Friday, April 29, 2011

Asoy Bantog and the Aswang

This story is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather,
the original "Lolo Bucio"
from whom this story was handed down.
And to Toto, who is not afraid of the dark anymore.

Little Toto was afraid to go to the outhouse by himself after dark. The little building was located at a distance from the house and Toto would not venture out of the house and sit in the thatch-roofed and sawali-walled structure for a while for fear an aswang would come down and snatch him up and carry him away to eat him.

Thus, every time he needed to use the outhouse after nightfall, his mother or his father had to go with him, carrying a bucket of water and a flashlight, and sit outside the door till he had finished. This happened about two to three times a week, and his older brother and sisters teased him quite unmercifully about it. Mingming was thirteen, Neneng was fifteen, and Junjun was seventeen, and they considered themselves old enough to go to the outhouse at night without having someone go with them.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Toto, you’re nine years old already,” Neneng said. “You’re big enough to learn to go out on your own.”
“I’m afraid of the aswang,” Toto insisted. “If I go out, I may hear a soft voice calling kurokutokutokutok, and then she’ll come and sweep me up and fly off to eat me.”
“I’ll hang some ginger around your neck,” Mingming offered. Ginger was said to be a powerful aswang repellent.
“What if it falls off?”
“I’ll give you a copper coin to keep in your pocket, then you’ll be too heavy for her to carry,” Junjun said.
“All my pockets have holes!”
“Then we’ll just have to let the aswang carry you away,” Neneng said.

Lolo Bucio, having just finished weeding his vegetable garden, came inside. He asked why his youngest grandchild was crying.
“Neneng said she’ll just let the aswang carry me away,” Toto wailed.
Lolo chuckled and hung his sadok on a peg. He sat down in his favorite rattan chair and called Toto to sit beside him.
“No, the aswang couldn’t carry you away,” he said to Toto. “You are a descendant of Asoy Bantog, and he wasn’t afraid of any aswang.”
“Asoy Bantog?” Toto demanded, his eyes growing big and round.
“Yes, Asoy Bantog. He was my grandfather and your great-great-grandfather. He lived all alone in a small nipa hut on a hill called Montogawi in Iloilo during Spanish times with only his very sharp sanggut and his dog named Putot for companion.”
“His dog was named Putot, too?” Toto asked, looking down at the big black dog lying on the floor on his grandfather’s other side.
“Yes, and since his time, our family has always had a black dog and it was always named Putot. As you know, Putot means short in Ilonggo. The original Putot was a beautiful black dog with a big body and brown circles around his eyes, but he had short legs, that’s why Asoy named him that.” Lolo Bucio looked at Junjun, Neneng and Mingming, who were avidly listening. “The three of you, sit down and I will tell you a story of Asoy Bantog, who was your ancestor and mine, and who was the bravest man in the town of Pototan (Here Neneng and Mingming stifled giggles) long, long ago.”

Asoy Bantog wasn’t his real name, of course. The Spanish frailes would have had a fit if he had been christened with a name which was not the name of a saint. I suppose that he was named something like Dalmacio or Protasio to have been nicknamed Asoy. The nickname Bantog came later, when he became famous for being the bravest man in those parts. Then his name took on a different meaning, for Asoy in Ilonggo means ‘story’, and Bantog means ‘famous’. Soon people forgot his real name and became calling him Asoy Bantog because he was famous.
Asoy had two friends. One was called Imoy Bagabaga (Baga means hot coal) and the other was Imoy Madasig (Madasig means fast). Imoy Bagabaga got his nickname because he had a peculiar tummy. It was so hot that when he and his friends went on a picnic, they did not bother to light a fire at all to cook something but they just put the food on his stomach to cook. Imoy Madasig was so named because he was the fastest drinker, the fastest worker, and the fastest eater of everybody in the barrio. Asoy also had a third friend, but the friendship depended on the moon, because this friend was a woman named Mare Pungking. She was very beautiful, with dark eyes and white skin and a slim, willowy body, and she was an aswang with a pet crocodile who was called Maracung. Every time the moon became full, Mare Pungking changed into the deadliest aswang in Pototan and nearby towns, and went forth to look for food for herself and Maracung. During those times, she could not help herself if she became very hungry. She normally took care to stay away from any of her friends when she was hungry, but even then, if she could find nothing else, even the people she called her friends would do.
One night when the moon was full, Asoy Bantog, Imoy Madasig, and Imoy Bagabaga attended a wake in the iraya. They played cards for a while, then joined some friends who were passing around a jug of tuba at a table under the trees in the back yard. By midnight, the jug was empty, and their eyelids were drooping. Imoy Madasig, who had lived up to his name, had been the fastest drinker of them all. As a result, he wasn’t able to say anything more. His head fell forward on his arms on the table and by the time Asoy Bantog and Imoy Bagabaga had turned to say that perhaps they had better go home, he had already begun to snore. Imoy Bagabaga said to Asoy that they had better find a quiet corner to stretch out and sleep.
“You stay if you like,” said Asoy. “I had better be going home, I didn’t bring Putot and he’d be lonesome without me.”
“Are you crazy, Pareng Asoy?” Imoy demanded. “Look at the moon! It’s full!”
“It’s not safe! Mare Pungking will be out, and you know she won’t recognize a friend at this time of month. Do you want to end up as supper?”
Asoy belched, chuckled, and patted the hilt of his trusty sanggut, with which he collected coconut sap for the finest tuba in Iloilo.
“Just let her try,” he said. “Well, I had better be going, Pareng Imoy, it’s quite a long walk.”
Imoy Bagabaga shook his head and clapped Asoy on the back.
“Suit yourself, Pare. As for me, I’m staying here. If I don’t see you tomorrow, I’ll know where to find you. I’ll just rub Maracung’s fat stomach.”
Asoy stood up from the table, swaying a bit. Then, lurching and stumbling a little, he set off down the road for Montogawi.
But he was so drunk that when he got to the part of the road that passed beside a fat clump of bamboo in the middle of the rice paddies, out of sight of the barrio, he felt as if he couldn’t take another dizzy step without a good night’s sleep. So without further ado, he just curled up in the soft grasses at the roadside and went to sleep.
Meanwhile, Mare Pungking had just started out to hunt in the form of a huge black bird. She bypassed the wake, as people were saying prayers by the hour as they kept vigil over the coffin of the deceased. Besides, she dared not carry off someone where there were enough people to hunt her. So she drifted off to search other barrios and towns for supper.
However, as luck had it, no one was out on the streets that night, and every window and door was tightly shut and latched, and fortified with ginger and garlic, fishhooks and manunggal vine besides. Mare Pungking roamed the roads and byways of four towns and all their barrios without finding a single victim.
As dawn drew near, she became so hungry she was desperate to eat anyone. As she started home to her little hut by the river, just a little distance away on the other side of Montogawi, her sharp nose smelled a person. