New Article on the #FolkloreThursday Blog: Laughter from Empty Rooms

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The second of my three-part series, Stories my Parents Tell Me, is up on the #FolkloreThursday blog! This piece is called “Laughter from Empty Rooms.” My parents tell me more family stories, this time about haunted houses. But what haunts a house? Ghosts, or fairies?

“How do you know [Uncle Pepito] wasn’t just making things up again?” I said.

Mom thought about it.

“Oh, he could have been, but you know… later, your [grandfather] sent him out to the country, to our great-grandfather’s house in Baao …. At first, Pepito was glad to go, but after a few months, he begged to come back home. He said there were multo [ghosts] in the house. Poltergeists.”

Poltergeists? My dad has a different theory.

You can read “Laughter from Empty Rooms” here.

Enjoy.


Image: Old house, Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines. Photo by Elmer nev valenzuela. Source: Wikimedia

The Living Head

Apologies for not having posted for a while. I hope to pick up the pace again, soon, but in the meantime here’s a short, sweet (and mysterious) food origin myth collected in Panay (one of the Visayan islands in the Philippines) in 1904.


Once upon a time lived a man and his wife who had no children. They desperately wanted a child, and so they prayed to their God, Diva:

“Please, Lord,” they prayed. “We want a son so badly. He doesn’t have to be perfect, we’ll gladly accept him however you see fit to give him to us. Even if he were nothing but a head, we would be so happy.”

Ask and you shall receive. Diva took pity on the couple, and he gave them a son — a son who was nothing but a head. His parents were as happy as they promised they would be, and took loving care of Head (that’s what they named him, apparently). Head grew up to be a good son to his parents.

One day the chief’s daughter passed the house where Head and his parents lived. Once Head laid eyes on her, he fell hopelessly in love, and thought of nothing but marrying her. He begged his mother to go to the chief and ask him for his daughter’s hand. Head’s mother refused.

“The chief would never let his daughter marry only a head.”

But Head gave his mother no peace. Finally, just to quiet him, Head’s mother went to the chief and told him of her son’s request. Of course, the chief refused. Head’s mother returned home with the news.

Heartbroken, Head went downstairs into the garden and began to sink into the ground.

“Head, come back up,” called his mother. “It’s time to eat.”

“Sink! sink! sink!” cried Head.

“Head, please, come back up,” called his mother again.

“Sink! sink! sink!” was all Head would say, and he continued to say it until he sank beneath the ground and disappeared. His mother rushed down to try to take him back up, but she couldn’t. Some days later a tree sprang up from where Head had disappeared; the tree eventually bore large round fruit almost as large as a boy’s head.

And that’s where oranges came from.

NewImageImage: Wikipedia

My retelling is based on a version collected by Berton L. Maxfield and W. H. Millington and published in 1906 in The Journal of American Folklore. The article, Visayan Folk-Tales I, is available free from JSTOR, and contains several more stories.

I confess — I don’t really get this one. I suspect it’s an imperfectly remembered version of a more elaborate dema deity myth, but who knows. I found an interesting Ifugao story about coconuts having sprung from a buried head, but I want to do a little research on that one before I retell it… .

Wikipedia tells me that oranges probably originated in Southeast Asia, which I never knew; I tend to associate them with the Mediterranean.

I also can’t find anything about a Visayan deity named Diva, but diwatas are nature deities, like enkanto, who live in trees and give blessings to people who bring them offerings — and curses to people who disturb them or the trees that they live in. The term diwata probably comes from the term devata, which denotes a Hindu demi-god. Deva is the Sanskrit term for a deity.

Someday, I would like to seriously track down how the Hindu pantheon and mythology worked its way from India eastward into Indonesia and Malaysia and eventually to the Philippines. Someday….

Visits from Spirits: The Ingkanto Syndrome

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Balete tree. Image: Wikipedia

The only definition for “ingkanto” that I could ever get out my parents was “they’re like fairies”. According to the description given by Francisco Demetrio, they live in boulders, caves, holes in the ground, or in trees like the balete (a relative of the banyan tree) or the acacia. They are mischievous and capricious. On the one hand, there are traditions of them lending beautiful golden tableware for the weddings and fiestas of people in need; on the other hand, they can curse you and send diseases on you if you disrespect them (even accidentally), or if you don’t give proper greetings when you pass their homes. In the anecdotes that Demetrio collected, they are often described as fair-skinned, blonde and blue-eyed.

They also have a reputation for stalking people. The name Herminia Meñez gives to this phenomenon is “Ingkanto Syndrome”, though I don’t know if the term originates with her or not.

Meñez identifies three distinct stages to the phenomenon. In the first stage, the victim is visited by invisible beings, who try to seduce him or her away with displays of wealth and power. This is manifested to others who may witness the victim havings spells of stiffness and unconsciousness, disappearing for intervals of time without explanation, hanging from trees, or displaying other unusual behavior.

In the second stage, if the victim resists the spirits, they begin to abuse him physically and verbally. This manifests to witnesses as the victim becoming violent, and often extraordinarily strong. Often, family members have to tie the victim down to prevent him from “running away with the spirits”.

In the third stage, the victim’s family has brought the victim to a curer (a mananambal, for instance). Assuming the cure has been successful, the victim goes from wild and uncontrollable to “quiet and well-behaved”.

Demetrio describes the typical instance of the phenomenon similarly: “the disappearance of the victim and the seizure of madness usually accompanied by a show of extraordinary strength”.

In the traditional belief systems, the ingkanto syndrome can be brought about by any number of things. The victim might have accidentally violated the property of an ingkanto, for instance by destroying an anthill or mound that was their home, by building on an ingkanto’s land, or chopping down an ingkanto’s tree.

But there is another, more interesting folk hypothesis: the symptoms of madness were brought about because the victim was resisting their spiritual calling — namely, the call to be a shaman or healer. When the victim stops resisting and accepts the call, then the madness cures itself, and the victim becomes a more centered, thoughtful individual, one who is ready to serve the community through their spiritual or healing arts.

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Empty Houses

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Photo: Nina Zumel

“When a house is empty for a long time, the enkanto — the fairies — come to live there.”

Dad was warming to our ghost story conversation.

“I know this is true, because it happened to our house in Saraat, during the War.”

He meant World War II. The Philippines was not a happy place, during that war, but my father’s memories of that time are surprisingly pleasant. He was only about eight or nine years old when the Japanese occupation began, the youngest of his siblings, by far — what they call an “afterthought child”. When the Japanese came, I think some of my uncles ran to the mountains, to join the resistance, and much of the town evacuated as well. My grandfather chose to stay.

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