Her mouth blew through the pipes of her Diwdiw-as. The pan flute originally belonged to her mother, and before that, her ancestors. The music started at a violent pace at first, fast, like the savagery of storms. It was like she was back in the mountains where the summit touched the clouds. She felt the mist dampen her face. The skies above grew dark. There were flashes of lightning but no thunder. And then the music slowed in tempo, calm, peaceful, regaining composure and clarity. The sky above cleared. She thought she had imagined this.
Her audience were the stars that illuminated the reality of her surroundings: in the backyard of an old tenement surrounded by corrugated GI sheets. Around her was the world – the real world, the poor world – with people walking and talking and thinking about how they would survive another day. But the real world paled in comparison to her music. It stopped to listen and remember the old world and its simplicity, of a time fueled by imagination and discovery – a distant memory.
“Sing with me,” she whispered to the wind, and the wind responded with a light breeze that was a subtle whistle. It breathed with the melody of her music.
The night listened. A falling star brushed across the sky. The moment lingered forever.
The noise of the marketplace by the Quiapo church became a constant source of everyday chaos. Manila was a city bustling with different folks who had many ideas and agendas. It was a melting pot that had attracted people from even the farthest reaches of the islands. In this, the place of hawkers and madness stood her temporary store, a bilao (basket tray) of eggs that sat atop an old wooden crate. Foran wiped the sweat from her forehead. It was hard to sell eggs on a Saturday even though there were a lot of people who flocked for the church masses and shopped for vegetables on the sidewalk stalls. There were many things that you could buy in Quiapo, and eggs were one of them. Sometimes people bought her eggs, sometimes they did not, yet even though she fell short from selling, she was thankful. She was still alive, and that she could make a meal of her unsold chicken eggs were part of the graces that went her way.
Foran came down from the mountains when she was young. Lured by the call of modern civilization, she hitched a ride from her village to the city of Baguio, and there took a bus ride to the lowlands of Cubao. She was twenty then, full of life and a charming, idealistic point of view. The reality of city life was far from the illusions that kept her high above the clouds, far from the idyllic stories that some of the tourists told whenever they would visit her village. She found work as a waitress in a restaurant, but when the owner tried to force himself on her one night, the reality of what it was really like to live in the city dawned on her, and so she defended herself. She cut the old lecher and made her way out the door with a small sum of cash. She reasoned it was just compensation for the actions of her former employer. Her conscience contradicted her, though. That was years ago. She heard that the old restaurant owner died of a heart attack sometime after she left. She spat and thought the death was well deserved. She was never caught.
The realization of how hard city life was crushed her dreams of making it in the city. At least in her village, she had something to eat and the land provided for them. Nowadays, she had to scrape the bottom to stay alive. She found work as a cleaning lady for the local government hospital shortly after, but her salary was not enough for her meals and the tenement rent, so she sold eggs on the weekends. Her neighbor was a supplier for the local marketplace, and the old man was the closest thing to a fatherly figure that she had in the city. His name was Nestor, who was childless, and in turn, he treated Foran like his own.
On a Saturday, under the blistering heat of the sun, a gentleman in fine rich clothing and a buntal hat took refuge under Foran’s store umbrella. She heard a noise down by her bilao. She could have sworn the eggs she sold jiggled. But that moment had passed, and she thought that maybe her mind played tricks on her. It’s the heat, she thought. She looked up at the gentleman and saw an old face, whose ancient eyes shone like deep pearls amid a sea of white, and the hair on her nape prickled. She felt something from the old man, a feeling that made her felt small and insignificant. She felt afraid, but then, like the illusion of the eggs, it passed, and she was calm once more. She smiled and asked, “Would you like to buy some eggs?”
“No,” the old man plainly answered. His voice was firm and commanding. He continued. “Rather, I am looking for someone who has played the most beautiful music that I have heard from last night. The music was enchanting to my ears. It is something that I have not heard for a very long time. It sounded like the heavens touching the mountains. Tell me, do you know what I speak of?”
“I’m sorry, apo, but I only have eggs,” she chuckled.
Apo. It meant grandfather in the tongues of the tribes in the mountains. Apo. It was a word he has not heard in a long while.
