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Dawac
—1939

Eliel had stopped eating.  My mother would give him water with a spoon, but it seemed he could not even swallow.  He also had stopped talking.

My younger brother, Eliel, was very sick with tipus (typhoid fever). There was an epidemic of tipus not only in our barrio, but in the neighboring barrios as well.  The doctor had visited our house just once to see him.  The doctor may have wanted to follow up on his patients, but he was the only doctor in our town Santo Tomas, and there were so many sick requiring his attention. 

Eliel had stopped eating.  My mother would give him water with a spoon, but it seemed he could not even swallow.  He also had stopped talking.  My mother and grandmother were very worried.  And I was afraid.  I did not want my brother to die.  A girl and boy in the southern part of our barrio had already died of tipus the previous month. The very first person who had the tipus was recovering, they said, but she has lost all of her hair.  I tried to sit by my brother’s side when I came home from school, but my grandmother would send me away, afraid that I might catch the disease, too.

Tiang Ciliang came one morning, as she usually did, to help with the household chores and watch over Eliel while my mother and grandmother caught up on their sleep.  She sat by Eliel’s bed and placed her palm on his forehead.  Then she lifted his head and changed his pillow.  She and my mother changed Eliel’s pillow often to keep his head from feeling hot.

“We should send someone to fetch Ina Kattim,” Tiang Ciliang said.  Apo Kattim was a well-known mannawac who lived in Calumbaya, a barrio about two kilometers away.

“Is she still alive?” my grandmother asked.

“If she died we would have been informed,” said Tiang Ciliang.  It was, and still is, the custom in our place as well as in the neighboring barrios to announce the death of a member of the community, not only in the community where she or he lived, but in the neighboring communities as well.

“But Eliel is sick of tipus.  The anitos are not responsible for his being sick.  There is an epidemic all because of Meding who drank water from a well that had tipus germs and brought the tipus here,” my mother said.  My mother clearly did not believe that Apo Kattim was the right healer to call.  In the town where my father grew up, most of the people believe in the power of the spirits to hurt as well as heal.  We lived with my father’s parents for a while when I was very young and I remember hearing the tinkling sounds often in the middle of the day.  When I asked who was making the tinkling sounds, my father would say, “Ina Ak-kam is at it again.  When somebody is sick, she calls the anitos to come and help her make them well.”

“I’m hungry,”  Eliel spoke.  Tiang Ciliang, my mother, and grandmother looked at each other.  Then my mother went to the kitchen to get food for Eliel.

“See what I mean?” said Tiang Ciliang. “ The mere mention of Ina Kattim’s name enabled Eliel to speak.  I am going to fetch Ina Kattim now while there is still time for her to come and see Eliel and then return home before sunset.” 

My grandmother always had a chicken in the corner of their house.  She said it was good to have something ready to cook when friends or relatives make surprise calls and stay near mealtimes.

Tiang Ciliang met my mother coming from the kitchen with a bowl of soup.  “Give just a little of that soup for now,” she advised.  “Remember, he still has difficulty swallowing.  I am going to Calumbaya to fetch Ina Kattim.  I hope there is a caretella ready to take me there,” she said.

“There are empty caretellas out there,” said my mother.  “I’ll give your round trip fare when you come back.”

Eliel had difficulty swallowing the soup. The front of his shirt was wet, but he must have been very hungry because he opened his mouth faster than my mother could dip the spoon into the bowl and bring the spoon to his lips.  My mother and grandmother smiled as they watched him eat.

My grandmother went to the window and called out to Manong Toring, who was just coming home from the fields.  He came and asked what my grandmother wanted.

“Prepare and cook that chicken that is tied to the corner post,” she said.  “Eliel is now eating and chicken soup is good for him.”  My grandmother always had a chicken in the corner of their house.  She said it was good to have something ready to cook when friends or relatives make surprise calls and stay near mealtimes.

“That is good news,” said Manong Toring.  “Shall I make lugao, too?”

“No, the soup will be fine for now,” said my grandmother.  “Prepare that chicken right away so that it will be ready for lunch.  Ciliang went to fetch Kattim from Calumbaya.  She’ll eat lunch with us, I hope.”

True to her word, Tiang Ciliang returned with Apo Kattim.  They came in and Tiang Ciliang brought Apo Kattim to Eliel’s bedroom right away.  Apo Kattim wasted no time.  She sat beside Eliel, laid her palm on Eliel’s forehead, felt his chest and arms, then massaged him gently, muttering to herself all the time.  Before long we noticed that Eliel’s eyes were closed.

My mother went to him and felt his forehead.  “His fever seems to be going down and now he is asleep,” she said.

“How long has he been sick?” asked Apo Kattim.

