My Mangyan Ancestry
The island of Mindoro acclaims its Mt. Halcon Mangyan citizens as the proud repository of pre-hispanic writing preserved over the years in etched bamboo nodes. This ancient syllabary is similar to the holy Sanskrit inscriptions written on pali leaves found in many Indian and Buddhist temples today. That is now.
Back then, the mention of Mangyans was a torturous thought to us barrio kids from Masipit. Thanks to the bayan(1) bullies, these town barakos never failed to remind us of our indigenous past.
Isnt it common knowledge that you Mangyans have tails? they insinuate. Regularly, at recess, by the outhouse, my best friends and I would be observed acting strangely like red ants pawing each others behind.
O, ano?(2) the cryptic question is accompanied by quizzically raised eyebrows.
These periodic physical examinations have a comforting effect. It confirmed whether or not, by some evolutionary regression, we had actually stunted growing our buntots(3). Ay, salamat at wala pa(4), a whispered sigh of reassuring relief indicates no visible developmental stump yet.
Back in the classroom those of us seated in rows are called by turns to the front to sing a song:
I heb two hans
Da lep and da righ
Confusion reigns over which hand is left or right.
Hol dem up high
So clean and brigh
Our hands held up are dirtied from garden work.
For every faulty pronunciation, Miss Acedillo would have the usual wailing and gnashing of teeth. Youre a one-way ticket to failure, she lets us know where were headed. Then she aims her index finger and thumb poised as if to catch a dragonfly. The worst egregious offender among us would get a finely executed kurot sa singit. A pinch in the groin is corporal punishment. She considers this generally harmful, but tells us that in most cases it is useful and nothing else will serve. When in a snit, shed say, Hoy, mga Mangyan! Go plant camote, a characterization that we are truly nothing more than the know-nothing uncivilized indigenous breeds, fit only to plant sweet yams on the kaingin(5) forest floors.
Only Impong Menang understood my identity crisis.
Of course, youre not a Mangyan. Youre a true blue-blooded Tagala. She allowed this piece of information to carefully sink in.
My mothers half-sister, she points to herself.
And your fathers mothers second cousin, she jabs her finger at me, are related
on the Flores side
of the Tecson branch in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija, she emphasized, counting our levels of family relationship, extending her pinkie finger in front of my face, followed by the ring finger, and then the middle finger.
In a society where matrilineal and patrilineal kinship affinities are bilaterally recognized, that meant we were close relatives. Most importantly, I was not a Mangyan.
1. Town, country.
4. Thank God,
Copyright © 2004 Carayan Press