The stranger straightened himself and tipped his hat. “My apologies, young lady, but my ears led me straight to you. It seems as though it has failed me for the first time. I may, however, be of service and waste not this moment of your precious time.”
The stranger reached into his pocket and pulled out a golden piece of rock.
“Three eggs, please.”
Foran gave a puzzled look at the old man as she realized that the stranger was about to trade with gold, which was a rarity in modern society, and definitely a practice that had long been abandoned since the creation of money.
“My apologies, apo, but I cannot take your gold.”
“And why is that, young one?”
“Well, first of all, that is too much for three eggs. Secondly, I don’t know where to exchange that for the proper currency. Don’t you have twenty pesos?”
The stranger drew a look of confusion. He smiled, placed the gold piece near the stack of eggs, and walked away.
“Apo!” Foran called the stranger, who, in turn, was confused herself. She picked up the gold coin, but when she looked back, the stranger was already gone. Her eyes went back to the gold nugget. It was a strange-looking piece and had an odd shape to it, like a face etched on its rough surface. It felt like it throbbed in her hand. Surprised at this, she quickly placed the nugget in her pocket and tried not to think about it.
Her mind shifted back to the old man. There was something strange about him and their meeting. She, again, felt small, like the world did not mean anything to her, and that the old man was the most important thing that ever was. Such a feeling was new and strange at the same time. She had not met anyone who gave her such profound insignificance. The world spun. Her hands trembled. She felt it – a power primordial in origin – and all the things about the old world that her elders talked about suddenly become relevant. She was not a devout woman, yet somewhere deep inside, she did not take for granted the existence of a higher power, a God or many gods, and that there were spirits and other such demons that haunted the dark parts of the world.
She pulled the nugget from her pocket and threw it away. Her view of the world changed. She started to cry.
Music is the language of the soul, the element that fuels the mind to reach greater heights – the aphrodisiac of gods.
The sound of the Diwdiw-as lingered in the air. It echoed throughout the halls of eternity and surpassed time and space. It started with a slow pace like it always did, expressing a feeling of sadness and guilt, until such that the tempo sped in pace, and it lit up like shooting stars in the sky. Then the happy moments came with melodies overflowing with emotions. It suggested love and joy, laughter, and excitement – the music was magic.
Music is magic reverberating within the mind, empowering the spirit that drives us forth.
The melody became infectious. Soon a crowd drew just outside the patched walls of corroding galvanized sheets. They listened with their eyes closed. They heard the language and understood. The pan-flute of the Cordilleras brought about the smell of rice fields and mountains. The people who flocked outside saw different worlds in their minds. Visions of magical worlds came to them. Their poor and tired minds riddled with the worries of everyday living were refreshed with sweet longings. Within worlds they traveled, explored, and they flew past lands of enchantment, of make-believe and awe. They felt a calm and profound moment of peace.
Music is a mystery, deep, and exhilarating, soothing, relaxing… the power behind dreams.
Within the crowd, the old man stood. He heard the music beyond the makeshift walls. He tilted his head and stared at the stars that glittered above. He remembered the bygone years when he roamed with the wild beasts that inherited the land when the fear of gods was still in the hearts of humankind. This brought about honor, pride, and above all, respect within the ranks of men. It was fear that kept men in place. The images were vivid, of a time of great power, to a place where he came down from his father’s home in the heavens and taught the Bontoc tribe how it was to live. That was a long time ago, during ancient days of magic and glory. But in the present, he was forgotten and his deeds written in obscurity. In this lifetime, he was nothing more but a lonely island amid an ocean of forgotten things.
Music reminds us of who we are and why we are here.
He remembered his wife Cayapon, who was once named Fucan, but the name of his sons he no longer recalls. It had been a long while since he had seen them. He knew they lived long lives, and yet, through it all, he was not able to find his descendants. In recent years, he became bitter, cold, and somewhat spiteful towards the rest of humankind and what they had become, how the lessons of the ages were lost through revisions and agendas. Yet the music of the Diwdiw-as stripped away the loneliness and the taint of miserable frustration. He managed a smile and waited for the music to end.
