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KULTURA
January 22, 1998

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Seducing the Gods
Charlie Samuya Veric
Days are longer than nights; and the heat of the sun lingers with the redolence of wild flowers. On these days of long light, the wait for rainstorms to bathe the arid patches becomes desperate -- as bleak as seeing the moon early in the afternoon of a summer solstice. Farmers at this time of the year usually grow crops that can weather the prolonged absence of rain: rows upon rows of mongos, kamotes, and corn envelop the rice paddies instead of golden palay.

Water, water is not everywhere during this season of humid wind and putrid sweat.

It seems however, that the dry spell of summer has visited the nation sooner than expected. Blame that to the weather disturbance which meteorologists call the El Niņo phenomenon, the weather interference that resulted from the abnormal rise of water temperature in the Pacific Ocean.

In occasion of thirst like this, rich and revealing traditions are roused from the collective memory of a people. In some provinces, old women and children join the late afternoon procession of the holy images of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Dressed immaculately in white, devotees clutch sacral rosaries close to their chest as they mutter cycles of prayers and roam the sleepy town. The procession then heads to the beach where they embark on boats and sail to the sea, as if drifting listlessly across the sky to fish stars on a moonless night, where they wet the holy icons with seawater.

Such ritual is believed to invoke the aid of divine powers; leaving the believer in hope that god will miraculously extend his hand from a swath of smoke and flash of lightning to ease the suffering of the people.

Recently, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines reportedly revised the orthodox prayer for rain -- the Oratio Imperata. The Oratio Imperata forms part of the regular Prayer of the Faithful during Mass. The supplication, according to Catholic authorities, has always been effective in bringing down rainpours but unsuccessful enough to prevent destructive flooding.

The cosmological configuration of the natives also values divine intervention in times of drought. Indigenous people from the North, for example, perform elaborate ceremonies of rain song. Among the Ifugaos atop the ancient mountains of Northern Luzon, the mumbakis, or high priests, talk to their gods the bakis by staging a pagan ritual that offers a festival of blood, gore, and gastronomic delights -- all from slaughtered chickens, pigs, and dogs.

The mumbaki, enchantingly, recites chants while holding tight a live chicken in one hand as a gift to appease the bakis. Meanwhile, elders and visitors partake of strong and aromatic rice wine being passed around. Other elders, however, are busy pounding rice to make more wine and rice cakes.

Indeed, the heat of the scorching sun makes us quiver -- believers, pagans, and atheists alike -- like fish in the shallow basins of a drying river. And the water-bearing gods, annoyingly, flirt with human tragedy.


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