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Old Beliefs Of The Filipinos


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Respecting their myths the Filipinos differ in little from other human
families whose civilization is incomplete. They had in former times
the same tendency to create gods and spirits for particular hills,
woods, seas, and lakes, to endow the brutes with human qualities,
to symbolize in the deeds of men and animals the phenomena of the
heavens. Even now the Monteses tell of a tree that folds its limbs
around the trunk of another and hugs it to death, the tree thus
killed rotting and leaving a tube of tightly laced branches in which
are creatures that bleed through the bark at a sword-thrust or an
ax-cut. These creatures are mischievously alleged to be Spaniards. The
Tagalogs believe in Tic-Balan, an evil spirit who inhabits fig-trees,
but is kept off by wearing a certain herb, and in a female spirit
of the woods, Azuan, who is kept away from the house in times of
domestic anxiety by the husband, who mounts to the roof and keeps up
a disturbance for some hours.

In their feasts and ceremonies the natives have hymns and prayers
to the rain-spirit, the sea, the star-god, the good birds, and the
winds. Little has been done toward the preservation of their myths,
for the Spaniards, during their centuries of control, suppressed
learning, except as it pertained to religious studies, and tolerated
but scant liberty of opinion. The friars, against whom the people
nursed so strong a hate, stood for all that was harsh, narrow,
tyrannical, and unprogressive. In order to gain money and maintain
their political ascendency they engaged in commerce, became owners
of real estate and buildings, including saloons and dance-houses,
debased their churchly functions, discouraged attempts at progress,
practically forbade the printing of secular books and papers, making
illiteracy, with its attendant vice, poverty, and superstition,
universal; and when Dr. Jose Rizal urged his reforms in the church and
civil service, he was shot, though not as a blasphemer, but because
his secret order, the Katipunan, with its Masonic ritual and blood
initiation, was thought to be dangerous to the public peace.

The change from this mediaeval condition to that of the nineteenth
century, with its impatience of title, caste, form, and ceremony,
its trust in equal right, its insistence on freedom of belief,
came suddenly. In shaking off their ancient political and religious
bonds the Filipinos may lose some of the quaint and poetic records of
their ancient faiths; for the first progress of a nation after a long
sleep is a material one, and art, literature, all the more delicate
expressions of national taste, history, and tendency, have to bide
their day until the fortunes of the nation are assured. In this period
of reconstruction let us hope that those fables and dreams will not
be forgotten which tell, more truly than dates and names and records,
the ancient state of the people, and afford us a means of estimating
the impetus and direction of their advance.

The influence of Christian teaching is plain in some of the songs,
plays, and stories of the natives, especially in the plays, for in them
the hero is often a Christian prince who defeats a strong and wicked
Mohammedan ruler, and releases an injured maiden. Change the names and
the play becomes a modern English melodrama. In several of the islands,
however, the impress of Spanish occupancy is slight, and customs are
still in force that have existed for hundreds of years. On Mindanao
are still to be found the politic devil-worshippers, who, instead of
seeking to ingratiate themselves with benevolent deities, whose favor
is already assured, try to gain the goodwill of the fiends. Their
rites are practised in caves in which will be found ugly figures of
wood and an altar on which animals are sacrificed. The flesh of these
animals is eaten by the devils, according to the priests, and by the
priests, according to the white men. The evil spirits who appear in
the half-darkness of these caves, leaping and screaming, goading the
company to frenzy, are priests in disguise and in demoniac possession.

