Send doctors, not exorcists, to Jaclupan-A A +A
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
I GREW up in the city listening to talks about the dili-ingon-nato, agta, sigbin, wakwak and other supposed denizens in our superstitious lore. So when I was given the chance to walk alone at night from the hinterland village of Amaga to Sayaw, all those talks circled my head like flies around a carabao. That was many years ago.
I heard a wakwak moan somewhere and was reminded of the claim that the weaker the sound, the nearer the creature was. Other strange noises could be heard as I followed the footpath that stretched around a rugged terrain and often penetrated the shadowy bushes in a largely bald and moonlit surrounding. It didn’t help that the wind’s embrace was cold.
But I moved on despite the fear, gathering strength in the thought that every step I made meant I was nearing the end of the three-hour trek. When I was in a grassy slope, I thought I saw a house a few meters away. Worried of the possibility of waking up a dog or two in the yard where I would pass, I decided to circle the house, going up a clearing at the back before descending back to the footpath farther ahead.
After the maneuver and when I was in a safe distance from the house, I looked back. All I could make out in the place where I thought the “house” was standing was a clump of ipil-ipil trees. Was I seeing things? Was the clump of trees an abode of spirits (dili-ingon-nato)?
That thought sparked in me an urge to run. But reason prevailed over fear. I hadn’t mastered the terrain and running would have done to me more harm than good. I walked briskly and did not look back again.
I eventually reached my destination in one piece. In the relative comfort of a farmer’s hut, I had the chance to look back at my experience calmly and objectively. Fear of the unknown and the superstitious beliefs etched in our minds by our elders when we were growing up often conspire to create illusions when we are left alone and in the dark.
I would continue “roaming” the hinterlands for years after that. In those times, the only “creatures” that worried me were the human kind.
I don’t know why, when reporting about cases of mass hysteria in schools, like the one that happened in Jaclupan, Talisay City, the slant is always on the superstition and not on the scientific. The talk is almost always about “evil spirits” possessing the students and not about the psychological, even physical, reasons for the strange behaviors.
And why would school officials, who are supposed to be imbued with scientific and objective knowledge, immediately seek the assistance of “exorcists” instead of psychiatrists? Worse, they are often the ones who fuel the fire, sort of, by explaining the incident in the context of superstition (like the cutting of trees that “angered” evil spirits).
I remember a case of mass hysteria that happened in a Labangon high school years ago.
Like in Jaclupan, it extended for a day or two because those who should have known better assessed the situation within the context of, again, superstition. Not until city officials decided to send medical workers to the school did the hysteria eased and its cause explained scientifically.
While we’re at it, mass hysteria can also be laughable. Wikipedia, for example, wrote about the Tanganyika laughter epidemic that started in a boarding school in Kashasha, Tanzania in 1962. When three girls started laughing, the laughter spread throughout the school, affecting 95 students, some of them for days. When authorities closed the school, the laughter epidemic spread to a village. It ended up as no laughing matter.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 10, 2012.