Teachings of the Ancestors

Image for Teachings of the Ancestors

Dressed in a soiled loincloth, an old, leathered man sits by the fire, rolling his homegrown tobacco in a rahà leaf. His young wife, with a hand-rolled cigarette held in a hole in her earlobe, tends the pot hanging on a wooden hook dangling from a timber above. Several naked children noisily dart through the small hut as the mother exclaims, “Stop the noise, or the enduds (ghosts) will get you!” She does nothing to deter their activity but continues with meal preparations.

Clad only in a tightly knotted, brightly colored patadyong (wraparound skirt) at her waist, her leathery back glistens in the dim light coming through the grass roof. “Mengàan siyu ne,” she says, calling everyone to sit by the fire where the evening meal is spread out on banana leaves.

As grubby fingers and eager mouths consume the steamed cassava and malanga roots, the family cheerfully chats and jokes; then, as the sun goes down behind the high mountain to their west, the family throws their used banana leaves out into the yard and prepares to rest for the night. The children curl up in oversized shirts given by an outsider, the mother unknots her patadyong and brings it over her shoulders, and the old man grabs a length of fabric and curls up within it. Because nights can feel chilly, the family sleeps directly on the slatted bamboo floor with their feet toward the fire.
As the children quiet down, the father begins telling stories.

Lepas, Lana Megkutew, and Telep
One night, he tells the story of seeing a lepas, a ghostly skeletal being that eats people. Another night, he tells about when he saw a man accused of stealing someone’s chicken being subjected to lana megkutew, where his hands were dipped in hot oil to see if he was innocent or guilty. If he had not been burned during the ordeal, he would have been considered innocent. This man was found guilty. Another time, the father tells the story of a woman whose husband accused her of having an affair with another man. She was subjected to telep, where she was weighted down with a heavy rock tied to her and thrown into the river. Floating to the top meant she was innocent; if she didn’t surface, she was guilty. Amazing but true, she floated to the top and was found innocent by way of the telep test.

Biyek Talun
Many nights, the father regales the family with stories of hunting the biyek talun (wild boar) with his special spear and reminds them that the jaws hanging outside the house testify that he was the one who caught them. On other occasions, he tells the family about the times he hunted the Palawan deer or the pangolin, a native anteater; both are no longer found on the island. Sometimes he teaches the children the sounds of the various birds. But tonight he tells the story of an ancestor named Katungkulan.

Born an ordinary child, Katungkulan grew and grew. One day, upon reaching manhood, he climbed to the top of the highest mountain, Kabatangan. “Now Kabatangan,” he explained, “is named so because at the top of the mountain are short, stout trees that are very old indeed. These trees grow so short and close together that you cannot walk under them; you must walk on top of them from one tree top to the other. If you fall through the treetops, it will be very difficult to get out again. So be very careful walking up there if you ever go.”

As the story continues, the father tells how, on the mountaintop, Katungkulan saw a ladder descend from the sky above, and he began climbing it. When he reached the top, he knew he had reached one of the seven heavens. He met Empù Banar (the highest god) there and saw many of the ancestors who had gone before him. Though he enjoyed being in this place, after about one year, Katungkulan remembered that he had not asked permission from his elders to leave them, nor had he said goodbye to his wife or other loved ones. So he descended the ladder and returned to his home.

Lami-Lami, Emput Byek, and Emput Par
Delighted to see their son again, a lami-lami (feast) was called, and the fatted pig was roasted and served. At the feast, Katungkulan told the people that they must always eat pig because that honored Empù’t Biyek (the god of pig), and they must always ritually use onion, garlic, ginger and other leaves to bring healing to their bodies when sick. And more than anything, they should always grow and eat rice and never forget to sacrifice to Empù’t Parey (the god of rice) during the rice wine rituals in which every person, young and old, is to drink the rice wine. “If you neglect this,” he warned, “Empù’t Parey will not bless your rice harvest, and you will starve.”

The father continues, “During the welcome home feast, Katungkulan discovered that the wife he had left had been taken by his younger brother Sukul, and so he insisted that they all climb back up to the top of Kabatangan for the kasal (wedding ceremony). Upon reaching the mountain peak, though Katungkulan had become invisible to the others, he proceeded to perform the ceremony. He also gave those in attendance many instructions to share with others. He told them never to forget the arat et kegunggurangan (the character and customs of the elders). With that, Katungkulan, wearing a white shirt and loincloth, became visible again while he climbed the ladder up to one of the heavens until he was out of sight. He has never been seen again . . . except in dreams.”

As the father continued his story, he told how particular rituals could be used to invoke the help of Katungkulan from way up in the heavens. Because he is closer to god up there, he is said to be the mediator between god and man and could easily communicate and mediate with the dead ancestors. “And therefore, Katungkulan must always be consulted, revered and honored. This is done using many rituals through which Katungkulan speaks with man.”

By now, the children were sound asleep, yet the stories had taken root in their minds, and when they heard the stories from the Bible of the very ancient-of-ancient ancestors, they were perplexed. The stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, Jesus and many others were so different from the stories their elders had told them about the ancestors. Despite their cultural perspective, confusion and the superstitions of their elders, the Holy Spirit broke through, and the Light of Truth dawned on their minds.