“More than a month now,” said my mother.  “He came home from playing with his friends on the hill behind the church saying he did not feel good, that his head hurt.  I told him to go wash his feet and hands, then rest.  After washing, he went to his room.  When I finished cooking supper, I called the children to come and eat.  Eliel didn’t come.  So I went to his room.  He was burning with fever.  I couldn’t bring him to Dr. Ramos’ clinic the following morning because he was too sick to sit up in the caretella.  So I sent Toring to fetch the doctor.  The doctor did come later in the afternoon and examined him.  He gave Eliel two aspirin tablets and left me a dozen tablets as well instructions to give one tablet every four hours to bring the fever down.”

“Don’t feed him any solid food for now,” he said.  “Feed him soup and if he can, let him drink plenty of water.  To be on the safe side, don’t let the other children go into his room.” 

Apo Kattim would need assistance in getting up the caretella as well as getting off. Caretellas are built to be as tall as the horses who pull them.

“I will come tomorrow, early,” said Apo Kattim.  “There are some things you must prepare for tomorrow.  I’ll need two well husked coconuts, a clean flat basin, a floor mat, and at least two fresh blankets.  You must also have fresh bed linens for his bed, but wait until the dawac is over before you change all his bed linens.  And of course, he’ll need to change into fresh clothes when the dawac is over.  And clear the descanso of all furniture, except that little table.  I’ll need it for my stuff.”

“Have lunch with us, Kaka,” invited my grandmother.

“Thank you, but I can’t,” replied Apo Kattim.  “There are people who are coming to see me this afternoon.”

Tiang Ciliang whispered to my mother.  My mother went into the other room and returned quickly.  She took Apo Kattim’s hand and placed a coin in it, expressing her thanks.  Apo Kattim said some encouraging words to my mother, turned to Tiang Ciliang and asked, “Is that caretella still there?”

“Yes,” said Tiang Ciliang, “and I’ll come with you.”  It was very thoughtful of Tiang Ciliang to take her back. Apo Kattim would need assistance in getting up the caretella as well as getting off.  Caretellas are built to be as tall as the horses who pull them.  My mother gave some money to Tiang Ciliang for two round trips.

“I’ll be here tomorrow,” were Apo Kattim’s parting words.

The coin that my mother gave to Apo Kattim was a dies (ten centavos).  The money was not considered payment for Apo Kattim’s  service.  A mannawac did not accept payment for her service, but she did require some coin to touch her hands.  The mannawac believes that she might lose her healing power if there is no money given to her.  But she does not accept large amounts, believing that if large amounts touched her hand, the spirits might not respond to her calls or she might lose her healing power.  So my mother gave the dies, which during those days was still able to buy much.

I did not go to school the following day.  I wanted to see what a dawac was.  Apo Kattim arrived with her assistant.  I noticed that she brought a long buneng (long knife) in its wooden sheath.  She went to the bedroom to see Eliel right away, then returned to the descanso where we waited.  Since the descanso was cleared of all the chairs, Apo Kattim and her assistant remained standing while they talked.  My grandmother invited them to the kitchen for coffee.  Apo Kattim said coffee would be good because although they had breakfast, they did not have time for coffee.

After they had their coffee, Apo Kattim returned to the descanso and asked to see the coconuts.  She nodded her approval when she saw that they were well husked.  My mother also pointed to the rolled floor mat placed against the wall.  Apo Kattim unsheathed the buneng and place it on the table.  She handed the sheath to her assistant who placed it under the table.  The assistant took a folded dinwa and placed it on a corner of the table.  Apo Kattim and her assistant unrolled the floor mat and spread it on the floor, leaving enough space between it and the wall to allow a person to walk around it.  Then Apo Kattim asked for a drinking glass.

“With water?” asked Tiang Ciliang.

“No,” said the assistant, “just the glass.”

Then she turned to us and warned us not to talk or move around while she was doing the dawac.

Tiang Ciliang went to the kitchen and came back with the drinking glass.  The assistant took it and placed it on the table.  She placed a long piece of metal beside it.

Apo Kattim looked at all the things on the table then asked for the blanket that she told my mother to prepare.  My grandmother brought a folded blanket.  Apo Kattim’s assistant took it and spread it on the floor.  Apo Kattim told my mother to sit on the blanket.  Then she turned to Manong Toring and told him to bring Eliel out.  “And cover him with his blanket when you bring him out,” she said.

“And now that Eliel will not be on his bed for sometime, somebody should change all his bed linens,” Apo Kattim suggested.

Manong Toring came back with Eliel in his arms, the blanket trailing the floor.

“Don’t trip on the blanket,” cautioned Tiang Ciliang, walking toward them and catching the part of the blanket that reached all the way down to the floor.  If Manong Toring had stepped on that part of the blanket, he would surely have stumbled with Eliel in his arms.

