Tabada: ‘Tabi’

·2 min read

Interesting to follow are two foreigners who documented Visayans and the superstitions they believed at the turn of the century. Published in the July-September 1906 volume of “The Journal of American Folklore” is the paper written by W. H. Millington and Berton L. Maxfield on “Philippine (Visayan) Superstitions.”

Millington and Maxfield hold that the beneficent effects of the free public education introduced by the American colonizers were overpowered by the pre-colonial belief system; the “lizards, rats, and bats” that “swarm(ed)” and took over local households when the humans were away; and even the questionable actuations of neighbors that indoctrinated in Visayans “in general” the belief in “three kinds of spirits: the tamawos, dwendes, and asuangs.”

More often than not, the people—whether believers or skeptics—are more interesting than the belief. Millington and Maxfield scoff at the “half-educated people” who share the superstitions of the “lower classes” in our islands; in turn, I am as fascinated by these two authors who, in their unquestioning faith in rationality, education, and class, were not as different as they thought from the people they studied as specimens.

The second to the last page of their paper mentions that on the evening of Nov. 2 or All Souls’ Day, the superstitious Visayans—at least, “most of the lowest class”—prepare a sumptuous supper and put this on the ground as offering to the souls of their departed.

Would Millington and Maxfield (or their shades) be interested to know that the practice continues on Nov. 2 more than a century later? Did they speculate how poor Visayans could afford to lay out a “rich supper” for the unseen when they themselves were starving?

I prefer the version taught to my sister and I by Yaya, born on Nov. 2 or “Kalag-Kalag.”

In feasts, the living take precedence over the dead. This woman taught us to light candles at twilight outside our home so the light would guide the “kalag (soul)” wandering on Kalag-Kalag.

I thought this intent was risky after imbibing in her injunction to always say aloud, “tabi tabi po (excuse me)” when walking outside in the dark to avoid intruding into the spirit space Millington and Maxfield diminished into an offshoot of poverty and ignorance, stratified into the cultured but acquisitive tamawo prone to luring children into their glass castles installed under earth mounds; the seditious dwende who crash into people’s gardens; and the “cama-cama” who dwell in wells and covertly pinch black and blue couples courting by moonlight.

When I voiced my doubts aloud, Yaya assured us that the light from candles and prayers draw the right spirits to us. Tabi, tabi, po.

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