Thursday Throwback: The Dead, River Spirits, & a Magic Hat [Racialigious]

This Article was originally published on July 30, 2009

by Guest Contributor Alex Felipe originally published at AlexFelipe.com

Filipinos don’t celebrate Halloween, they instead have a day dedicated to the dead on 1 November, the Araw ng mga Patay [Day of the Dead]. It’s a holiday that is the perfect metaphor for Philippine spirituality: an imported Catholic holiday that hints at an animist past.

Having grown up in Canada I only just recently learned about this tradition, and I experienced my first Araw ng mga Patay only last year. I went to go visit my grandfathers graves, they had both died during the 90s and been brought back to the Phils.

The holiday is an odd one seen through the lens of a Filipino raised in Canada. Families head out to the cemetery to clean the tombs of relatives, bring food, flowers, light candles, and pray. But more or less it just seems like a day where everyone decides to have a family picnic—a picnic that just so happens to be in an insanely crowded cemetery.

It’s an odd sight to be honest. Drunk men playing cards on grave markers next to a family singing karaoke on a portable machine next to parents praying the rosary for a recently deceased child.

Strangely enough, it’s a generally mirthful holiday. There are fast food tents set up in the cemetery just for that day: McDonalds, Jollibee, Greenwich Pizza, Ando’s Chicken, and more—all in the middle of a cemetery.

To my foreign influenced eyes, this holiday seems light and fun; a nice way to remember the past, but in the Phils—despite how casual the atmosphere is—there is a real fear that to not pay respect at the grave of a family member would have severe repercussions from the spirit world.

It’s moments like these that really help remind me of our people’s animist past, and the very real connection to the spirit world that doesn’t exist here in Canada.

 

Tala-andig pre-sacrifice ritual. Miarayon, Mindanao
This past lives on despite, or perhaps more accurately, within the country’s Christian framework. As one Tala-andig tribal leader told me in during a visit to their community in 2005, “In our political system we have to go through channels–barangay captain up to the President. You can’t just talk to the President, first you have to go to the local barangay captain, then to the mayor, then the congressman, etc. It’s the same way with our beliefs. We start with the spirits and work our way up to [the Christian] God.”

I am particularly fascinated by our living family mythology. As a Filipino, even a Filipino in Canada, all our family histories are ripe with this folklore. I am proud to even have a little of it attached to me.

I’d like to share some of these stories with you, old stories that sometimes seem a world away, and make me nostalgic for a place I can’t remember, for spirits that I cannot recall…

My great-grandfather, my paternal lola’s father, was apparently a Spaniard (don’t hold it against me). My Mommy Es (as we call our grandma) tells me that he was an older man in his 50s when he married my great-grandmother who was 18. His name was Gabriel and he was a soldier with Spain when he was younger.

My grandmother didn’t know him very well, he died before she became a teen and he was stern man who only really interacted with his kids to discipline them. One thing she did remember about him was his magic hat.

This hat was one of the family anting-antings [magic talisman]. They were often amulets worn around the neck (most commonly they gave the wearer invincibility against a specific weapon), but they could be anything—in this case, a hat.

Mommy Es first told me about the magic hat in my teens when I was a massive comic book geek and it caught my imagination enough that I have never forgotten the story, and have never forgotten the sense of loss I felt for not having it—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So he had a magic hat. This hat was said to have an amazing power: he could use it to transport himself anywhere on earth by simply putting on the hat and thinking about the place. It had an unusual caveat: it would only work if the wearer used it in a place where he was out of sight from watching eyes.

I was an atheist as a teen, and I didn’t really believe in its powers, but it intrigued me. Did one have to be completely out of sight or just have no one watching? How far was its range? Did you have to image the place so well that you couldn’t go anywhere that you hadn’t already been? And of course: why didn’t he use it to be a superhero?

The hat was lost during the war with Japan, after my great-grandfather had died. When my Lola’s family was forced to run to flee into the mountains it was left behind. I have no idea how such an important piece of magic could be left behind, I mean you’d think this hat would have been pretty damned useful during a war.

I, of course, also wondered how my Lola could believe in such an outlandish story—and she really believes it was real. She would tell me about how he walk into a room and just disappear or just appear out of no where when she thought she was alone. It’s all just a little creepy if you ask me—knowing that he was a Spaniard in a Philippines just recently free of Spain—to think that he would just appear and disappear randomly through my grandma’s childhood memories.

 

A statue of a child Jesus behind a young man playing a video game. [Manila]
In the mountains my grandmother had a more dangerous run in with another creature of Filipino mythology.