At first, there was silence. The dark and the quiet overwhelmed the senses. Then countless stars exploded within the void, and voices erupted from the dark emptiness that called out her name. Slowly reality pulled her from that darkness until the loud sound of the marketplace assaulted her senses. She blinked several times and covered her ears. Her teeth gnashed against each other. There was the pain. There was nausea. But that moment passed. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Something bothered Foran the whole day. She was sure that it was not the midday sun that burned down the city at a heat of forty-two degrees. She was certain that it was not the fact that she still had fifty eggs on her bilao, the same number as she had yesterday. No, these were mundane things, noncomparable to the anxiety that lingered inside her after she met the old stranger yesterday. Her anxiety turned to alarm when, at that moment, she saw shining on the ground the very same gold nugget she threw away yesterday.
Her eyes stared in amazement, and the thought that no one even bothered to pick it up made her shudder. She realized she was afraid of the old man, but then Foran realized the old man was there, in front of her all along, and he stared with his old and powerful eyes.
She sat motionless, mouth agape, and her sweat ran down heavily.
“What do you want with me?” asked Foran, who finally found the courage to speak.
The old man stared at her. His gaze bore through her soul. Again, she felt small and insignificant. She looked around and saw that everything around her had stopped moving – the world stood still. She threw up her breakfast on the ground. With a trembling hand, she reached for the bottle of water beside the wooden stool and drank it all. She heard a cracking sound like shells breaking open. She saw her chicken eggs hatch. Her eyes opened wide in disbelief. Foran looked at the stranger who now seemed to be bigger, like a giant, against the small backdrop that was the city of Manila.
“It was you!” cried the old man who began to cover the sky. “The most I do not like is if someone lies to me. Tell me, Foran of the Bontoc, have you lied to me?”
Foran, who froze beneath the frightful image of a god, could only utter one word that slipped through her mouth in a whisper.
“Again, another lie,” the old god finally said.
The world swirled in many colors. It spun with great speed, and the sight of the city was no more. From these colors came the images of mountain peaks and trees, of pathways that led into thickets, and the sound of nature soothed the senses. Foran, who still sat on her wooden stool, looked down at the newly hatched chicks jump down from her bilao and raced across the grassy fields. They chirped in delight.
The sound of running water came from her right. She turned and saw a mighty river rush through the land and into the peaks beyond. She witnessed fish jump high into the air and dive down into the water. She remembered the place. It was the Chico River that was a tributary of the longer Cagayan River that cuts through the valley. Fond memories came rushing back, of the times when she played by the banks with her friends, throwing stones and catching fish. She remembered her father, an expert fisherman, and hunter, who died of tuberculosis shortly after she left the village. She remembers her mother, who tried to persuade her to stay and who was devastated when she left. The last she heard was that her mother had left the village as well and went to live with her aunts in the city of Baguio.
Her heart skipped a beat upon seeing the place where she grew up, but that joy soon returned to fear at what brought her there, and she looked up to the sky to see the old man’s face take the place of the sun.
“You have lied to me, Foran Á-ew. I have discovered that it was you who played the most magnificent of music from a Diwdiw-as and that you have left your village, turned your back from your heritage! That displeases me the most. What say you?”
Foran, being mortal and small, felt humbled by the presence of the being in front of her. Yet, Foran, being a free-spirited individual who learned a long time ago that she could only depend on herself, felt a sudden rage as this old man – this man – berated her, scolded her for something she did not understand, and this infuriated her. Her anger rose and overcame her fear.
“Listen, you,” she started with a finger pointed at the god, “I don’t know who you are or why you are even mad at me, but as far as I’m concerned, you, sir, have invaded my space and I will speak my mind about it! I will not be undermined by some stranger that I have just met, not by old men who know nothing but to abuse girls like me – a dim-witted barrio lass who knows nothing about the city! Fuck you and your machismo!”
The old god drew half a smile and said, “A Bontoc, through and through. Tell me, do you know who I am, little one?”
“Little one?” asked an irritated Foran. “I’m no little one! I am a woman, you misogynist old man, and no one looks down on me!”
