When I was a child I was told that there were spirits dwelling along the rivers, on top of the mountains, at the foot of tall old tree, under huge rocks and many more. These spirits are generally called "anito" in Kankanaey language.
I was told by my mother that there were friendly and evil spirits (aanito). This gave me the courage to set foot into the virgin forests in Kibungan all by myself without fear of the "anito." I had promised myself not to throw stones anywhere to be sure I won't hurt any mountain spirits. I was about 10 years old that time.
After 15 La Niña and El Niño had passed, I still kept in my heart the teachings about treating the "anito" with respect.
One day my cousins and neices in Bauang, La Union invited me to visit their place. I was excited since I had never been in that province.
With my cousins and neices we rode in 3H bus in Baguio. After nearly two hours, we arrived in Bauang. Upon dropping off from the bus with sliding windows which the wind would forcely pass through as aircon, I started to feel the scorching heat of the sun. It was during the height of summer fun in April.
From the heart of Bauang, we rode in a jeep overloaded with passengers. Some were clinging at the tail of the old looking jeep with an old-looking driver wearing shorts, sando and slippers. Other passengers were fearless enough to climb on the top of the jeep while enjoying sitting on the spare tire. (After two years, I was informed that the LTO and LGU officials have banned the overloading scheme especially to PUJs)
After less than an hour, we finally arrived at their peaceful barrio with vast rice fields. Mango trees and coconuts stood tall with bountiful fruits to welcome me. Very few people could be seen around and houses were quiet far apart. Amazingly, they knew very well every member of each household.
Their nearest neighbors came by and I was introduced to them. I have noticed that every time I told them that I come from Benguet or La Trinidad, they would always say, "Taga-Baguio ka gayam."
After lunch time, some men, who were relatives and close friends of my cousins, arrived with sharp bolos safely hanging on their waists. Some were obviously just came from their rice fields or pasture lands.
I didn't know that my uncle ordered some of the men to butcher one of his healthy goats. After watching how they butchered the goat, I was stunned with the almost hundreds of visitors around.
While mingling and sharing stories with the visitors and neighbors of my cousins, I didn't notice that hours had passed. The golden sun seemed to whisper it's sweetest goodbye while half hidden from the robust mango trees.
I have noticed that the makeshift toilet was quiet far. Some drunk or better say tipsy men had forgotten their dignity as gentlemen that they just stood under the bamboos just meters away from the house to pee.
On my case I didn't stand under the bamboos because many people could see me. I decided to move further just behind the house where I could see a periodic river below. I did it many times before I surrendered to find my way into a bed prepared for me.
"Umay kan mangan, insan!" my cousin was calling outside the house where they cooked delicious Ilocano dish. I could see the sun smiling through steel windows without glass and curtains. The house was half finished as it had no ceiling yet.
After a sumptuous meal, I left for Baguio with heavy farm produce as tokens from my cousins, uncle and auntie.
Two days later, I begun to feel irritating itchiness on my both arms. Few hours later, itchy watery bumps begun surfacing on my elbows. I suspected it was allergic reaction.
I consulted my friends, colleagues and health experts I knew but none of their suggestions and prescriptions worked.
A week later, it became obvious all over my arms. People kept on asking me what was it. It was the time that Idecided to wear protective arm sleeves.
I consulted a dermatologist in Km5, La Trinidad who prescribed an expensive ointment placed in a bottle with about 2-inch diameter and 1-inch thick (The clinic is now defunct). I religiously applied the ointment for three weeks. Unfortunately the itchiness and watery bumps worsened.
It was then I told the news to my cousins and neices in La Union. After few hours, they called and told me that I needed to go back to Bauang as advised by an old woman whom they had consulted.
We arranged my comeback to their barrio. Upon arrival, the old woman advised me to take a rest since she will perform a ritual at sunset.
Of course native chicken with bottle of gin were prepared.
At exactly 5 p.m., the old woman started performing the ritual over me while I was sitted on an old bankito. I looked up and I saw the old woman hovering a huge bolo like a samurai blade.
"What if she would accidentally cut my head?" I asked myself.
My cousins and neices sensed that I got nervoused with the blade.
"Itatalnam lang," they calmed me.
I don't remember the chants of the old woman as I was focused on the blade that could cut off my head drenched with sweats.
Alas! The old woman stopped chanting and slowly placed the dangerous bolo on the indigenous basket.
The old woman explained that the huge bolo would drive away the bad spirits who held me by my hands while I was peeing behind the house just overlooking the periodic river.
She then ordered me to take off my clothes for a bath. Just with my underwear, we went behind the house where a large traditional "kaldero" or "banga" was boiling with different leaves of plants (I only recognized the leaves of guavas). She mixed the hot water with the cold water from the old drum and poured unto me while she was chanting. Chanting still, she poured water on my arms then brushed them with her rough palms.
After her long chant, she told me to continue bathing until no more the water in the pot, then she left me.
The next day, the old woman came in the house early in the morning. I didn't know that they boiled leaves while I was asleep. She ordered me to take a bath again while she was chanting. That was the last part of the ritual.
Before I stepped out towards the barrio road to flag down a jeep, they gave me a used feed sack, half filled with different dried leaves of plants.
The old woman instructed me to boil the leaves then take a bath with the infused water. I should do it until the last leaf. So I did religiously.
After a week, my arms begun to dry and the itchiness slowly subsided.
Two weeks passed, I confidently walked around people without arm sleeves or arm guards.
From then on, I've learned my lesson.