July 24, 2005

When The Dead Came Marching In

There was one fish story that brought me to the very ends of the world it seems, so far away that running water does not exist and a paved road is an alien concept.

My cousin King came to me on a warm day, the kind of day that my head is loose and every idea could grow and expand into some humongous concept. The kind of weather that the breeze is almost thick you could see them pass by, making you light inside and cheery. It was this cheeriness perhaps that took a bite into salesmanship, an amateur one that I realized later.

"I am busy with some business prospect," I mentioned to grasp some talking points. King always seeks tutoring with his school assignments.

" That must be a good prospect," he condescended.

"What do you know about silk?" I asked. Perhaps he must have known some who could give me some idea.

" Not much" he said. He seemed to know nothing. Bet that's why I was always ghost writing his report.

"It's something we could grow from silkworms" I answered my own questions. "We have to nurture worms and the most part of the work is growing hectares and hectares of mulberry trees to feed these worms."

"Oh" he exclaimed and I felt hopeful." I know such worm. I saw some huge ones in the beaches of Tawi-Tawi. They sell well."

He was talking about some other specie of worm.

"Why don't you try dried fish?" King suggested later on.

"What about them?", I asked.

"They cost half as less back at home."

I went for the calculator and grinned at the prospect. A week after, we were heading for the islands, about two boat-rides away, three hundred miles downward, and near the Malaysian border.

Banaran Island is place rich in lore, the ones you hear from the elders whenever they visit us. I had been there once but that was way back in my childhood. There was one ghost story about the place that I could not forget. When we were kids, my two brothers and me and my sister would always seek some retelling after retelling about such particular incident from the visitors from down south. As children, we craved for fear and scurry for more mysteries. The scarier it gets, the more attentive we became. It was like eating pepper; it hurts to eat more and yet wanted to eat more and more. At night, after we took our meal, we washed our bodies from sweat and put on fresher clothes and then we troop into the living room where the available storyteller would be waiting for us.

One night, they always started the story, when ships and boats was not supposed to sail anymore, when the air is so fragile and the wind was harsh, a ferry sunk on the way to Banaran from the main island of Bongao. All those aboard did not survive the tragedy. This accident had happened about two decades ago and it had caused so much distressed to those whose relations were part of the doomed voyage and due to the large number of victims, the sinking of the ferry cast a huge shadow over the entire province of Tawi-Tawi and would be remembered as a sorrowful time for the area for years to come.

Island life then might have been darker without electricity, and lonelier without the touch of modernity that every death lays every possibility of otherworldly apparitions and the wanderings of ghosts.

Then came the night when the wind whistled and overhanging clouds made the night more sinister. When the dogs howl started to howl incessantly, the elders in the island would call for their children the doors and windows were so locked that even air could not come in.

The yards have become empty and even cats would scurry for safety. Not even crickets were brave enough to serenade the eerily hushed night. It was a night that humongous clouds would cover almost the entire sky. Everything you see would be cast in shadow and the stars were all absent. They said that it had become so dark that when they look towards the sea, they could see nothing but darkness. No glow of the sea would reflect and the waves did not made a sound the way they usually make.

The island folks first heard the sound of drumbeats reverberating through the cold and wet atmosphere. "Tom…tom…tom…tom…" The beat did go until it got faster and faster. They could feel the air get thicker they said and the smell of decay became so overpowering according to one account that their stomach would ache, urging to regurgitate.

Some peek into the darkness to investigate the source of the drumbeats and as if in a sudden, the yards became illuminated, as if the sky parted instantly and the moon belched out its head. The moonlight gave those few brave souls the undeniable sight of a parade of people going in circles in the middle of the community plaza, walking in a line. Most of them have limbs unattached and their faces were white as chalk. The leader of the parade was in fact a headless drumbeater carrying his own separated head. The children cried when they heard some of their fathers and mothers wailing and shouting. They scurried into corners as if it would be of much help to them. They hide in thick fabrics and sweated horrendously. The men were ready with their bolos anticipating any physical attack by the limbless walkers.