“Humble yourself before a god, little Foran! I have had enough of your defiance!”
Foran felt the power of the god. She felt small, again, like a child, and she did as the god commanded.
“I am Lumawig,” said the old god, “I am the god of the tribes of Igorot, and your music has drawn me here!”
Reality returned to normal. The smog-infested city filled with the sounds of roaring jeepneys and loud-mouth hawkers irritated Lumawig. His face grimaced at every high-pitched squeal and muffler belch. This was not a part of nature. This was something man-made, and not one of it was an offering made for him. He missed the ancient days of a simple life when mortals were honest, kind, and brave, and when the land provided that was the only thing needed to survive – when the gods, in all their glory, were revered and honored.
The city sickened him. This modern world that ignored the calls of the preservation of life and nature made him want to throw up. Lumawig had not been in the lowlands for eons, and much had changed ever since. Now that he has fully returned to the world of men, he saw the sorry state that most of them were in. He saw dilapidated houses and buildings aging with much regret. He saw people sleeping on corrugated boxes by the roadside with little regard for safety. He saw children play without care as vehicles roared across the streets. He saw spirits of death linger amongst the living. They waited for souls as souls were abundant, and life was trivial in the sad part of town that tried to survive from day to day.
What has mankind done to itself? Lumawig asked in a whisper. Indeed it had been a long time – too long, he thought – and now mankind was destroying itself, plunging into a life that neglected coexistence and empathy.
The gods rose and fell all because mankind had stopped their reverence, and he or any of his kind could stop it. It was the inevitable destiny of the gods – their twilight – the gods were no longer needed. Yet he was there, walking on the streets of a modern world and pitying mankind for what it had done to itself. He could leave at any time, but the music he heard was something that even the universe had not heard for a very long time. Maybe there was hope for mankind after all amid the chaos that it created for itself.
Lumawig turned his gaze to his companion, that woman who had left her heritage in exchange for a hard life, and wondered. What was she thinking? Was the simple life in her village not enough for her? Was it even worth exchanging a meager yet comfortable living for something that could break even your soul? His heart sank all the more when he saw where Foran lived. It was an old building, condemned, he thought, and it felt like more ghosts lived in it than people. He met residents who eyed him from head to feet. Some scratched their heads while others snickered and spat. He heard their whispers: What the hell is a rich man doing here? Their eyes were on the pockets of his trousers where they thought his monies were. Pathetic, he thought to himself, if they only knew what I can do! Yet, they were poor, and his anger melted away. Pity, he thought he could help, but these were not Bontocs – not his people – and maybe they can ask their gods for sustenance. Still…
“What’s going on?” asked Foran as she turned to regard the commotion at the entrance. She saw a crowd, tenants, and the loiterers outside, as they fought to get a hand of the gold nuggets that suddenly fell from somewhere.
“Ginto! Ginto! (Gold! Gold!)” They screamed in sheer madness. Some bit the nugget and found it to be real. The others made a mad dash for someone else’s gold, but soon they all quieted down, surprisingly, as peace overcame them, and each was contented with the gold nugget that they had. They all departed.
Lumawig gave half a smile.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” Foran demanded of the god.
“Sadly,” replied the god. “I cannot make enough. That is not my purview. But at least I have made some of them happy. Where is your dwelling place?”
“Up there. We have to take the stairs.”
Up the flight, they went with Lumawig scrutinizing every corner of the old building.
“Is this place not condemned? Surely it will give way upon a mighty earthquake!”
“Stop that!” said Foran with a wave of her hand. “We have not seen the Big One yet, and I don’t want to experience it at all.”
“Big one?” asked Lumawig with a brow cocked.
“They call it the Big One, a powerful earthquake that will bring Manila to the ground… well, that’s what they say.”
“That is not what you all have to worry about,” Lumawig said in a whisper. “Something worse is coming.”
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” said the old god as they reached the topmost floor. “Is this your place?”
“Yes,” Foran answered quite embarrassed. “It’s not much, but at least I have a roof over my head.”