Tagbanuas tear a house down when a death occurs in it, bury the
corpse in the woods, and mark the grave by dishes and pots used by
the deceased in life. These implements are broken. Among our American
Indians the outfits supplied to a dead man are in sound condition,
as it is supposed he will need them on his journey to the happy
hunting-grounds, while the Chinese put rice and chicken in sound
vessels on the graves of their brethren, believing they will need
refreshment when they start on the long journey to the land of the
shades. Tramps know where the Chinese are accustomed to bury their
dead in American cities. When food is placed before an Otaheite corpse
it is not for the dead, but for the gods, and is intended to secure
their good offices for the departed. While a Tagbanua corpse is above
ground it is liable to be eaten by a vampire called the balbal that
lives on Mindanao, has the form of a man with wings and great claws,
tears open the thatch of houses and consumes bodies by means of a
long tongue, which it thrusts through the opening in the roof. These
Tagbanuas do not believe in a heaven in the skies, because, they say,
you could not get up there. When a man dies he enters a cave that
leads into the depths of the earth, and after travelling for a long
time he arrives in the chamber where Taliakood sits,--a giant who
employs his leisure in stirring a fire that licks two tree trunks
without destroying them. The giant asks the new-comer if he has been
good or bad in the world overhead, but the dead man makes no reply. He
has a witness who has lived with him and knows his actions, and it is
the function and duty of this witness to state the case. This little
creature is a louse. On being asked what would happen if a native
were to die without one of these attendants, the people protest that
no such thing ever happens. So the louse, having neither to gain nor
lose, reports the conduct of his commissary and associate, and if
the man has been bad, Taliakood throws him into the fire, where he
is burned to ashes, and so an end of him. If he has been good, the
giant speeds him on his way to a happy hunting-ground, where he can
kill animals by thousands, and where the earth also yields fruits and
vegetables in plenty. Here he finds a house, without having the trouble
to build one, and a wife is also provided for him,--the deceased wife
of some neighbor usually, although he can have his own wife if she is
considerate enough to die when he does. Down here everybody is well
off, though the rich, having had much pleasure in the world, have
less of it than the poor. After a term of years the Tagbanua dies
again and goes at once to a heaven in a deeper cave without danger
from fire. Seven times he dies, each time going deeper and becoming
happier, and probably gains Nirvana in the end. Occasionally a good
spirit returns as a dove, and a bad one comes as a goat; indeed,
a few of the bad ones are doomed to wander over the earth forever.

A common belief is that the soul is absent from the body in sleep,
and if death occurs then the soul is lost. "May you die sleeping"
is one of the most dreadful of curses.

Among the Mangyan mountaineers it is customary to desert a person
who is about to die. They return after his death, carry the corpse to
the forest, build a fence about it, and roof it with a thatch. These
people seem to have no word for god, spirit, or future life; they do
not worship either visible or unseen things, and are the most moral
of the Filipinos. The lowlanders also desert their dying, and after
death close all paths to the house, leave the skeleton of the defunct
to be picked clean by ants, and change their names for luck.

When an islander in the Calamianes province dies his friends ask
the corpse where it would like to be buried, naming several places,
and lifting the body after each question. When the body seems to
rise lightly the dead man has said, "Yes." It may then be buried, or
placed in a tree in the desired locality, with such of its belongings
as the family can spare, and the mourners watch around a fire that
night until all the logs are consumed. The dead man walks about in
the ashes, leaving his footprints, and sometimes shows himself to
his relatives. Singing and feasting follow for several nights, and
the house of the dead is then abandoned.

The holes in the marble cliffs of San Francisco Strait formerly
contained the coffined dead of the tattooed Pintados, who sacrificed
slaves at the funeral that they might attend their relatives in the
next world. Fear of the spirits of these rocks was but partially
overcome when a Spanish priest smashed the coffins and tumbled the
bodies into the sea, for the strait is still haunted and the burial
rocks are good places to keep away from after dark.

Among the Moslem Moros it is a sure passport to heaven to kill a
Christian, and when one remembers how the people have been robbed,
tortured, and oppressed by nominal Christians, this item of faith
is not surprising. The more Christians he kills the greater will
be his reward. He bathes in a sacred spring, shaves his eye-brows,
dresses in white, takes an oath before a pandita or native priest to
die killing infidels; then, with the ugly creese, or wave-edged knife,
he runs madly through the street, killing, right and left, until some
considerate person shoots him. In the rage for blood he has been known
to push himself farther against a sword or bayonet that had already
entered his vitals in order to stab the man who had stopped him. When
they hear of his death the relatives of the fanatic have a celebration,
and declare that in the fall of the night they see him ride by on
a white horse, bound for the home of the good, where no Christians
ever go to vex the angels. These people are often fatalists. They
will drink water known to be poisoned with typhoid germs, and when
epidemics come they declare them to be the will of God, and refuse
to take the slightest measure against infection. They believe that
when a strange black dog runs by cholera follows on his heels.