No such attacked occurred as they sighed every time they tell and retell the haunting. The drum beatings carried forth through the dawn and many were not able to sleep that night. They said the ghosts was somehow taunting them as the beatings would suddenly stop and then came back again gradually, slowly and then frantically. The sounds of the drums were suddenly loud and then suddenly calm.

When the morning came, the entire island populace was awestruck with fear that nobody spoke much. The children were kept inside their homes most of the time even when the sun is blazing in the sky. Many went to the nearby cemetery to make some offerings while the men embarked on a lengthy prayer session so arduous that it started just after sunrise and ended when midnight was already around the corner. The air was so full of the smell of burnt sulfur, as the prayers involved the burning of small yellowish stone-like bits of sulfur.

The shock in their faces was so apparent that in a matter of hours, most of their countenance shrunk and withered so gravely. They were bowed and their heads stooped all day long, a sign of surrender to the menace of the unknown. There was no knowing what was to come really. Most of them until that time had not really fully believed in ghost but since that night, their greatest fears came true.

At first, they said, the parade of dead people came every now and then, especially while the moon was full or at least fairly illuminating. Then they came less frequently, sometimes catching them by surprise. The parade would announce its haunting by the sound of drums, starting rhythmically slow until it gets faster and faster as children cried aloud and the dogs howled into the night wind. It was really very fortunate that the dead persons physically harmed nobody although the emotional injury was so palpable.

The parade of the dead, some told us had successfully lessen the island population by at least half. Many left their homes to seek some habitat in nearby islands and Banaran became the more silent. Many houses lay empty and were allowed to wither by themselves.

Most of my relatives, as we were told, decided to stay despite the haunting, for they said, they would never know another place aside from Banaran where our forefathers settled and died through the years.
Read more of my autobiography in A PROPHET'S LIFE.

July 20, 2005


“The angel pointed his hands towards his arms and proceeded to signal that he was carrying a load in his back. We must all be brothers and sisters in arms and we must learn how to carry each other.”

Let us be reminded for all times that a man without his prayers is like an ant lost and wandering in the middle of the Saharan Desert. He is alone and grasping for direction, he has no compass in his hands and the road ahead does not tell any clue about his destination. He has no map in his keeping and the path that he threads is dark and winding that no signposts would assist him in his journey towards Eternal Life.

Our religion and our practice of faith are part of our spiritual life that without the benefit of its ethical codes and guidelines, we would meet the hardest of times in coping with the disputes of the modern life where in every corner we turn, the temptation to sin and to do wrongful ways are ever threatening. Our faith is the sieve that shall purify us out of our impurities.

When daylight comes into view, we must remain before Him in thoughtful prayers for a new day is about to come and we need the beacon of his never-fading light, His ever-permeating wisdom and guidance. When dusk appears, as we ready ourselves in bidding farewell to another passing of day, our prayers shall be in gratitude for the wondrous gift of life.

While we know in our hearts that faith alone could not save our souls, it is of no wisdom to dispel completely our practice of faith and to disregard the power of our prayers. We must conform to the habits that give meaning to our pleadings before the Lord. We petition Him in many ways and our faith shall provide us the avenue for our supplications. Faith and works shall go hand in hand like hammer and nail for without the other, one alone would be fruitless at most.

We must seek the calmness of the churches and the temples at least once in a month so that we do not forget faith. We must establish regular prayers in the conclaves of our homes for to forget the practice of faith would redound to forgetting the Lord God and the things He desires us to be. We must not harbor apostasy for the flames of the unending fire shall await those who procrastinate.

Our act of faith is also our language of obedience. As we attend the ceremonies of our churches, we are declaring in effect that we are in full obedience to the Lord. How else could we show Him our greatest of faith if we just sit in the corner of our room, without prayers and without seeking the harbor of the churches and the temples?