They entered, and Lumawig was quick to scrutinize. He saw a small place where no walls divide the kitchen and the bedroom except for the toilet that also served as the laundry area. The building walls were covered with paint that slowly crumbled. A lone window protected by rusted iron grills remained ajar and faced a depressed area with tires that rested atop flimsy corrugated roofs that prevented it from being blown by strong winds. Children played in the streets lined with tricycles and pedicabs. Laundries danced to the passing breeze as they were left to dry on makeshift clotheslines by windows and rooftops.
Lumawig took a step back from the window and took one last look at the room. He finally said, “Your father’s house was better than this.”
“Yeah, well at least I won’t hear them tell me that I’m a lousy Bontoc!” Foran snapped in reply.
“Maybe you are,” retorted Lumawig. “Is this your dream, to live in a pigsty like this?”
“Well, not all of us are fortunate like you – god of whatever you are supposed to be a god of!”
An earthquake suddenly shook the world. Foran quickly ducked underneath her small dining table. She tried to scream but found that she had no voice. She saw Lumawig grow again, but this time it was not like she was in the dream. The whole room grew as well. No. She realized that she was the one becoming small. Then she heard the god’s powerful voice, and her bones began to tremble.
“Do not mock me ever again, child! This is the last warning you will get. I am Lumawig. I am the son of Kabunian, the Sky God, and I have been patient with you. Look at yourself and what you have done. You have left your heritage, your home, for a life like this, living from day to day, unable to dream, all because you wanted to become like these folks – the city dwellers – and yet you do not understand that for you to become like them, you have to work the hardest, for life in the city is cruel to dreamers like you. Your world in the mountains pales in comparison with city life. Your life in the mountains has been bountiful as compared to your poor one here. You have failed to realize that up there, the land provides for you. Down here, you are on your own. And the most that irks my ire is the fact that you have abandoned your mother and your father to whom you owe a lot. What has happened to children these days? Why have you left your culture and abandoned your heritage? Why are you so blinded by what this modern way of life brings? Have you not realized that you can fashion such things without abandoning who you really are? Tell me, child, are you truly happy?”
Foran started to cry. Lumawig’s words struck her where it hurts. She crumbled instantaneously. The earthquake stopped. She was on her knees when she lifted her eyes upon a god who reverted back to normal size. She asked, “What do you want from me?”
The old man knelt and met her gaze. “Admit that you are wrong, child,” he said with a pitiful smile, “And let me hear your wonderful music again.”
She started to play. Her music became her refuge from a hard life. When she played, she was master, she was storyteller, and the entire world listened to Foran Á-ew, mistress of the Diwdiw-as. The distressed and small one-room residence felt bigger at each passing note, and each breath taken became magic that let loose soothing melodies that could calm even the wildest of hearts. Her eyes closed from the world around her. She didn’t need to see. She needed to listen and feel. Her room became a stage, and the space around her became the amphitheater.
She did not see them come in. They wore many colors of the many tribes. They were not just the spirit of the Bontoc people, but Kalinga and Ifugao and Tinguian, Gaddang and Ibaloy, and Isnag and Kankana-ey. They brought their spears and shields, their tattoos, and their headdresses. They were the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the wise mumbaki and noble kadangyan, and there in the front seats were the mambunong, the elder-priests who hailed Lumawig with courteous bows before taking a seat.
They were all there to watch, to listen, and eventually, to remember. They came from far away, called forth by their god, in a time when society had lost its way and many of the olden heritages forever lost. These were trivial times, where personal identity slowly suffered in exchange for modern sensibilities. Lumawig saw all of that and could do nothing because modern times belonged to modern peoples, yet modern peoples tend to forget the past that led them to where they were. These were not his people, though, these lowlanders who have embraced modernity, but Foran was, though lost and misguided, he had hoped that the young musician remembers her roots and return to her homeland.
Doubt suddenly interfered with her music. The sounds of the panpipes became erratic. She knew this. She recognized her falter. It was fear – the very same fear that she had when she first rode that bus from the city of Baguio to Cubao. The same fear when she ran away from her lecherous employer with nowhere else to go. The fear that she would eventually get caught by the authorities and spend the rest of her days in prison. She remembered her mother and her father. She recalled why she left – the glitter of city stories primarily, but it was also the nightly quarrels between her parents, the accusations of her father’s womanizing, and the fact that they were poor. They were no different from any other family that lived in either highland or lowland. Yet, she was loved by the tribe. Indeed, as a family, they were poor, living from day to day with what her father caught from the river and what her mother cooked, but with the tribe, they were rich, and nobles could not bear her family starve. But her father was a proud one, and he smoked too much.
