail feathers of some tropical bird.
When I gather my courage to try out my Kalahan with him, I sense amusement in his eyes. He doesn’t take me seriously. I love this about him because this is a town that turns all of its attention to the amputi (white). But Sario is at the most slightly amused by me, and brushes off my comments with a grunt.
I recently discovered that Sario is a poet. He wrote many of the Kalahan hymns for their own hymnal. Also, I saw some of his poetic verse, called ba-liw in Kalahan, in some old files that Pastor gave me to transcribe into the computer. The ba-liw are beautiful verses composed creatively (not memorized – made up on the spot). Elders mostly chant ba-liw as forms of advice to a couple during their wedding, but the chants can be used at other celebrations or in debates as well.

Here is an example of a ba-liw recorded in 1970 in English. Though translating it from Kalahan loses the rhyme and syllable pattern, I think the beauty of the words is retained.

“Chant of the Gambler’s Wife”

I – To her Child

Pull the scarecrow strings
To scatter the rice birds
Perhaps they will leave some
White rice
Because that will be my lunch
They say my companion is there
They say he is in Lonsod
And he lost his Lonsod horse
He lost his horse in gambling.

II – To her Husband

Come and return
Never mind what you lost
The hundreds that you lost
There are piglets there
There are our pigs there
Even the striped sow
Hanging their heads
Because of your debts of hundreds.

Note: The animals know that they will be sacrificed to pay the debts, but the wife forgives.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Prayer

Spirit of the Living GOD,

be the Gardener of my

soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still –

experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, in the strong

name of Jesus Christ, I dare to ask:

Clear away the dead growth of the past,

Break up the hard clods of custom and routine,

Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge,

Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word,

Cultivate and water and tend my heart,

Until new life buds and opens and flowers.


Auntie Mining

Auntie Mining remembers when the Japanese came into the mountains and the Kalahan fled to the hills. She tells me some folk stories and 'superstitions', some true. If you dream about relatives who are eating but do not invite you to eat, she says, you must go to them quickly. You must go and eat with them so that you will be reconciled.
She offers me some of her betel nut chew, a slight stimulant, saying it's good for the teeth (which I'm not too sure of, since she has only 3 or 4 now). I pass up the chew, but enjoy our conversation and her hospitality.

Here's a picture of the main part of Imugan. The house where I live is the second to last building in the upper left corner, with two broad windows on the front side.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

A picture is worth a thousand words

Hello from Imugan! I've been here for almost a month already, so I suppose I should do some sort of blog by now.

Actually, I'm not posting a picture yet, but here is an image of some thousand words. Or a little less. I chose something not too interesting, because most days are not extreme highs. Life is mostly the enjoyable mundane.

Last weekend, I returned from a 2-day wedding in the lowlands. The distinction between lowlands and highlands is defined by the line where green mountains meet the flat muddy rice paddies. The mountains slope sharply, like the center cone of a straw hat rising from its wide brim.

To get back to Imugan from the main road, I climbed on the roof of a Jeepney, a type of modified U.S. army jeep extended in length for exciting Filipino travel. Some kids were on top also, gripping a few horizontal metal poles to hold on for the ride. I prefer the top for the thrill of swaying around the curves, singing with the children, and laughing as we duck for tree branches.

After 20 minutes, the jeepney deposits its passengers in the center (centro) of Imugan. I hop down to greet my friends, the ladies of the centro, who cluster at the 5 or so store stands to talk away the afternoon. They play scrabble some days, a town favorite (and mine). I want to join sometime.

On both sides of the centro, paths criss-cross through stands of tropical trees and plants, leading to some 70 homes in this main part of town. I follow the paved path to the right of a big 2-story cement house (unlike the other houses of wood and tin) owned by a community elder with relatives in Canada. Up some stairs, hushing the fierce little hunting dogs that still don't recognize me, I'm finally home.
Next stop: bucket shower. Yes.