Yet, like our Indians, the better Tagbanuas and Calamianes try to
heal the sick through the aid of drugs and charms and incantations,
and they have their medicine man or papalyan. There is in the forest a
strange little fellow, known as the man of the wood, who has the power
of giving to these doctors the art of healing. He rushes out upon one
who walks alone, seeking power, and brandishes a spear, finally aiming
it at the breast of the candidate, and advancing his foot as if to
throw it. If the candidate runs he is unworthy, but if he stands his
ground the little man of the wood drops his spear and gives a pearl to
him. This pearl is never shown to anybody. It is looked at secretly at
a patient's bedside, and if clear the physician will prescribe, but if
it is dark, or has taken on a stony aspect, he resigns the case. The
"drugs" are similar to those used by the Chinese, consisting in part
of powdered teeth and bones and other animal preparations. Charms are
in common use as a protection not only from disease but from murder
and misfortune, and in the fighting between the Americans and the
natives about Manila many poor, half-naked creatures, armed with bows
and arrows, had ventured fearlessly into the zone of fire, believing
themselves to be safe because they wore an anting-anting at the
neck. This object, like an Indian's "good medicine," is anything,--a
little book, a bright pebble, a church relic, a medal, an old bullet,
a coin, a piece of cloth, a pack of cards. It is the faith that goes
with it, not the object itself, that counts. Even Aguinaldo has
been invested by his followers with superhuman power. Just before
he resorted to arms against the Americans the natives knew that the
time for rebellion had come, for a woman in Biacnabato gave birth
to a child dressed in a general's uniform, and above Tondo a woman's
figure crowned with snakes was painted in fire upon the night-sky.

In details of their faiths the tribes differ, but there is a prevalent
belief in a principle of good that the Moros call Tuhan. The sun,
moon, and stars are the light that shines from him,--he is everywhere,
all-seeing, all-powerful; he has given fleeting souls to brutes
and eternal souls to men. The soul enters a child's body at birth,
through the soft space in the top of the head, and leaves through the
skull at death. Their first men were giants, and Eve was fifty feet
high, but as men's minds grew their bodies became of less account,
and they will shrink and shrink until, at the world's end, they will
be only three feet high, but will consist mostly of brains. Comparing
a brawny savage with an anaemic scholar, one fancies there is reason
in this forecast. The Tagbanuas have no Adam and Eve. Those of them
who live beside the ocean say they are the children of Bulalacao,
a falling star that descended to the shore and became a beautiful
woman. The gods of these people are like men, but are stronger,
living in caves, eating an ambrosia-like boiled rice that has the
power of moving. Their gods sometimes steal their children.

Old Testament traditions are commonly accepted by the Moros, who
believe in No (Noah), Adam, Mosa (Moses), Ibrahim (Abraham), Sulaiman
(Solomon), Daud (David), and Yakub (Jacob); but creation myths are
locally modified, and some tales of recent emergence of islands out
of the sea are probably true. In all volcanic districts mountains may
be shaken down and hills cast up in a day. Siquijor formerly bore the
name of the Isle of Fire, for the natives say that in the days of their
grandfathers a cloud brooded on the sea for a week, uttering thunders
and hisses and flashing forth bolts of fire. When the cloud lifted,
Siquijor stood there. The geology of the island supports the tradition.

The future is differently conceived by different sects and families,
some panditas teaching that the soul, having come from God, will
return to him at death; others that it will sleep in the earth or
the air until the world has ended, when all will be swept on a wind
to a mount of judgment, where saints and angels will weigh them,
and souls heavy with sin will fall into hell; others that there is
no hell of fire, because there is not coal enough to keep it going,
but that every man is punished until his soul is purified, when it
rises to heaven, glowing with light and color; others that men are
punished according to their sins; liars and gossips with sore mouths
and tired jaws; gluttons with lame stomachs; jealous, cruel, tricky
people with aching hearts; abusive and thievish ones with pains in
their hands; others that one finds hell enough on earth in fear,
illness, disappointment, misunderstanding and Spaniards, to atone
for all the mischief he is liable to make.

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