Monday, September 19, 2005

The Balete Tree

When I was a child nearly every summer was spent with my maternal Grandparents. Their place was in a barrio called Balian, which prided itself as one of the few towns that the Japanese did not enter.How could this be possible. The old people attributed it to the protection of San Isidro the patron saint of the barrio. Well, it might be because the barrio was insignificant militarily and the trops were stationed at the town proper, Pangil. Unfortunately, this did not stop a few my maternal relatives to be picked up and executed by the Japanese. Jumping forward several decades later sans the Japanese, except for tourists looking for rare orchids and the American film crew of Francis Ford Coppola shooting scenes for Apocalypse Now, Laguna had become an idyllic retreat for us and probably a respite from our parents who were still busy at the city. It was our version of summer camp. Anyway, our Grandparents were accomating and seemed to be doting us. Those were the summers of cheerful plays, clean air from Laguna de Bai, afternoons sleeping on a hammock while reading a book, playing freesbee or playing baseball in the nearest dried rice field. These activities were interrupted by meals prepared by our grandparents. The specially made puto with keso, suman, the tsokolate. If that was not enough there were days that we would trek to the river of Piit. Spring water from Sierra Madre descended to the slope and formed a river. The water was cool and clear. And you could just relax under the cascade of the small waterfall. Going to our Grandparent's place though scared the hell out of us. We did not take the usual Laguna route of passing through South Superhighway and passing the different towns. We followed the route through Sierra Madre from Rizal. The trip was shorter following this route. It was an interesting route the road was rarely used then and several times we actually saw an eagle almost fly at car level. The road through the mountain was meandering, zig-zag. And at times the road seem to cut into a forest. At two points along the road you can actually encounter two big balete trees. The driver would always press the car's horn when we passed the tree. He and a lot of other drivers believe that this was his way of saying "Patabi Po" (excuse me) to the inhabitant of the Balete tree. In Filipino culture, trees like the Balete (Ficus indicus) are believed to be the house of dwarves, fairys, and other supernatural creatures. It would not be surprising that a carpenter or handyman would refuse to cut down or remove a balete tree, unless he conducts a ceremony where he asks permission from the true owner of the tree. Sometimes this would involve cooked but unsalted chicken or a bottle of gin. An official of a campus outside of Luzon was said to be victim of vengeful supernatural being. During the construction of the campus they removed several trees, among them those believed to be the house of engkantos. Thereafter, the official allegedly suffered high fever and was said to be hallucinating, he saw several black figures surrounding his bed. They had to hire arbularyos (local medicine man) to appease the vengeful spirits. I was told the ceremony involved incense and chicken sacrifice. The official recovered but he never did stay a night at campus. One look at the balete tree, especially, if it is quite old will give a child the heebeejeebies. Its expanding trunk and prop roots, above ground, give it a domicile feel. It would not be hard to imagine somebody or something living in there. It was especially scary when you pass by it at night the sheer mass of it seems to block out the light. And I would guess bioluminiscense from the animals or a shady figure brought about by imagination would be enough to startle anyone. In those days, nothing from Peter Jackson's movie can compare with a Balete tree. Baletes would have been perfect Ents. Well, now that I am older I looked differently at the Balete tree. One can just admire the strength and age of this tree. And yet seeing it brings back memories of Kafres, Tikbalangs, Dwuendes, Lamang Lupas, Pugots, Diwatas and other denizens of other Philippines, the world of Engkantos. The tales of fear and astonishment that were told and re-told for generations. I recall those summer when we met the old ermitano of Sierra Madre or our Grandparent's right hand man Jose, who told tales of the supernatural, the denizens of the fantastic and terror inhabiting Sierra Madre, some of who lived in the Balete trees. And I guess, in a way these tales and the phenomena of the Balete is a form of teaching us amazement, awe, respect and care of things around us. The value of "Patabi Po" (Excuse me) when one is about to do something, you might not be sure of the consequences of one's action. As the we drove past the Balete tree on the road, the driver slowed down and honked three times. I looked at tree and said a mental "Patabi Po". An additional post BlOG: Pinoy Snapshots Title: More sea-side pictures View


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