Then again, she remembered her tribe. The Bontoc was one family, and though her mother persuaded her, she chose the high road and left. It was also the road that led to nowhere. The high road led to ruin. She cried as she realized her mistake.
Don’t give up.
The voice called in her heard. It was a familiar voice, sad and distant, yet it was a voice she knew so well. Finally, she opened her eyes, and her world brightened. From within the crowd that gathered, one stood out amongst the rest, and her father, young and handsome and face flushed with life, smiled and told her to continue.
Her father gave a sad smile. His hands motioned towards her. Tears fell like long droplets of rain in a summer filled with drought. She blew on her pipes, and the melody filled the emptiness that she thought would destroy her.
Sweet music, pleasure me still, in this twilight of our lives, bring me back to yesteryear.
And yesteryear came.
She saw the world as wild as it was in the first of the ages. There, beyond the mountains, were the lands of the Sky Gods, and she saw Kabunian till the land and plant seeds that would grow into fine trees. In the skies loomed dark clouds, and the roar of a mighty boar shook the earth beneath her feet. Lightning flashed, and thunder echoed! Kidul, the god of thunder, greeted her music with his own. From the seas beyond the mountains came the howl of the tides. Limat, the god of the sea, sent his waves to beat upon the rocky shoreline, and the sound became of magnificent drumming.
Soon it became a feast. Cañao, the ceremony of the mountain people, was enacted. The spirit-folk came with their pigs and their chickens, and instead of offerings made to them, they made offerings to her, to the musician of the diwdiw-as that gave them the gift of remembering who they were and the life they left long ago. They offered their thanks to the music that she played. Even the gods were humbled by the sound of the music and Foran’s performance. The subtle yet powerful melody of the pipes brought them back to a time of reverence and appreciation.
The stars exploded in the night sky.
The Cañao seemed to last forever, with their main attraction in the middle of the ceremony, playing sweet and powerful music.
Hear the beat of the gangsa! Hear the drumming of the libbit and solibao! Hear the kulitong and the pateteg! Sway with the symphony of the Cordillera – the music of yesteryear when gods and men lived with nature!
Somewhere, in-between time, I see the life-force of things, the specs that drive the world, and make it turn. We are bound to it and forever indebted. We are the gods, whose children are many, yet in the end, our legacies are tied to the mortals who have endured our heritage. Listen well and remember, for the past was beautiful but is already gone, and here we are now, remembering – may our myths never be forgotten.
He looked back upon his children and smiled. Here in the sky that seemed eternal, on his heaven that overlooked the world, he was lord and father and caretaker. He was Kabunian, and only a handful was left who truly knew and worshipped him. He remembered the olden day – ancient days of splendor – when mankind respected the land and magic flowed freely. He remembered well his deeds, and the heroes, with the other gods who looked upon him with praise. He inspired them all! He remembered their pains and deaths, and he recalled his own cries as he mourned for them. He remembered the ages wane when the beasts of old, born of magic and olden lore, slowly disappeared and the world suddenly changed.
He wept. Such was the way of time. Such was the power that not even gods could stop and change the days, and reverence for him dwindled to a handful. But he was still Kabunian, father of all, and his name still had power. The mountains thundered in his wake. There was the Igorot, his children, who looked up to him even though time had changed most of them. The music pulled him back. The music invigorated him. She was Bontoc, and he was proud that she now remembers.
I miss your sweet voice. I miss your warmth. Sadness is the greatest jest done to a god, and time is the greatest jester!