Our path towards the Kingdom is often fraught with the many traps of sins and errors that whomsoever says he or she is without need of the churches is one who trek the perilous road, without a map in his or her hands, without a lamp that shall light the ways.

Without our prayers, the heart becomes inundated with discontent and sorrow that Satan knows always when to take the proper opportunity. When we are at our weakest, it is the very moment that the demons come to disturb our minds, and take advantage of our human frailties, to examine and study carefully our desires and wants, and then to reward these desires if we commit folly and mischief, upon their commands and biddings. When we are the weakest, our hearts desires the most things, even the things that we should not desire.

The demons come into us like water into a vessel. The moment they notice a man whose spiritual conviction is weak, they tempt him like a child reaching out for a candy. They would notice a desirous soul miles and miles away, like snakes in the mountain who seek their prey in hills miles and miles apart. There is the imbalance in a man that makes him an easy prey to the demons, and makes him fall on the wayside, and that would be the end of his spiritual balance. When a soul moves farther and farther away from the churches and from the harking of the priests and the preachers, the soul languishes in neglect of faith and becomes the slave of wanton desires and would be the most fragrant prey to the snakes in the mountains.

When the demons come, we often do not notice them for they come in the name of deceit and their masks are not easily uncovered. We only realize their grievous influence when it is already too late, when remorse finally fills our hearts. If they come often because of our lack of faith, there would come a time that the hearts does not feel remorse anymore that the soul and the demon becomes already one and the same, and salvation of the soul becomes the farthest.

We must shield ourselves from the snakes in the mountain for even if we are miles apart, we could become prey to these demons if we are the least in faith. We fortify our stronghold through our habitual practice of faith. The more we become closer to the men of God we become shielded the more. We must hear the preaching of the knowledgeable ones, and we must strive to fill our hearts with the verses of the words of God and be strict in our obedience. We must read the words frequently for they are like balms to our wounded soul. We must gain our shield against the menace of the Darkness and we must fortify our faith. In daily prayers, we are brought into the most righteous path and we shall not be like a lamb lost in the wilderness.

Religion, and the practice thereof, is like a sieve upon sandy water. It sieves away the materials that make our hearts impure. We go on sieving the water again and again in order that that the sands may not stain the water we drink. Is it not that the more we sieve the water, the more it becomes pure?

In our journey towards Eternal Life, we must be vigorous in sieving our souls, to chase away the many impurities that haunt the spirit. No one escapes sin and therefore no one shall boast that he or she will need to sieve no more. Our acts of faith are our compass, the maps in our hands. If we are without the signs that lead our voyage, we are easily led astray into the darkness of sins and soon our path would lead to the lake that burns with an unending fire.

We have faith that is why we do works. We should have no faith alone or works alone. We must have both faith and works. We must do both for the two must come like hammer and nail.


July 11, 2005

Chapter 13 of The Night of Angels: "The Origin Of Man"

Let me venture in matters of pure philosophy, into a territory that has been explored by even the brightest of scientists, and yet remain greatly unconquered. From which and from whence did man come? Even with utmost effort, we could not come to a point of conclusion but what is certain, man, like all other things, come from a being ever greater than man, The Creator of All Things.

In our religious life, it had been inculcated to us the idea that we all come from Adam. In our scholarly pursuits, we were taught that we evolved from a creature closer to apes. In both pursuits of knowledge, there would be no conclusive evidence. Even in the scientific world, there is the missing link between Homo Sapiens and the closer previously known specie of man or man-like creature. But any which way, if we believe in the concept of a Creator of All Things, the sources of all existence, then man comes from one source of life. Man comes from and born out of God.