Throughout my life I have always known my Lola to be afraid of rivers and creeks, it originates from the War and the time she was attacked by a river spirit. She tells the story of how she was in her early teens and went out to the river to fetch water. Usually one of the older family members did it but she felt she was old enough. Her family later found her by the river near dead.

They attribute the incident to a run-in with a river spirit that she forgot to ask permission from.

The theme of river spirits continued with me, but in an opposite direction. I’ve always loved small forest rivers and creeks. I can sit by them for hours.

My maternal Lola, we called her ‘Nanay’ [which means “mother”] loves to tell the story of how when I was a toddler I was always running away from home. At first they would get worried (I have no idea how a baby less than two could run away from home, but that’s the story), but they would always find me in the same place. I would run to the creek in the wooded area near our home and play with my friends the duende.

Duende were mischievous spirits that inhabited the land. While the name is Spanish, the spirits are Filipino, stemming from our animist tradition. Duende were mischievous and often played pranks on people. They could also be very dangerous if offended, and they were easily offended (as my Mommy Es’ story shows). But if you were good to them, they were very protective of you.

Nanay would say how she would often find me there and she would see strange things: like how I would apparently be playing with spirits she couldn’t see, she would see me splash water at an invisible friend–and water would splash back.

She marveled at that friendship as duende were usually creatures to be avoided. In stories even those they befriended usually found themselves in serious trouble. I’ve always loved that connection, and when I went back to the Phils to discover that the creek was gone and the area cemented over and covered in homes I felt a real sadness and I truly hoped that my mythological friends were ok.

To this day when I walk through forests, or come to a creek I would bow my head and greet the spirits. And to this day I’ve always felt safe in wild areas—I’ve had quite a few close calls, but I’ve always come out ok.

Now I’m not saying I believe these stories to be literal truth, but there is wonderful metaphorical truth to be found in mythology—it’s the truth that cannot be spoken of in literal terms, the truth that is within all religions, the truth that’s corrupted by those that see only words but can’t grasp their meaning.

One Filipino wrote on an online criticism of the Araw ng mga Patay holiday “I will never understand the Filipino fascination with the dead, much less their superstitious beliefs concerning the dead among us. I prefer to deal with the land of the living. After all, it’s the living people that need our help as we can do nothing for the dead.”

nullI disagree, many of our problems in the Phils and as Filipinos (especially those of us raised outside the homeland) comes from this disconnect between the present and the past, tradition and modernity. In our headlong rush to become equal to the West [whatever that may mean], we are quickly discarding our mythologies instead of allowing them to evolve. This stupidity is an attempt to strip us of our relationship to the land, each other, and the past.

But these stories live in us whether we want them to or not because our parents, our grandparents, and our families have lived with these stories and they have influenced how they act and how they have raised us.

Tradition is not a static creature. It lives and evolves within the people they inhabit. We cannot remove ourselves from it any more than we can try to remove our blood from our bodies. We can definitely try, and I know too many that do, but the sad result helps neither the living nor the dead.


(all images: ©2005-07 alex felipe / All Rights Reserved)

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Derrick Gordon Becomes First Out Gay Male NCAA Basketball Player

By Arturo R. García

University of Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon announced to the public on Wednesday — after telling his parents and teammates — that he is a gay man, becoming the first gay male NCAA basketball player.

“I know what it’s like to cry yourself to sleep or ‘have a girlfriend’ when that’s not your girlfriend, just to try and impress your friends,” Gordon said in video published by Outsports on the day of his announcement. “Nobody should have to try to live like that.”

Though his opening up to his teammates was by all accounts positive, the road there appears to have been rough for Gordon.
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Quoted: On Mental Health in Korea

According to research by the department of Family Medicine at Hallym University, some 60 percent of people who attempt suicide are suffering from depression. Yet too many people in South Korea have outdated views of psychological illness. Many think that when someone is suicidal he simply lacks a strong will to live; he’s weak. There’s little sympathy or interest in probing below the surface.

And it’s not easy to get therapy for depression in South Korea, where there is still strong societal resistance to psychological treatment. Kim Eo-su, a professor of psychiatry at Yonsei Severance Hospital, told me: “One out of three depression patients stops mid-treatment. One of the biggest issues is that many patients think they can overcome depression on their own through a religious life or through exercise.”

Many people who seek psychiatric treatment are afraid of doctors keeping records. There was a rumor going around recently among married women that having a record of treatment or medication for depression could mean losing custody of your children if your husband were ever to sue for divorce.