“Put him down here,” directed Apo Kattim, pointing to the spot near my mother.  “Sit him facing the wall.”

As soon as Eliel was seated properly, Tiang Ciliang walked to Eliel’s bedroom.  Somebody had to change Eliel’s bed linens.

“Move closer to Eliel and hold him up,” Apo Kattim told my mother.  “He still can’t sit up by himself.”

Apo Kattim placed the flat basin behind Eliel.  Then she turned to us and warned us not to talk or move around while she was doing the dawac.  She also told Manong Toring to stand near the stairs and stop the people below from coming up when they heard her chanting, or stop them from talking in loud voices.

Some neighbors must have heard that a mannawac was in our house and they came to satisfy their curiosity.  However, they sat on the benches under the house.  They did not come up.

Apo Kattim took the dinwa, nodded to her assistant, and sat down near Eliel.  She covered her head with the dinwa and extended her right hand.  Her assistant gave her the piece of metal.  Apo Kattim extended her left hand.  Her assistant placed the drinking glass in her hand, guiding Apo Kattim’s fingers to hold the glass securely. 

Everyone was quiet.  I felt funny in the eerie silence.  Apo Kattim started hitting the drinking glass with the piece of metal.  The dawac started.  Apo Kattim was calling to the anitos and summoning them to come to her assistance. 

“O – O – O – O – O – O,”  Apo Kattim‘s ululating cry accompanied by the tinkling sounds of the glass could be heard by the whole neighborhood.

Umali cayo Isna. (Come here.)  Umali cayo ta i- la-enyo od nan masakit ay anac si Inggo.”  Apo Kattim was calling the anitos to come and see the sick son of Inggo. (Inggo was my late father’s name.)

“O – O – O – O – O – O.  Masegang cayo.  (Have pity.)  Masegang cayo isnan ubingMasegang cayoUmali cayo,” was the repeated cry of Apo Kattim.  “Umali cayo ta palaingen yo nan ubing ta umey met maki ayayam issa ayan dey appoyo.”   She continued her call, then stopped striking the glass with the metal.  Her assistant took the drinking glass and metal from her and put them back on the table.   

I heard everybody gasped in surprise and wonder.  Who would expect a frail old woman to have the strength she showed when she split the coconut?

Suddenly, Apo Kattim stood up, removed the dinwa that covered her head and flung it to her assistant.  She looked strange to me, as though she had become a different person.  She walked to the table, picked up her buneng, held it high with her right hand above her head, and started dancing around Eliel and my mother, waving her buneng in circular motions.  Throughout, she chanted words in the itneg dialect that I couldn’t understand.  I began to be afraid that she might get dizzy and fall with that buneng in her hand.  I looked around and saw that Manong Toring also looked concerned and was ready to come to Apo Kattim’s aid in case she fell.

Apo Kattim danced to the table and took one of the coconuts with her left hand, extended it and quickly brought her buneng down, splitting the coconut in halves.  I heard everybody gasped in surprise and wonder.  Who would expect a frail old woman to have the strength she showed when she split the coconut?

Apo Kattim dropped her buneng, held the two halves, went to Eliel and held the coconut halves on Eliel’s head for a while.  Then she let go of the coconuts, letting the coconut halves roll down Eliel’s back, the coconut water drenching him.  Apo Kattim’s assistant went to pick up the buneng and put it back on the table.

“O – O – O – O – O – O,”  Apo Kattim started ululating again, dancing around Eliel and my mother, chanting in the itneg dialect.  My mother started to wipe Eliel’s head and shoulders, but Apo Kattim went and stopped her.  She sat down and massaged Eliel from his head down to his shoulders.

She got up again and went to the table.  She picked up her buneng and the other coconut and nodded to her assistant who went to the table, picked up the drinking glass, and went to stand beside Apo Kattim.  Again, with complete accuracy, Apo Kattim split the coconut in half.  She dropped her buneng, held the coconut halves with both hands and held them over the drinking glass.  There was more coconut water than the glass could hold.  Apo Kattim put the coconut halves on the table, then took the glass of coconut water from her assistant and went to sit down beside Eliel.  She brought the glass to Eliel’s lips and told him to drink.  I could see that Apo Kattim’s hand holding the glass was shaking.  My mother saw it too, for she supported Apo Kattim’s hand with her own.  I knew Eliel liked coconut water very much, but after about three swallows, he stopped and turned his head aside.  Apo Kattim’s assistant went to her and took the glass from her shaky hand and put it on the table.  The glass was more than half-full with coconut water. 

Apo Kattim ran both her hands on Eliel’s head, shoulders and feet then she got up and told Manong Toring,”  You can carry him back to his bed now.” 

“You go with them and put fresh clothes on him.  Be sure to rub his wet feet until they are dry, and towel his hair until they are reasonable dry so he won’t catch cold,” she told my mother.  My mother followed Manong Toring and Eliel to the bedroom. 