Being of one source, we are but one then. We are like a root whose veins have spread out into many veins, like water coming from a single mountain spring flowing to the arid and curvaceous ground and then finding myriad courses, to pursue different paths. Of being white and black, or brown or yellow, is a matter of circumstance. White men have paler skin for they lack melanin while black men needed a heavy dosage of such to protect their skin from too much sun glowing over Africa. Differences in features are matters of pure circumstance, a matter of adaptation to the environment. Giraffes have developed their long necks through centuries of reaching out to a food source that is placed so high that they have to reach upwards in order to fill their hunger. This is the theory of evolution, a protracted adaptation to the environment.

As the giraffe adapted well to its environment and so are men, for men adapts highly to their environment that comes in the form of culture and tradition of the nation of his birth. A French man would have not much choice but to drink wine because man has to adapt to his environment. A baby born in China would surely become oriental in attitude and more or less practice Buddhism for he has to adapt in order to survive. An Arab youngster could not be expected so much to be a Christian in Arab lands for he would find many difficulties in the form of culture clashes. If the giraffes have not adapted, they would not have lived to this very day.

To be outside the religion of others is not a matter of choice for many of us but a matter of pure circumstance--a seemingly forced circumstance of environment and culture. If an American baby for example would depart this world too early without having religion, would it go to hell? A Chinese man may live and grow too old and die in the isolated region of China without coming across a single word of Christianity or of Islam, but did good works mostly, by being the most steadfast of a farmer, by being so responsible as a head of a family, by having cared and loved his brothers and sisters, and his wife and children, and relatives, and yet we ask: Does he deserve the punishment of hell?

And perhaps we ask: Do we need religion then? But I say if without religion, could we be like that China man? Who did all good works without committing the abominable things that God had instructed us to evade?

It is to recognize the concept of man coming from one source that would allow us to appreciate more keenly the idea that we are but one and the same. Our differences are just a matter of circumstance and should not be a source for brutal conflict and desolation, for envy and prejudice, and for contempt and discrimination. If we realize these facts to be universal, then we could attain the real brotherhood of man.

Unlike the poem “The Voyage”, I have written a work while looking into myself, of how a river usually comes from one source to flow towards different direction, where all these directions pursue a path that is surely to the sea. This is the poem I call “The River of Mesopotamia”.

The River of Mesopotamia

In the ancient valleys of Tigris,
in the days of still molt and rock;
a river sung the serenade
of the beginnings of life,
as it moved in crystalline fluidity,
to brim with sparkles and light,
and come across upon a rock reckoned in time,
a moment set forth as a matter of design.
And the river became two,
the great parting of waters
in the dawning of the Earth,
to thread two different roads
and two different eras,
one found in the East,
another in the West,
to spread further and further,
until the sound they hear were
merely of their own
and nothing more.
Rushing in vigor and strength
each alone in the wilderness,
among the great wars of the world,
through the ashes of kingdoms burnt,
the mischief of kings and emperors,
through scorched earth of conquests,
of kingdoms and empires
both the fortunate and the inopportune;
as they run feverishly,
one oblivious to the other,
welcoming merely the beatings
of their own hearts
and of no other,
and every other beating of the heart they hear
was of the enemy and the enemy merely.
Amidst the rage of their marathon,
seemingly unending and without destination,
and with a ferocity so great that
even rocks of great prominence
would crumble into dust--
by the sheer strength of their pursuits,
or by the wave of their hands.
And then, another time was set forth,
Where for once while they looked heavenward
the journeys they threaded
finally found a single star,
to speak the truth in their own hearts
that in their own glorious runs,
no matter how magnificent and forceful,
still the Heavens are their own navigators,
upon the comets and constellations,
so that the rivers would find a path to travel,
a road set forth from the beginning of time
as they go nearer and nearer,
as they begin to hear the same beat
not merely of their own separate hearts,
but of two hearts moving as one
faster and faster,
like stallions in the hills of a desert
where in the beginning of time
there is only one river
that became two,
and then becoming one again.
Some parts of the book are found somewhere in my other blogsites listed on the right panel of this site. Complete all 13 Chapters by hunting down each chapter.