The calming power of rituals

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By Ramon Dacawi


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

JULIAN Chees, the Igorot former world champion in traditional karate, needed to have two rituals performed to re-anchor him to his cultural roots. So he rushed home the other week for a memorial for his aunt who recently died and a “daw-es” (cleansing ritual) that had been delayed for three months.

The whistle-stop also allowed him to sustain a personal and collective ritual that he, his martial arts students and friends in southern Germany have been into since 2004: reaching out, whenever they could, to indigent patients in the Cordillera homeland.

At Christmas 10 years ago, he traveled to Banaue, Ifugao with the late Baguio newsman Willy Cacdac to deliver P70,000 to two women in black. They had just lost two kids who were entombed alive when their house along the rice terraces was buried by a landslide at the height of a rare year-end typhoon.


Last week, he motored to his native village of Maligcong, Bontoc, Mt. Province for a “mangmang” ritual in memory of his maternal aunt, Dolores Pursen-Hilgert, a nurse who recently died in Germany. While in Bontoc, he found time to cheer up a patient – accident victim David Chumacog – who was confined at the Mt. Province Hospital:

Back in Baguio last Sunday afternoon, he sat beside an old man, a native priest from Maligcong Village, Pinsao, in the company of mentor and fellow fifth dan blackbelt Edgar Kapawen Sr. of the Japan Karate Association based at the YMCA of Baguio.

The priest offered a chicken for the daw-es, so performed to cleanse people of bad luck or the influence of evil spirits they might have encountered while helping people in need, such as victims of typhoon Yolanda that hit central Philippines last November.

A month after the killer storm struck, Julian, Alberto Manaois and this writer flew to Capiz to deliver about a million pesos in cash and in kind. The amount was pooled in less than two weeks by people who responded to his appeal on the web for support to victims of the super-howler. We reached barangay Concepcion in Dumalag town, and St. Andre Mission and San Nicolas de Myra Parish, both in neighboring Tapaz town.

We were met by a team of linemen from the Benguet Electric Cooperative who, for a month by then, had been restoring the lines of the Capiz Electric Cooperative as part of its own out-reach to co-ops in distress. The crew headed by engineers Rocky Pallogan, Zac Torres and Carlo Bentayen, tipped Fr. Niel Olano of St. Martin of Tours Church in Dumalag, of Chees’ relief mission and arranged the purchase of 200 sacks of rice from a miller in Panitan town. The priest, who opened the parish as quarters for the Beneco team, set the relief distribution the following morning.

In keeping with the Christian ritual, Fr. Olano opened the day with a community mass. He then christened three toddlers to mark their entry into the community: three-month old John Eman Berino, one-month old Remy Remaze Queen and two-month old Alyza Faeldin.

The rite of baptism at the Imaculada Concepcion Chapel on top of a hill provided the village folk the symbol of hope they badly needed. It delivered a counterpoint to the sight of destruction and depression all around, along the highway from the Roxas Airport 50 kilometers away: crumpled huts of the poor, mangled steel trusses stripped of roof sheets, thousands upon thousands of tropical trees and coconuts lying where they had fallen or sawn for rebuilding, or standing naked, their leaves, branches and otherwise productive upper half blown off.

Upon the Beneco crew’s return to Baguio on Dec. 20, co-op officials headed by general manager Gerry Verzosa arranged a “daw-es” for them at the Beneco-DPS compound. Back in Germany where he had settled for years , Chees rued why, notwithstanding his cultural upbringing, he had forgotten to have the same ritual performed for us immediately after arrival in Baguio from Capiz.

Haunted by the thought and the need for a native rite in memory of his aunt Dolores, he booked a Qatar Airways flight for home. Before returning to Germany, he handed P30,000 to Berdeng Karunungan, a community service group headed by television journalist Dhobie de Guzman to boost its campaign to set up a community library and museum for Pasil town in Kalinga.

The amount came from German karate students who had invited Chees to conduct kata and sparring seminar for their clubs - the Bushido Siegen-Rolf Ringe (380 euro) and Karate-dojo goettingen (P220 euro).

Last Monday, Julian met Joshua Paway, the nine-year old boy born with a hearing defect that former journalist Annabelle Codiase-Bangsoy wrote about. He handed the kid’s mother, laundrywoman Nancy, who is singlehandedly raising two kids, P10,000 for the basics. Doctors are waiting for Joshua to turn ten before they will extract a cartilage from his rib cage and implant it in his ear to enable him to hear.

Calmed by the indigenous rituals of respect and cleansing and renewed by the humanitarian reason for his home-coming, Julian was on his way back to the airport last Wednesday morning. He has a schedule of seminars for karate students until Easter Sunday in Germany, the country that honored him as the only non-German by birth to have been drafted into its national karate team.

Dr. Carl Hammerschlag who, as a physician to Native Americans, learned from them the healing power of indigenous rituals, summed up the reasons for Julian’s sudden home-coming: “Rituals have most power and meaning when they are shared in groups that reinforce the unity and community we need to sustain ourselves. But individuals can also develop personal rituals that are touchstones for their own truths.”

As the late Baguio journalist Jose “Peppot” Ilagan pointed out, culture is man’s way of coping with nature. for comments

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on April 17, 2014.


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