I have never set foot in the island of Sequijor. I’ve only seen the place with its white-sand beaches from the window of an airplane on my way to Cebu City from Pagadian, but even if I avoid the place like a plague, I can’t deny the fact that half of the blood that run in my veins is Sequijodnon. Although my mother grew up in Mindanao, she was ‘manufactured’ in Sequijor with pure Sequijodnon parents, and I couldn’t do anything about it.
I know, the word “Sequijor” stirs the imagination of people. It has a connotation as the land of witches and suggests the image of “mambabarangs or mangkukulams” gathering around a big cauldron full of brews and mixtures used to cast spells or potions.
My grandfather (mother’s side), was a Sequijodnon through. and through. He was a well-known “mananambal” (faith healer) in their place. Maybe he also knew how to cast spells, but I never got around to knowing him that well, a thing I regret so much.
He died from stroke while I was still a small kid, and we lived far from each other. Maybe, If he had lived long enough, I would have studied he methods of healing, and who knows he might have handed his skills to me. (Maybe I would have a better life being a faith healer instead of a news reporter)
As a child, I was well acquianted with stories of how a man will suddenly die if a Sequijodnon pats his upper arm, or how powerful “barang” and “lumay” (potion) is. At a young age, I had already built visual images of ‘mambabarangs’ sticking pins into rag dolls to destroy one’s enemies. I would gather my playmates and tell them such stories so dramatically that they began to believe I can really do those things because I was half Sequijodnon. It gave me a sort of some power over them.
Things changed when I in high school. I went to great lengths to conceal my mother’s origin from my classmates because they had this black label attached to Sequijor and to all Sequijodnons. I didn’t want to be isolated but in college, at an Ilonggo-dominated place, the label proved beneficial.
When I tell people that I was a Sequijodnon, I could feel that they looked at me with a mixture of awe and fear. They really believed I know how to mix potions or cast spells. Although the idea was absurd since I haven’t even stepped on the place, I gloried in the power I have over them.
Personally, I’m on a fifty-fifty position as to the existence of the power of the spells and potions Sequijodnons are acclaimed to possess, but my fifty-fifty belief was put to test one noontime almost half a decade ago which made be decide I can’t deny my Sequijodnon heritage.
One noontime, I was walking along the corner of Uyanguren and Bangoy Streets in the city when a portly woman patted my right upper arm and asked me what the time was. I told her after glancing at my watch and walked on. Exactly fifteen meters away, I stopped as the impact of what the woman did hit me.
She slapped my upper arm! I was alarmed. I felt myself going hot then cold as I waited for sudden changes in my body system: temperature- normal, hearbeat- still ok, yet. I expected to get dizzy and fall dead in a few seconds.
Suddenly, anger gripped me. I made a u-turn and marched back to where the woman was, praying with all my heart that she had not left. She was there alright, talking to a man who was looking over a display of various herbs, ointments and dried roots inside bottles with dark-colored liquids on the cement floor.
I aproached the woman from behind and without warning, slapped her left upperarm in retaliation. Shock registered on the woman’s face, and she was speechless for a few deafening seconds.
Before she could open her mouth to speak, or her arms to strike me, I exploded.
“Sikihudnon ka no? Ngano imo man kong gipikpik?”
I watched with a mixture of fear and fascination at the play of emotions on her face. I know I didn’t stand a chance to fight with her, but I was prepared for flight. With her huge figure and clumsy movements, and if no one will help her, I was sure she couldn’t catch me although I don’t run that fast. A big crowd started to gather around us.
Poised for flight, I was surprised when she burst out laughing, her mounds of flesh shaking with her convulsed laughter.
I melted in embarrassment as the truth dawned on me that the woman wasn’t even aware that she patted my upper arm when she asked me what the time was. She was merely selling herbal medicines at the sidewalk. My face turned from beet red to maroon as I mumbled an apology and made a hasty exit while the crowd roared in laughter with the fat woman.
That was a decade ago. I’ve already grown up (and sideways, too) but even though I am surrounded with the latest inventions of the world, I discovered that I can’t renounce my heritage. I still retain my fifty-fifty belief on the powers Sequijor is acclaimed to have.*