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[This short story is one of the “memoir-narratives” in Beatriz Tilan Tabios’ forthcoming book, DAWAC and Other Memoir Narratives (Meritage Press, 2012)]

Redressing The Uncelebrated Birthday

“You know, it never fails. Every time they do not celebrate Pedring’s birthday, he always gets sick.”

During one family breakfast, my mother-in-law said to my cousin, “Deling, Manong Inciong asked to buy that chicken you are fattening up. He needs it to heal Pedring’s fever.”

“How can a chicken heal a fever?” Fil, my husband, asked, amused.

“They forgot to celebrate Pedring’s birthday a few days ago,” my mother-in-law replied.  “You know, it never fails. Every time they do not celebrate Pedring’s birthday, he always gets sick.”

“Yes, I know,” Fil said. “It’s ‘Nang Teriang’s fault. She is so stingy.”

“You better name your price, Deling,” he added. “They’ll meet it. You can always ask Johnny or Mang Ondong to catch another chicken for you to fatten up. Problem is I have been looking forward to Betty’s chicken tinola with green papayas.”  Fil winked at me.

“The money will be all mine,” said Deling, looking at my mother-in-law.

“As you wish,” my mother-in-law said readily.“When is Tata Inciong doing the healing?” I asked. “I would like to be at Manong Pedring’s house to watch him.”

“We’ll go,” promised my husband. “You’ll hear him ‘minimini’ some words, offering the chicken to the unseen, while he cuts the chicken’s throat and pour out its blood.”

“Minimini” was my husband’s way of describing muttering. He laughed when, in response to the bloodletting, I said I changed my mind.

But we did go and watch Tata Inciong do his ritual. As Fil said, Tata Inciong did mutter some indecipherable words as he cut the neck of the chicken and let its blood flow into a small bowl.  Manong Pedring, the patient, was there. I looked at his impassive face and thought, “He is skeptical about these ways of healing.”

After the blood of the chicken was drained out, Tata Inciong cut its body into four parts.  He put them in a platter and put the platter on a table against the wall. Then he massaged his son, “minimini-ing” all the time. Then he said, “You are going to be well soon.”

What Tata Inciong said came true. Manong Pedring’s fever left him quickly. That evening, his fever was completely gone. The following day he was his usual self. He even went to the fields for a short while to check up on the work there.

I asked Manang Elen, Manong Pedring’s wife, what kind of illnesses people refer to her father–in-law and if he usually succeeded in healing them.

“People who come to him usually complain of fever, headaches, general malaise which they can’t explain, or  they would say they got sick after doing something like splashing out water from their back porch, especially at night without first warning any spirit around by saying, ‘cayo, cayo.’”  (Cayo, in Ilocano, is short of umadayo cayo, a warning to the spirit to go away.)

After a week, Catalino came to our house and told Tatang about the incident. Tatang said that some unseen beings lived in that tree.

“Does he always succeed in healing them?” I asked. 

“Well, Pedring does not get sick if his birthday anniversary is celebrated. And he gets sick if it is not,” Manang Elen laughed.

Tatang always offers a chicken and he gets well. What can I say?”

“In the case of Catalino, he said he cut down a big tamarind tree that was at the edge of his ‘bangcag’ (dry field  usually planted with sugar cane or ‘langpadan,’a variety of rice that does not need much water) because it was so tall that it hampered the growth of the rice growing under its shade. When he didn’t show up for lunch, his wife sent his brother, Burcio, to look for him.  Burcio found him unconscious on the ground some distance away from the fallen tree.  Burcio shook his brother until he regained his consciousness. They walked back with Burcio supporting his older brother all the way home.  After a week, Catalino came to our house and told Tatang about the incident. Tatang said that some unseen beings lived in that tree.

This time, Tatang said they needed a young pig to appease the unseen. Catalino refused and did not buy a young pig. When he continued to be weak and started having bad dreams, he relented and the small pig was offered.  He was able to return to farming the day after the pig was offered.”

Manang Elen looked at me when she finished her tale.

“What do you think?” she asked.

Tata must be a powerful healer,” I said. “Come to think of it, wasn’t your late mother a healer, too?”

“She was,” Manang Elen answered. “She was a mannawac. You are from Galimuyod.  You have seen what they do.”

“Yes, I grew up hearing the tinkling calls to the anitos,” I answered. “How do they differ, your mother and Tata?” I asked.

“Look at it this way,” Manang Elen said, “Ina asks the spirits to help her heal. Tatang appeases the spirit by offering it food. The more grave the offense, the more valuable the offering.  A chicken for a slight offense and a pig for a graver offense. The hope is that the spirit, when appeased, will heal the person whom it has harmed.”

“Did he always succeed?”  I asked.

“No, not always,” Manang Elen said, then laughed. “But look at the bright side. We get to eat meat every time he heals somebody.”

The gossip was that Tata Inciong often brought home the choice part of the pig or the chicken, if not all.

On the way home I told my husband, “You, Ilocos, have always called us, Itnegs, superstitious.You are just as superstitious, if not more.”

Fil said, “That is not superstition. The sick person is healed, period. Which reminds me, how soon will Deling’s new chicken be ready for your delicious tinola?”            

© Beatriz Tilan Tabios

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