ALTHOUGH I still haven't set foot in the island of Siquijor, the fact remains that my mother is a Siquijodnon through and through, born albeit not raised in this place which is tagged to be the home of the "fake healers", where belief in all things spiritual, psychic, mystical, religious, or pseudo-religious is pervasive.
As a child, I used to hear stories from my Lolo when amulets (anting-anting), charms, special prayers (orascion), witchcraft (kulam, barang), living gods, and all manner of cults and religious movements were a part of their everyday life in Siquijor. People carried amulets to ward off bullets, knives, and bad luck, to win at gambling, or attract the opposite sex.
I was still in grade 3 when I first saw an anting-anting and it was owned by a friend of my parents residing in the hinterlands who paid us one of his frequent visits.
Manong Lando, who was in his early thirties used to show us a small bottle containing several undistinguishable roots and barks of trees submerged in a greenish-black liquid.
He told us it was a powerful bottle that would make him invisible, walk in the rain without getting wet, and carry heavy weights without getting tired. Most of all, his anting-anting could make any woman he wants to fall in love with him without even trying (as children that aspect didn't attract us much).
We would ask him to take it out of his pocket and tell us stories of what it could do (which I later learned were just mere fabrications from his over-active imagination). He never would allow us to touch his bottle, "Masuhong ang gahum (Its powers will be diminished)," he would say.
How I wished then to have an anting-anting like Manong Lando's. I could then get even with the new girl next door who always flaunted her expensive toys and dolls because we only played with corncobs for dolls dressed in paper designed out of our own creative minds.
Manong Lando used to ask us kids to pull out white hairs from his head.
"Twenty-five cents for each white hair, and fifty cents for each louse you catch," he would say.
We would all help in perusing his head looking for those prized white hair and lice which we only learned later did not exist in his head. (He knew all along that his money is safe).
One time we decided to play a game with Manong Lando's anting-anting. To make him fall asleep faster, my friend Andy massaged his back while Andy's sister massaged his head. Very soon, Manong Lando started to snore which was the signal we were waiting for. I slowly groped in his pockets for the 'anting-anting'.
Finally the prized bottle was in my hands. Manong Landy was still snoring when we stealthily crept out of the house.
We were hesitant to open the bottle, apprehensive about its smell but I finally took the plunge. I sniffed and covered my nose. Yucks, the smell was terrible. It reminded me of moth balls and a mixture of foul-smelling ointments.
I tipped the bottle and let the greenish liquid swish out. As previously arranged, Andy opened his pants and ordered us to look the other way while he exchange the liquid filled the bottle with his own urine.
We shook the bottle to make Andy's yellowish urine look green, and finally everything seemed to be normal.
We crept back to where Manong Lando was sleeping and returned the bottle back to where I got it.
That afternoon, Manong Lando started coughing so hard. We went to see if we could help him or get him some medicine but we grew speechless and our eyes almost popped out of their sockets when we saw him get the bottle from his pocket, opened it and poured out a generous amount to his palm. He then rubbed his palms together and actually spread the liquid all over his chest and neck!
I covered my mouth with my hand and barely suppressed a gasp as he began rubbing the liquid all over his body. Andy's face turned white and his lips trembled as we waited with bated breath what would happen next.
Suddenly, Manong Lando stopped, stared at the yellowish-greenish liquid in his palm before smelling it. His face turning red, he looked at us.
We stood rooted to the spot in horror. We didn't have to voice our denial because it seemed guilt was written all over our faces.
"W-w-we j-just like to s-see if the magic w-will still work," I stammered.
"What magic are you talking about? This is my ointment for my cough! I was only joking when I told you that this is an anting-anting!" His bellow seemed to free us from our rooted positions and we fled from the room.
Serves him right for making us kids believe he really was someone powerful with his magic bottle. We found out Andy's urine brought him back to earth and taught him never to lie to kids again. (Manong Lando forgave us a few hours later.)