Satisfactory explanations for the root causes of the epidemic are hard to come by. For the elderly, many analysts cite the breakdown of the traditional family unit, and the poor economy. Among the youth, the pressure over college entrance examinations is often blamed. And for the middle-aged, it’s uncertainty about the economy. But no matter what the age, too many South Koreans see suicide as a viable escape from the stresses of modern life. That attitude has to change.

South Korea’s Struggle With Suicide, by Young-Ha Kim; April 2, 2014

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For a Kid of Color, Unavoidable Contact With the Cops

By Guest Contributor Alton Pitre, cross-posted from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Photo of the author.

I never chose to be raised by my grandmother in a South Central Los Angeles neighborhood filled with injustice, gang violence and police cruelty. This was my home and the kids on the block were my friends, many of whom eventually joined gangs. Being a native of this environment, I have seen many crazy things and have always felt like I was in the midst of a world war. I have countless friends who are either dead, in jail or doing nothing with their lives. Eventually, I became a victim of this society.

My first encounter with the police happened during my sophomore year in high school. I was leaving a childhood friend’s apartment with another friend when suddenly two Community Reform Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) Officers trespassed and entered. Unfortunately, the friend leaving with me was already on their file as a gang member. Due to my personal photos on Myspace they knew who I was before meeting me face-to-face. I was arrested immediately. As far as I could tell, my crime was being with a friend in the vicinity of where we both grew up.

We were taken to Southwest Police Station and charged with a status offense, in this case trespassing. The police were able to do this because of a gang injunction law placed in my community of L.A. known as the Jungles. Gang injunctions are court-issued restraining orders against a gang that restricts one documented gang member from being with another within a defined geographic area. This allowed the police to summarily arrest any documented gang members who were together in a gang area. We were visiting, not trespassing. After that day gang unit cops harassed me wherever I went.
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Report: Customs officials held 40 ‘low-priority’ pregnant immigrants in one facility

By Arturo R. García

Despite designating pregnant undocumented immigrants as “low-priority” targets for incarceration, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) imprisoned 40 pregnant women at a detention facility in Texas while claiming not to keep “specific records” on detainees’ pregnancy status, Fusion reported on Tuesday.

Records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed the women were held at the El Paso Processing Center last year, following a January 2014 report that 13 pregnant women were being detained at the facility during a four-month period, despite ICE officially stating that they should not be placed in detention centers “absent extraordinary circumstances.”
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Heidi Klum’s Redface Photo Shoot

By Guest Contributor Ruth Hopkins, cross-posted from Last Real Indians

All images via Facebook.

Heidi Klum, I’m so disgusted with you. I can’t even look at you right now.

I’ve been a fan of Heidi Klum’s show Project Runway since episode one. I’ve seen every single season. As a Native woman who loves fashion, I was elated when Taos Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels was selected for the show, especially considering how Native appropriation has run rampant in the fashion industry over the past several years. Patricia made it to the series finale and finished as the season’s runner-up. Heidi was supportive of Patricia too. She complimented Patricia’s designs and showed what appeared to be sincere appreciation for Native culture.

As a result, I never could have imagined that Heidi Klum would promote redface. Nay, I was sorely mistaken.
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Quoted: Media Diversified UK on Game of Thrones And Genre Fiction’s Race Problem

While not placing it in the pantheon of truly great television, I’ve been a fan of Game of Thrones since the show debuted in 2011. I normally like my drama pessimistic, with a hard edge, and even downright cruel on occasion. I like even more that a show in the fantasy realm cares as much about its tonal execution, as it does costumes and wacky names.

And yet, I’ve never been able to relax in the presence of the programme, never allowed myself to be fully swept up in the world of Westeros. The reason why? This is best encapsulated by the conclusion of Season 3 – which Sky were so helpful to remind us of during their promotion for the upcoming Season 4.

The character of Daenerys Targaryen is emblematic of ”Game of Thrones” continuous problem with race. Beyond the emetic “white saviour“ scene to close Season 3, we are first introduced to her during a forced marriage to Khal Drogo of the Dothraki people (who are non-white). At the wedding, the Dothraki are painted as little more than savages, with the men literally killing each other to force themselves on the women; hypersexual and hyperviolent, two big racist boxes are ticked.

– From “Daenerys Targaryen Is Back To ‘Save The Coloureds’ Tour De #GameOfThrones 2014,” by Shane Thomas

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Open Thread: Scandal 3.16, ‘The Fluffer’

By Arturo R. García

Olivia (Kerry Washington) discovers that the “B” in “B613″ stands for “bootie call.”

For being a place-holder episode, “The Fluffer” did manage to pull on at least one intriguing plot thread before hurtling us headlong into the season’s Big Finish.
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Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World