Letting the holy win and the halo-halo win-A A +A
The Point Being
Saturday, November 2, 2013
A TELEVISION program recently featured the efforts of one Catholic parish presumably in Metro Manila that held a costume parade with the participating children dressed up as saints. The rationale apparently was to encourage the young to associate the traditional November 1 and 2 holidays with the Holy rather than Halloween. As the priest who was interviewed put it, the point was not to let scary images prevail and to make the Holy win.
I can remember many a conversation come end of October with people remarking about Halloween practices -- usually trick or treat events and costume parties featuring the gory and the scary, replete with pumpkins, witches and warlocks -- saying “hindi naman natin kultura ‘yan.”
On the one hand, the origins of Halloween can indeed be traced to Western Christian societies, and strictly speaking does not readily connect to the different belief systems that are deemed “Filipino”. But thanks to commercialism, mass media and other globalizing forces, my young niece is now convinced that Halloween is as Filipino as adobo.
One the other hand, if enough Filipinos practice it, can it not be argued that All Hallow’s Eve is now part of practices in the Philippines and can thus be considered part of the mix of Filipino culture?
And what constitutes Filipino culture anyway? Even adobo, sometimes affectionately called the national dish, is described by Cecilia Florencio, a nutrition professor from the University of the Philippines as “the result of the eclectic influences, both regional and historical, that come together in many Filipino dishes.”
The July 4, 2008 by Cynthia De Castro and Rene Villaroman of The Asian Journal Blog described the evolution of the adobo - from the old practice of early Filipinos of steaming food with vinegar and salt as preservatives, to the use of soy sauce in cooking associated with Chinese influences, to the introduction by the Spanish colonizers of meat dishes with sauces. Apparently, even the word adobo itself can be traced to Spanish influences. Adobo is a term denoting seasoning or marinade; there’s the adobado, which is a Spanish dish, and also adobar, which means the use of a pickling sauce. Despite its disputed origins, the adobo today is one of the dishes that are hallmarks of Philippine cuisine and diet.
But I digress. The point I wanted to make was that we are at a point where we cannot dismiss Halloween by merely saying “hindi naman natin kultura ‘?yan” without opening a can of worms about what constitutes Filipino culture. And since culture is not only transmitted but also created, what are we (at least we that are not happy with the dominant Western influences) doing to change the situation. For instance, have we taken stock of the other practices observed around this time of the year?
We were taught in school that there’s the Pangangaluluwa, which refers to the practice of serenading houses around the time of the Araw ng mga Santo on November 1 and the Araw ng mga Kaluluwa on November 2. Those nangangaluwa get treated to snacks or are given money, and are not beyond committing acts of mischief. The mischievous acts are supposedly a play on the belief that the souls of the departed visit their loved ones around this time and make their presence felt by removing items. I could be mistaken but I think this is one of those lowland Tagalog practices that readily get held up and labeled “Filipino” as my Cebuano and Boholano roots have not exposed me to such a routine - well, at least the aspects of Cebuano and Boholano cultures that I experienced in Mindanao.
Another observable tradition among Christians and other communities is that of the visit to the cemetery to visit the dead. While in some places the custom entails a short visit and making offerings such as candles and food, prayers and reminiscence, in some urban and urbanizing places it has become a big production. In many private cemeteries, some groups think nothing of bringing furniture and appliances to create a domestic environment or a party scene. Sometimes it does seem that many of our rituals about the dead are really more about the living.
But how about the indigenous peoples and the Islamized groups; how do they remember the departed? They may not do so on, or only on, the first two days of November but regardless of timing what are their practices?
For instance Laura Watson Benedict reported in 1916 in her book titled “A Study of Bagobo Ceremonial. Magic and Myth” that “Prayers and gifts to the dead are made at set points during the celebration of Ginum, notably at the function called awas, when areca nuts on betel leaves are offered in dishes of hemp leaf to all the spirits in Hilut, both “the old gimokud (soul) and the new gimokud”, with an intention of including those who have been long dead, as well as those recently deceased. In the same devotion, the gimokud are urged not to think at all about the festival, for there is clearly a lurking fear that the dead spirits may return and draw the living after them. Indeed, what a more vibrant world it would be if we had a better understanding of ourselves, and the people around us.
Which brings to one of my convictions that Davao’s claim about the different ethnicities of its peoples can be celebrated beyond Kadayawan. So how do people from the Ata, Matigsalug, Ovu-Manuvo, Bagobo Klata, Bagobo Tagabawa, Tausug, Maguindanao, Maranao, Kagan or Kalagan, Sama, Mandaya, Manobo, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Ilocano, Waray and other groups commemorate their dead?
Wouldn’t it be great if in the next November 1 and 2 the City would make an effort to acknowledge how the different ethno-linguistic groups remember and honor those who have gone? And if the groups do not have such practices, or at least not in ritualized ways, we would at least become more acquainted with their views about the big questions of life and death, culture, society, the sacred and the universe.
So instead of hook-nosed witches and dark-eyed vampires perhaps the malls and other public places would feature different ethno-linguistic groups. Who knows, if we appreciate how some lumad tribes regard their dead as having rejoined their ancestors and nature, perhaps we would understand better their attachment to their ancestral domains.
And maybe we could then say paraphrasing Cecilia Florencio that the Davao we know today is the result of the eclectic influences, both local, national, international and historical, that come together in the many facets, aspects and tempos of Davao life.
As for a food item that represents Davao life, with no offense to the durian, I think a case can be made for the halo-halo, which as we know now has many versions and also has regional neighbors, Thailand’s Nam Kang Sai, and even the cendol popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar.
The thing about the halo-halo is that when mixed right the ingredients come together in a unique halo-halo experience, and yet the distinct bits can still be tasted - the sweet saging, the plump and chewy nata de coco, the crunchy toasted pinipig, and whatever else ingredients may have been put together. Something like: many and different ethno-linguistic groups, one groove.
As the nation takes a break for November 1 and 2, may we let as many Holies there are in our communities win. And may the halo-halo that is in our respective communities win as well. And oh yeah, the yummy adobo, too.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on November 02, 2013.