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Monday, August 15, 2011

Family History - Superstitious Stories

When a family member passes away, the eventual topic will always come up:  Ghosts.  Many may laugh, but this terrifies even the most machismo men in the family.  For example, my dad always went about in a matter of fact way, soon after immediately someone passed away, and something random moved or flickered in the day or night and say, "Oh, that must be your grandma.  She is probably reminding us that we forgot her birthday" or "The garage door keeps opening by itself, that must be your Tito who just passed."

I remember, "Your Auntie said on the fortieth day of your uncle's passing, all the lights in the house flickered."  

Another recent statement from dad was, "Before we buried him, I felt a tickle on my ear."

Also growing up, my dad would say, "Your great grandpa was moving his tools during the prayers at his funeral.  I heard him walk down the stairs.  He wanted to make sure we did not touch his tools."  He also mentioned other ghost stories in the town of Agoo because of what happened during the war.

Just today, dad mentioned during my brother's birthday lunch that it is tradition to bath in the ocean after someone has died to ward off evil spirits.  Although, he confessed he only washed his feet.

Even animals are ghosts.  Fond memories of chasing ghost chickens on the railroad tracks and a pig that followed an Uncle home was a favorite.  The railroad tracks hold many stories.  A bridge where the railroad crosses is well known for a woman who often makes an appearance in the area around midnight, dressed in white.

My mother fondly tells of a story of when I was a toddler visiting the Philippines.  There was an elderly man who had no teeth or hair who came to the family home to visit my parents.  I saw him and called him "Monster".  This name stuck with him for the rest of his life sadly.  There is a name "Moomoo" of some monster, scarier than anything you could ever imagine, because  it is exactly that.  A monster only you can imagine.  My Moomoo apparently looked like an old toothless Lolo (term of endearment for grandpa).  You do not simply say the word "Moomoo" nonchalantly.   You say it in a low and loud tone.  Imagine a howling wind crescendo. There must also be a horrified look on your face as you say your Moomoo warning.  I was only two when I knew about Moomoo, trained early in superstition.

Filipinos in general are just plain superstitious.  I have noticed that these stories have increased around me lately.  My sister for instance, happens to be proofreading a book on "Filipino Ghost Stories".  I also ran across a YouTube video on "Filipino Mythical Creatures" by Mikey Bustos.  Finally, the ghost stories have ramped up with the passing of more than one relative lately.  Perhaps Filipinos speak of these things because death is just so permanent and we would rather be terrified by a presence then know that they just plain disappeared from the earth in their passing.

Then I was surprised awhile back about a story over dinner my parents told about the Dwende.  These are dwarf spirits that live in trees that put curses on you if they do not like you.  My parents refer to a Tita who had a run of bad luck because she angered a Dwende by cutting down his/her tree.  Now I look at the tree in front of mom and dad's a little differently every time I walk by.  I recall it was the only tree with lush green leaves in the middle of winter in the neighborhood.  I could not help but think that the Dwende must be happy in that tree and it looks after their house and protects them somehow.  He must favor them somehow.

There was a discussion last week about the land my family has in the Philippines.  My father is paying someone to grow bananas in the patch of land.  If he does not pay the banana farmer, squatters will claim the land.  I was eager to see if their was an opportunity to build a house there.  The land was just sitting there after all.  Perhaps it could be a family vacation home away from home.  For some reason, my father had a stoic reaction.  Finally, he revealed that he did not want to do anything with the land because a witch lives next door to it.

Ok, that's it.  I mean no disrespect to the spirits out there, but at some point, isn't this not a little laughable?

So, as I researched Philippine_mythical_creatures, I discovered a very large dictionary on Wiki of countless myths.  I was not aware of how engrained this is in the culture.  I thought it was just my family.

Now I wonder how these myths originated.  There is always some logical reason.  My mind goes down trails of speculation.  One explanation could be that the outlier islands like the Philippines must have been the last frontier for now extinct creatures hiding in the jungles.  In remote areas, even today, where law has only so far of a reach, people need to be able to explain bizarre things they see with their limited understanding of the world that they know.  Since many areas are still Third World and many have not conjured stories to explain away each myth, the strong oral history holds the story as fact.

Another probability could be that creating mythical creatures and ghosts are a coping mechanism to deal with loss or trauma.  If some entity, beyond human understanding caused the trauma, it is more easily acceptable to surrender sorrow to the myth and accept and move on.  It is beyond human control.

So pardon my suspicion of the superstitions, in the back of my mind - I still kind of believe them.  I was two after all when I called out the Moomoo in the Philippines.

Do watch the video referenced, here.  Sometimes it is also good to laugh at something you are afraid of and do not understand.  It's true!  As my mother says of the Aswang when I showed her the video.

No curses please?

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