Told At The Club
: Anting-anting Stories
"Speaking of 'anting-anting,'" said a man at the club House on the
bank of the Pasig river, in Manila, one evening, "I have had an
experience in that line myself which was rather striking."
An American officer at the club that evening had just been telling
us about a native prisoner captured by his command sometime before
in one of the smaller islands, who, when searched, had been found to
be wearing next
his skin a sort of undershirt on which was roughly
painted a crude map of certain of the islands of the archipelago.
This shirt, it seemed, the officer went on to explain, the man regarded
as a powerful "anting-anting," which would be able to protect him
from injury in any of the islands represented on it. That he had been
taken alive, instead of having been killed in the fight in which he
was captured, the man firmly believed to be due to the fact that he
was wearing the shirt at the time. A native servant in the employ of
one of the officers of the company had explained later that such an
"anting-anting" as this was highly prized, and that it increased in
value with its age. Only certain "wise men" had the right to add a
new island to the number of those painted on the garment, and before
this could be done the wearer of the shirt must have performed some
great deed of valour in that particular island. The magic garment was
worn only in time of war, or when danger was known to threaten, and
was bequeathed from father to son, or, sometimes, changed ownership
in a less peaceful way.
"What was the experience which you have referred to?" I finally asked
the man who had spoken, when he did not seem inclined to go on of
his own accord.
The man hesitated a moment before he replied to my question, and
something in his manner then, or perhaps when he did speak, made me
feel as if he was sorry that he had spoken at all.
"It is a story I do not like to tell," he said, and then added hastily
a little later, as if in explanation, "I mean I do not like to tell
it because I cannot help feeling, when I do tell it, that people do
not believe me to be telling the truth.
"Some years ago," he continued, "I went down to the island of Mindoro
to hunt 'timarau,' one of the few large wild animals of the islands--a
queer beast, half way between a wild hog and a buffalo.
"I hired as a guide and tracker, a wiry old Mangyan native who seemed
to have an instinct for finding a 'timarau' trail and following it
where my less skillful eyes could see nothing but undisturbed forest,
and who also seemed to have absolutely no fear, a thing which was even
more remarkable than his skill, since the natives as a general thing
are notably timid about getting in the way of an angry 'timarau.' As
a matter of fact I did not blame them so very much for this, after I
had had one experience myself in trying to dodge the wild charge of one
of these animals infuriated by a bullet which I had sent into his body.
"Perico, though,--that was the old man's name,--never seemed to have
the least fear.
"I was surprised, then, one morning when the weather and forest
were both in prime condition for a Hunt, to have my guide flatly
refuse to leave our camp. Nothing which I could say or do had the
least influence upon him. I reasoned, and threatened, and coaxed,
and swore, but all to no effect.
"When I asked him why he would not go,--what was the matter,--was he
ill? he did not seem to be inclined to answer at first, except to say
that he was not ill; but finally, later in the day, he explained to
me that he had had a 'warning' that it would not be safe for him to
go hunting that day; that his life would be in danger if he did go.
"Perico had been about the islands much more than most of the men
of his tribe. He had even been to Manila once or twice, and so not
only knew much more about the world than most Mangyans did, but
had also picked up enough of the Spanish language so that he could
speak it fairly well. In this way he was able to tell me, finally,
how the 'warning' had come to him, and why he put so much confidence
in it. He also told me this was why he had been so brave about the
hunting before. He knew that he was not in any danger so long as he
was not forewarned. When he had been warned he avoided the danger by
staying quietly in camp, or in some place of safety.
"Even after he had told me as much as this, Perico would not explain
to me just how the 'warning' had come, until, at last, he said that
'the stone' had told him.
"This stone, he said, was a wonderful 'anting-anting' which had
been in his family for many years. His father had given it to him,
and his grandfather had given it to his father.
"Once, many, many years before, there had been an ancestor of his
who had been famous through all the tribe for his goodness and
wisdom. This man, when very old, had one day taken shelter under
a tree from a furious storm. While he was there fire from the sky
had come down upon the tree, and when the storm was over the man was
found dead. Grasped tightly in one of the dead man's hands was found
a small flat stone, smooth cut and polished, which no one of his
family had ever seen him have before. Naturally the stone was looked
upon as a precious 'anting-anting,' sent down from the sky, and was
religiously watched until its mysterious properties were understood,
and it was learned that it had the power to forewarn its owner against
impending evil. When danger threatened its owner, Perico said, the
stone glowed at night with a strange light which he believed was due
to its celestial origin. At all other times it was a plain dull stone.
"The night before, for the first time in months, the stone had flashed
forth its strange light; and as a result its owner would do nothing
which would place him in any danger which he could avoid.
"I thought of all the strange stories I had read and heard of meteors
falling from the sky, and of phosphoric rocks, and of little known
chemical elements which were mysteriously sensitive to certain
atmospheric conditions, and wondered if Perico's stone could be any
of these. All my requests to be allowed to see the wonderful stone,
however, proved fruitless, Perico was obdurate. There was a tradition
that it must not be looked at by daylight, he said, and that the eyes
of no one but its owner should gaze upon it.
