Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Scary stories

Scary stories

Updated 00:59am (Mla time) Oct 27, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 27, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

HALLOWEEN is upon us again. In the subdivision where I live, many families with children have put ghosts, goblins and ghouls outside their homes. Some have turned their front gardens into mock graveyards complete with tombstones, but the names are foreign. One house has a giant spider (actually black trash bags made to form a spider) sliding down a web attached to the carport. Another house has a complete horror castle complete with lights and creepy creatures.

These are all very creative displays mostly bought over the counter, which may explain why I have not seen real pumpkins carved into scary faces with candles inside. Neither have I seen the real spooks in Philippine folklore: “kapre,” “tianak,” “manananggal,” “mangagaway,” “aswang,” etc. Halloween like some professional basketball players, is an import, a tradition that doesn't go very far back in the Philippines, but it is catching up.

It would be fascinating to know what scares Filipinos today. We are too urban for the “aswang” these days but there are other things to fear: criminals, criminals in police or military uniform, sexual predators, kidnappers, illegal recruiters, etc.

It would be fascinating to know the outcome of the First Capiz Aswang Festival this year. If Capiz province is successful in drawing interest and tourists, perhaps other places could cash in on folklore like the witches of Siquijor province or even the White Lady of Balete Drive, a hoax that has persisted over time like the Code of Kalantiaw.

Over the years, I have come across some very strange stories that I cannot use in my historical writings even if they are very arresting. For example, there have been accounts of ghosts in the Casa Manila Museum in Intramuros. I've always doubted this because the structure is new. How can you have ghosts in a house reconstructed in the 1980s? There are reports of sightings of Guardias Civiles and another "White Lady" wailing like Sisa of "Noli Me Tangere."

In contrast, there have been no ghosts reported in any of the Jose Rizal shrines: Fort Santiago, Calamba and Dapitan. If there were, maybe I would take the trouble to talk to Rizal's ghost if only to answer a lot of questions that resulted from reading all his writings. You will find in Guillermo Tolentino's forgotten book "Si Rizal" a transcript of a séance where Trinidad Rizal is alleged to have spoken to her brother Jose through a medium. Unfortunately, the language is stilted and the content too boring to be true.

Emilio Aguinaldo's mansion in Kawit, Cavite, is a museum and a national shrine. It is an original structure and should house spirits, at least of the hero buried in a simple white marble tomb in the back of the house. But so far there are no stories of the general going through all the secret passages and hidden rooms in the house.

Twenty years ago when I first visited the shrine, I was told “kapre” rather than ghost stories. A friendly “kapre” was said to inhabit an ancient mango tree near the master's bedroom. This creature would speak to the general either in his bedroom or the small room he kept on the tower of the house. A red light was allegedly seen on dark nights in this tree and it was said to be the lighted end of the kapre's cigar.

I cannot pinpoint one person who has seen the “kapre” or his lighted cigar. All we have are second- or third-hand accounts of sightings.

Why do these stories always come from the friend of a friend or a relative of a friend who cannot be traced for full documentation? The Kawit “kapre” is supposed to have warned Aguinaldo of danger or the enemy, which partly explains why he survived assassins and the war. Despite a handful of sensational television reports on the “kapre,” this rumor has sort of faded away. Not too much horror effect here.

Another famous Halloween story that has also been forgotten concerns a painting by Juan Luna in the National Museum. It shows a woman in bed, with one breast exposed as if to seduce the viewer, but the disconcerting detail here is the rosary in her hands, and a prayer book on the night table. This curious mix of visuals led to a lot of speculation as to what the woman was trying to say or do or what Luna was trying to say or do. But we will leave that to art critics and psychiatrists and turn to the scary story.

This painting used to be known as the portrait of Paz Pardo de Tavera, until extant photographs proved that this was a different woman. One could argue that Luna made his wife prettier than she was, and I often use this painting to illustrate that love is indeed blind.

Like some paintings by Fernando Amorsolo depicting the horrors of the Japanese Occupation, this particular Luna painting has a reputation for bringing bad luck to people who own it: unexplained or unexpected death, illness or, worse, bankruptcy. It was even said that at certain times of the day, museum visitors would gaze on this beautiful woman and see her eyes turn red like glowing coals.

Again all are stories, and nothing has been documented so far.

In Europe, real estate especially old castles and manors, gain prestige if it has a resident historical ghost. In the Philippines, nobody will buy a haunted house. Now that is a cultural difference.


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