Southern Leyte, the early 1960s
I live in a rural town, in a barrio that is divided in two. A fishing community, everyone here is a skilled craftsman most are fisherman, but they also built their own banca or baroto; boat builders albeit small, but boat builders, and carpenters too.
Such was the skill of the folks, passed down even before the Americans came. But this story is not about them.
It was still night but not dark with the full moon up, I was just finishing up keeping my catch for the night, and putting the net away. The net stands need to be replaced and I had to find one now, doing this during daylight, I’d be too lazy to do it.
Most of us fishermen, who catch fish at night, need a break to sleep too.
I needed to go up on the hills, just a little over head, I found a bamboo grove a few days ago when I was scouting for one from below. I was pretty sure there was a group of small bamboo shoots. So climb that hill I must.
As I reach the plateau of one of the lower hills. Just like I figured, the bamboo grove was there. I walk closer to investigate and confirm.
Illuminating the vicinity with my standard flashlight, I mean the large one with lots of big batteries in it, the ones that can hurt you, like a security guard’s baton would.
I see one group that will fit my needs. I chop a few and I carry them on my shoulders down hill. I tucked the flashlight back to my side using the nylon rope that served as my machete’s sheath belt.
Traversing down the hill with the bamboos on one side and the light on the other seems difficult, hence the need to put it away.
There was someone dark following me, I didn’t mind it, it seemed to be a woman, she is quite a distance, just enough for me to discern a dark shape.
As I reached the road side, I sensed someone still following me. The trees were thick all around from the hills, and on the other side of the road, equally as thick. Trees of all sorts, but more on coconut as the road is a beachfront.
I was pretty sure that no sane person would follow me, without at least a flame torch with them. Without some form of light, one would easily get lost, even with a torch, the thick and dark forest is quite disorienting at night, even at day time for a stranger.
Going through the trees would be suicide for a stranger, there is a well in between the road and the beach, one could end up falling, it is deep enough. And it is inadvisable to go through, there might be holes that are not filled up yet.
Confident that whoever it was, would not follow me, if they would, they would at least have some form of light. And I will be able to see them.
So I march on.
I can see the limestone road clearly, even on a moonless night the road can be discernible enough, but with the full moon up those big rocks are clear. I can also feel them under my feet as I cross the road.
In what seemed to be an eternity, I finally was able to cross the small two lane road that serves Barangay Buscayan and Canlusay.
I need to rest, since my shoulders were feeling a little sore, the bamboos I collected placed them on the side of the tree upright, that way it will be easy to carry when I resume.
The canopy is covering the little forest before the beach, and the moonlight is not able to penetrate. The stop was to get my bearings right, and for my eyes to focus on the dark.
I need the light now, this part is darker than when I was on the hill, I lit up my flame torch, since the flashlight is a little difficult to handle.
The path is not that discernible to the uninitiated, but for a local, the path well traveled is clear. Like they say light is near when the night is so dark. It was very much like that with our little forest.
You know the trees if you are a local, I am now on the last few trees, and I could even see the moonlight right ahead. The walk through the little forest was uneventful, but it is always wonderful to look at the beach, as you go through the last part of the darkness.
I have reached the threshold of the clearing. Although I am still under the canopy of the trees, I can see the beach now, and the moonlight is complemented by the white sands illuminating the beach.
The beauty of it to me was, from darkness, suddenly there was light.
Walking through the small patches of trees, I proceeded to where I parked my small dugout canoe, my personal bangka, beside it, the net stand, dilapidated from the elements.
I put all of the bamboo down beside the net stand. I turn around to set my flame torch on the sand, stabbing it hard, just to make sure it does not fall, but stand upright. I pull my flashlight out so that I can work on the bamboo with less distraction on my body.
I turn back to the net stand, and move the net to my bangka, then…
“Phaack!” The sound of a bamboo being struck.
A hand, no both hands on the net, that is still on the bamboo net stand, preventing me from moving it. I look up, I see the face of a woman. She has long hair, I cannot say how old she is or how young.
I can only make out her hair easily, not because it is long, but it seems to be moving, floating, animated.
I turn the flashlight on, so that I can clearly see who it is. I aim the flashlight at her, illuminating her face. And it turns off. I pull the switch and push it, the light flickers and turns off again.
For the love of God, I declared, give me light.
I swear this is highly unlikely the batteries are new, for tonight was its first. Panulay(current meaning is devil), I cried.
I can see her hair moving towards me, I have a feeling of disorientation, like this is a lamat.
It is like an illusion, the hair seems slow, but the next thing that I know is her hair enters the orifices of my head, in my ears, mouth and nose. I am having a difficult time breathing.
My hands and arms are still free, her hair starts to hold on to them, but I managed to pull out, I pull those that were in my nose first and the others.
My turn, I said to myself. I struck her with my flashlight, I know it will hurt, and I landed, connecting my blow to her head.
For a moment she lost it, her hair fell. Then with equal ferocity she fights back and grabs hold of my arms. But with my legs I was able to move, and wrestle myself out her clutches, I struck again with my trustee flashlight.
She learns quickly, evades, and I am in for fear of my life. For what is this creature anyway, why did she attack me. What did I do to her. I can only infer at this point that she means to devour me. Is it a wakwak, aswang, an ungo that we have not seen or heard of before.
I attack again, and I miss, she hisses, like she was telling me taunting me of my clumsiness and frailty.
Handy I am with a pinoti, a sword of my forefather, I swung again with the flashlight in the fashion that one would strike a sword. The points one and two on the head for a Balintawak Arnis practitioner and the twelfth are the ones I am aiming at.
Alas she fell for it.
She evades point one, but my two lands, and confuses her. Then the twelfth, I struck hard with all my body moving.