"And so, for eight beautiful days of magnificent hunting weather,
that aggravating heathen stone kept us idle there in the midst of the
Mindoro forest. I could not go alone, and Perico simply would not go
so long as the stone glowed at night, as, he informed me each morning,
it had done. It was in vain that I fretted, and offered him twice,
and four times, and, finally--with a desire to see how much in earnest
the man really was--ten times his regular wages if he would go with me
for just one hunt. He simply would not stir out of the camp, until,
on the morning of the ninth day, he met me with a cheerful face,
and said, 'Senor, we will hunt today. The stone is black once more.'
"And hunt we did,--that day, and many more--for the stone remained
accommodatingly dark after that--and we had good luck, too.
"When I came back to Manila I brought Perico with me. He had begun
to have serious trouble with one of his eyes, which threatened to
render him unable to follow the work of hunting of which he was so
fond. I tried to make him believe that this was the danger of which
he claimed he had been warned by the stone, but he would not agree to
this, saying that his 'anting-anting' always foretold only a violent
death, or some serious bodily injury. In Manila I had him see that Jose
Rizal who afterwards became so prominent in the political troubles of
the islands, and who had such a tragic later history. Senor Rizal,
who had studied in Europe, was a skillful oculist, and an operation
which he performed on Perico's eye was entirely successful. I kept
the old man with me until he was fully recovered, and then sent him
back to his native island. Before he went, he thanked me over and
over again for what I had done, and kept telling me that some time
he would pay me for it all.
"I laughed at him, at first, not thinking what he meant, until, just
before he was to go to the boat, he clasped my hand in both his,
and said, 'Senor, I have no children to leave the "anting anting"
of my family to. When I die, it shall be yours.'
"I would have laughed again, then, had it not been that the poor old
fellow was so much in earnest that it would have been cruel. As it
was, I thanked him, and told him I hoped he would live many years to
be the guardian of the stone, and to be guarded by it himself.
"After Perico had gone, I forgot all about him. Imagine my surprise,
then, when a little more than a year afterward, I received a small
packet from a man whom I knew in Calupan, the seaport of Mindoro,
and a letter, telling me that my old guide was dead, and that during
the illness which had preceded his death he had arranged to have the
packet which came with the letter sent to me.
"The package and letter reached me one morning. Of course I knew what
Perico had sent me, and, foolish as it may seem, a bit of tenderness
for the old man's genuine faith in his talisman made me, mindful of
his admonition that the stone must not be exposed to the light of day,
restrain my curiosity to open the package until I was in my rooms
that night. What I found, when at last I held the mysterious charm
in my hands, was a smooth, dark, flint-like disc, about an inch and
a half in diameter, and perhaps half an inch in thickness.
"Whatever the stone might have done for its former owners, or might
do for me at some other time, it certainly had no errand to perform
that night. It was just a plain, dark stone, and no matter how long
I looked at it, or in what position, it did not change its appearance.
"Finally, half provoked with myself at my thoughts, I put the stone
into a little cabinet in which were other curious souvenirs of my
travels in the islands, and forgot it.
"Two years after that it became necessary for me to go to Europe. I
had taken passage on one of the regular steamers from Manila to Hong
Kong, and was to reship from there. As I expected to return in a few
months, I did not give up my lodgings, but before I started I packed
away much of my stuff for safe keeping. As I was busy at the office
during the day, I did the most of this packing in the evenings. In
the course of this work I came to the little cabinet of which I have
spoken, and threw it open in order to stuff it with cotton, so that
the contents would not rattle about when moved."
The man who was telling the story stopped at this point so long that
we who sat there in the smoking room of the Club listening to him
were afraid he was not going to continue. At last he said:--
"This is the part of the story which I do not like to tell.
"On the black velvet lining of the cabinet, surrounded by the jumble
of curios among which it had been tossed, lay old Perico's stone,--not
the plain, dark stone which I had put there, but a faintly glowing
circle of lustrous light.
"I shut the lid of the cabinet down, locked the box, and put the key in
my pocket. But I did no more packing that night. I came down here to
the Club, and stayed as long as I could get anybody to stay with me,
and talked of everything under the sun except the one thing which I
was all the time thinking about.
"The next day I told myself I was a fool, and crazy into the bargain,
and that my eyes had deceived me. And then, in spite of all this,
when I went home at night I could hardly wait for dusk to come that
I might open the cabinet.
"The stone lay on the velvet, just as the night before, as if it were
a thing on fire!
"I said to myself that I would have some common sense, and would
exercise my will power; and went on with my packing with furious
energy. But I did not put the cabinet where I could not get at it.
"The boat for Hong Kong on which I had taken passage was to sail the
next night. I finished my work, said good bye to my acquaintances,
and went on board. Fifteen minutes before the steamer sailed I had my
luggage tumbled from her deck back on to the wharf, and came ashore,
swearing at myself for a fool, and knowing that I would be well
laughed at and quizzed for my fickleness by every one who knew me."
The man stopped again. After a little, one of the men who had been
listening to him said, in a voice which sounded strangely softened:--
"I remember. That was the ----," calling the name of a steamer
which brought to us all the recollection of one of the most awful
sea tragedies of those terrible tropic waters, where sometimes sea
and wind seem to be in league to buffet and destroy.
"Yes," said the man who had told the story. "No person who sailed on
board of her that night was ever seen again; and only bits of wreckage
on one of the northern reefs gave any hint of her fate."