He missed his sons. He missed his wife. Yet, not even all the power in the world could stop change, and time was the master of change. He missed Cayapon, who she left because he had to go back to the heavens and fulfill his duties. Somewhere in his heart, though, he wished he had not done so and remained with her forever. But such things could never be, for not even gods had the power to change one’s destiny. They were gone forever, and all he could do was remember. Yet, even though his wife and his sons were no longer in the world of the living, he had found his great descendant, and she had magic more potent than the likes of any god has ever seen. She could bring back the olden times and made every god remember who they were. She could call forth the ancestor spirits and make them remember, make them dance and sway and sing like they had done so when they lived. Her music had the power to bring all of the tribes together. She brought joy amid a time of uncertainty. He hopes that she would return to her lands and spread her music to the Cordilleras.
Sweet, sorrowful past, will you ever return to me? Such are the longings of gods, that, not even with all our power, we can never return to our glorious past. I hear the music, and it reminds me of what I have lost! Should I be made to suffer more? Gone are the heroes, the listener of tales – the wisdom of men that ruled the world! Yet, my descendant brings hope in her music – may this Cañao light her way back to her people.
I see who you are, daughter. I feel your sorrow, and I have felt your anger at the world around you. I know why you left. It was my fault. I have not been a good father to you and a loving husband to your mother. But now, in this afterlife, I have seen the error of my ways. They have permitted me to see you. That, at least, is good. Your music has called me beyond the veil that divides the world, made me remember who I was – who I am to you – my daughter, my love. Forgive me. Go home to your mother.
She listened to her own music. She saw only darkness. She listened to her voice as she said, “I’m not angry anymore.”
Then there was silence. The gangsa stopped. So did the libbit and solibao, the kulitong and the pateteg too. The ancestor spirits stood motionless. The gods grew silent. All that was heard was the sound of the diwdiw-as and the sound of one heart beating. Foran saw with eyes opened the life she could have had and the mistakes that she had made. She saw the heritage of her people, the people of the mountains who molded values with their surroundings – a rich culture clouded by modern sensibilities. She realized that she should have cultivated the traditions of her people, explained to this world who her people were, and what they meant to the mountains of the Cordilleras. She should have made the world listen instead of listening to the world.
The diwdiw-as fell to the floor as tears rolled down her face. She felt a warm embrace. It was something that she had not felt for a long time. “I’m sorry, ama (father).”
Her father smiled before he disappeared into the mist. The cañao was finished, the ritual complete. One by one, the ancestor spirits walked away into shadow. The gods bowed and left her alone. All but one remained.
You forgave, and you have been forgiven, such as the world makes mistakes, so will it also learn from its mistakes. You have learned much from this encounter, daughter, and so too have we learned. You have taught us with your music that traditions must not be forgotten. You have taught us that even gods dared to hope. Your music is magic. Your music is power. Now that you have learned, you will know what to do next.
The orange tinge of the early dawn took prominence over the dark blue of yesternight. She awakened from the dreamlike trance to see many figures slowly disappear before her blurry sight. All was gone except for one.
“You have done well, Foran Á-ew of the Bontoc. You are my descendant after all, and I am glad that I have found you. I am satisfied now. The magic of gods flows through you. Use it well and use it wisely, for your music will influence the rest of the world. Go back to your home – to your people – and spread your culture through your music. I demand this of you.”
Foran felt the voice of Lumawig from within. For the first time since they met, she was humbled, and instead of fear, she knew now how to respect that she returned quite eloquently with a bow. The old Foran died, and the ancestor spirits took her away. What stood there was the new Foran, who had a clear view of the path that she would follow.
Slowly Lumawig turned from Foran and melted into the white mist that ate up their world. With renewed vigor, she nodded. She straightened herself in the middle of her shoddy tenement room, held her diwdiw-as like it was her heart, and she whispered to herself, “Ina (mother), I’m coming home.” She wiped the tears from her face and smiled.
I will play you one more tune, to you, my old life – to my pitiful room that held my old life from which I have learned a great deal. I will play to you one more tune before I go because no matter how ragged and unsightly you are, you became my home, at least for a while. I will leave all my sorrows with you, all my grief, for I don’t need them anymore, and maybe one day if I return, and if you are still standing, we can see each other again and remember. Listen well, and goodbye.
Philippine Copyright © 2020 by Mark Aldwin Bitanga Del Rosario