A Tribal Instance
by Michael Garcia
(Auckland, New Zealand)
Growing up in the Philippine Islands, a country steeped in colonial history and legends, one does grow accustomed to local folklore and stories. I was about ten years old and remember an experience quite vividly. I was on a family trip to a tribal region in the Ifugao mountain ranges. The area, as much of the tribal areas here are, is steeped in folklore. We were part of a group of city-folk visiting an old tribal cave system, which was once used by the local villagers in the area, but who apparently steered clear of it for reasons they would not, or could not, disclose. Our tour guide, also from the big city, though accustomed to the region walked us through the history of the area, while directing the group through the dimly lit subterranean passageways.
We were told that the cave system was once used only by local tribal elders who performed odd, sacred rituals here, to which the local villagers were not privy to. This was several years ago. My family, being quite partial to the dimly lit cave, its limestone walls and secret nooks and crannies, lagged at the very rear of the group. The only other member with us was a little old lady. Wrinkled; silent and withdrawn, we wondered who she was travelling with. She would only nod when addressed, never once bothering to speak. Clad in a tattered and colorful old dress, which seemed rather similar to what the tribes in the region wore, she was nevertheless very helpful. She would nod and point, or shake her head at hidden steps, concealed drops, and slippery pathways in the cave, always with downcast eyes. We did wonder if she was deaf as well as mute, but were otherwise grateful for her company and help, for she appeared to know the cave well. She then started lagging behind us, or had moved towards the center of the group, we were not certain where and when and if she was still with our group. We were the last ones to arrive back at the cave entrance, our tour quite finished. Turning back to assist our genteel companion, we realized that she had vanished. Quite concerned about her, as she did not appear to be present with our group in the clear light of day, we addressed our tour guide. Appearing confused, he advised us that the cave, being situated quite a hike away, had recently been declared unfit for the elderly or sickly... And that there never was an elderly woman present in our group.