Apo Kattim walked to the table and picked up the glass of coconut water.  She drank all of it then gave a loud burp.  Tiang Ciliang told me later that Apo Kattim’s burp was very loud because the anitos drank the coconut water, too, and they burped with her.

The doctor listened to my grandmother relate what Apo Kattim did, but he did not indicate whether or not he believed that the dawac had healed my brother of the tipus.

Apo Kattim sat down and said to the spirits,”Ala, umey cayo isdi baey yonNo umalali cayo, adicayo ya agcalcali ta di agsakit nan ca-apat yoMasegang cayo manAdicayo casla cadacamin ya.”  (You can go home now.  When you come around, don’t speak to anybody because you will make that person sick.  Have pity.  You are no longer like us.”)

Tiang Ciliang went to the kitchen and brought back a bench.  She told my grandmother and Apo Kattim to sit on it so that Apo Kattim can rest more comfortably.  Apo Kattim’s face no longer looked strange.

“Eliel will be fine now,” she assured us as she sat down.  “If he eats more everyday, he’ll soon be running and playing with his friends.”

My grandfather finally showed up.  I’d been wondering where he was, especially when Apo Kattim was dancing and brandishing her buneng.  I worried that no one would be able to take Apo Kattim’s buneng from her.                  

My grandfather walked to my grandmother, bent down and whispered, “ Is Kattim done with everything?”   My grandmother just nodded.

“I thank you very much for coming, Kattim,” he said, straightening up.  “No words can ever express how much we appreciate what you did today for our grandson.”

Then he turned to us all and said, “Our lunch is ready.  We have to go to our house.  We prepared a young goat so that Kattim and Dinis will be able to chew and savor the pinapaitan.  Addong knows how much you like pinapaitan from goat meat, Kattim, and he prepared it very well,” he said, turning to Apo Kattim. 

“So that you, yourself can chew the meat, I’d say,” my grandmother said, nudging him with her elbow.

My mother no longer had to prod me to go to school after that unforgettable day.  I was no longer afraid that my brother would die.  He was eating more, even asked for snacks, and was steadily getting stronger.  But he still needed to be helped when he wanted to sit up and he still needed to be fed.  And he slept almost all the time, day and night.

My mother did not yet allow Eliel’s friends to visit him.  She was afraid they might catch his illness.  Or they might bring some germs with them that, given Eliel’s weakened condition, might delay his recovery.  He no longer had any fever, but my mother did not let him sit up too long.  The lugao that she prepared for him was boiled in beef broth one day and chicken broth another day because Eliel started complaining of “chicken all the time.”  And he slept long during the day and night, which was good, according to the doctor who came to see him a week after the dawac.  He examined my brother and didn’t even prescribe any medicine for him anymore. He asked if my mother still had some aspirin and my mother told him she still had a few tablets.  The doctor told her she need not give any more of it.  My mother had stopped giving aspirin to Eliel after the dawac, but she did not say so to the doctor.  The doctor listened to my grandmother relate what Apo Kattim did, but he did not indicate whether or not he believed that the dawac had healed my brother of the tipus.

Then I noticed a change in how my brother looked.  It took me awhile before I realized that almost all his hair was gone.  How he hated it when he saw himself in the mirror.  My mother chided me for telling him so.  He would often scream when he heard the word calbo (bald) from his friends who finally were allowed to come and sit with him.

Our grandfather tried to comfort him.  “Look at the people passing by,” he said, “don’t you notice that their calbo heads are even more shiny than yours?”

“Don’t even use that word, Apong!” he cried in frustration.  But my brother did feel less sensitive about his head after our grandfather’s talk with him.

My mother had been anxious that my brother would not want to go back to school.  June was just two weeks away.  My brother, who had become stronger, was now able to go out and play with his friends.  But he always wore the cap that Manong Toring bought for him, even in the house.  My mother kept talking about school in his hearing, but he didn’t show any interest. Our mother told him that Miss Castillo gave him a passing grade, in spite of his being absent for the last two weeks of school, which meant he will go on to third grade. My mother said she will take us shopping for school supplies and new shirts for him, but he was not as excited as I was to hear about the shopping.   I was hoping for a new dress to wear on the first day of school and a new pair of bakyas (wooden shoes worn during the rainy season).  But Eliel really had to have new clothes.  He was still too thin and my mother had given away all of his clothes while he was sick.

Soon enough, the first day of school arrived.  Josue and Manang Miliang, our cousins and neighbors, came by to walk with us to school.  Without a word, Eliel, with his book bag and wearing a new cap, walked out of his room to join them.  I followed him.  As we left our house, I heard my mother in the kitchen begin to hum a hymn.

© Beatriz Tabios

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