I did not land the last, the flashlight is not in my hands. I was confused on what happened, but I could not just keep on contemplating on how and why.
I turn around and attempt to run, outrun her if I must.
But she, still holding on to the bamboo net stand, remains still, while her hair catches my legs, dragging me towards her.
I fell right beside the flame torch, which is still aflame. I grab it, then stand up, and shoved the torch right in her face.
As quickly she caught me, I matched her with my nimble legs and back, getting back up.
I can only assume that she did not expect me to pull the flame and shove it on her. For she was completely surprised there.
She let go of the bamboo net stand, and moved back, to evade the flame.
From what I heard, they do not like iron or brass, or nickel and copper too. Specially fire.
Undaunted by my come back, she ran towards me, and in exchange the flame torch towards her face. She dodges, and runs to the side of the net stand to try and grab me by the hand.
I, evade, nimble me, she chases me. She cannot catch, for I was too quick and nimble. It seems if her hair had brains, I could read its thoughts.
We ran around the net stand, and around my bangka, she chased me, and I chased her, with my flame.
The running around seems to have shaken my head, I felt I was a genius for a moment. I suddenly have a cunning plan.
I let her chase me, towards the net stand. For some reason, I was holding my flame torch on my left hand whilst I was right handed.
Both she and I were on the opposite sides of the net stand, I noticed that she was keeping her distance from me, and the net.
I pulled the net from the stand, then ran away from her to get my bearings right when she may approach. I ran towards the open beach where it will be open for me to do my thing. I am a fisherman after all, I can catch fish, why can I not catch an ungo.
Such was my cunning plan, I must catch her alive. Ingenious, bold, and unprecedented was my idea. If I die then I die, die fighting evil, the devil, even Satan himself.
A calculated risk. She ran after me out into the open beach, away from the trees and the parked boats that were hung.
A distance between us, that I felt it enough to stop and stand the torch on the sand again. I ran towards her, with a net in tow.
I do not know what was in her mind at that moment, she may have thought that I will fail, and she will succeed.
I threw the net at her, casting it, like I would cast it to sea to catch fish. I threw it ahead of my early estimate, for she too was quick. But not as agile and nimble and mobile as I, for if she was, yours truly would have died.
Alas, I caught her, dead in the middle, her body falling to the sand, her hair caught all over the net, immobilizing her. Her weapon, entangled on my net.
It was like the movies, she fell down on the sand, wriggle, wiggle, writhing like the fish I catch, more likely like a fly in a spider’s web. I think the movies are wrong, I think they are, but now I see her down, a victim of the net.
To my surprise, my right hand was holding my sheathed sword, my sundang. No fisherman or farmer leaves home without it. As if guided by instinct, I unsheathed it and strike number eight, I aimed for her left leg.
She pulls her legs in, evades my attack at the last moment. I know I am tired, and I would like to believe that she is exhausted too.
For a moment, I analyzed what I must do, and believe me she must be too. I was all caught up, that I forgot I have an iron weapon at hand, one that I was told they, her kind, was terrified of.
A new strength I found, the armour of god, his words are my armour, my shield is my faith in Christ, and by Christ I have the sword of righteousness. I shall cast this demon, like my Lord has cast Legion out of that boy.
For she is my Philistine, she who acts with disdain for a soul or life. Like God, I shall stretch my hand upon her, and I shall thrust my sword of God’s wrath deep down and cast this demon back to hell.
And I shall wreak great acts of vengeance with rebukes of fury, and they will know that I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon them.
I thrust my sword for the kill, as she lay immobilized she screams.
For the love of God, the miracle, for the light I prayed, the first light. She manages to free herself, her hair has lost its enchantment, it has grown short, and untangled itself. My sword has lost its victim, but the sand.
I see her from a distance, running. I will not give chase, for blood is not what I desire.
I went home, wiser from the experience, truly when the darkness of the night comes, the light is just around the corner.
All Filipinos have at least one uncle who would be called Uncle Boy, or Uncle Junior, and I have a few of them. All of them are usually show offs, or have one crazy story to tell, well not that I am sure with the other families but mine do.
I am dedicating this story to my Uncle Junior Kinazo, a retired cop and former Philippine Constabulary official, who was assassinated by the criminals that he once arrested, may your soul rest in peace.
I was in Southern Leyte, the late 1980s, if I recall it correctly it was Nanay Maura’s wake, it has been sometime that I have not been back to Canlusay or Buscayan.
I was not exactly enjoying it, the occasion supposedly calls for a somber mood, I have always dreaded eating fish, most of the folks around here have fist diet. My fear of eating fish was when I was younger, I caught a bone, and it hurts.
Now older and a little wiser when eating fish, not that I am not able to discern the bone from meat, what scared me about catching a bone on my throat was not seeing the tiny thing, because the lights at night are not that bright.
For some reason in one of those nights, everyone was talking about, wakwak, and other ungo related stories. Everyone has his or her own stories to tell, their experiences about not getting a catch for the night was blamed on the wakwak for instance.
It was dark outside the house, I don’t even recall if we had one of those Petromax or bonfires outside, but it was enough to set the mood. A few years later, watching ‘Are you afraid of the dark?’ kind of reminds of that night.
This was Yoyo Junior’s story, although it did not happen exactly like how I wrote it, but he nearly killed her that night, and she as well attempted to kill him.
Whether we believe in these mythical creatures or not. My uncle did, it was a terrifying experience for him, to have some hairs shoved into your nose and mouth, and lived through it.
And to all my Kinazo cousins, in Southern Leyte, Macrohon and down. To those in Agusan too, as well as Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat. Greetings and good tidings.
There are so many of you to mention, I hope you remember Yoyo Junior with his stories.
If you have a story from him or from our other uncles as well, let me know write to me at facebook and let me share it here.
I truly miss him.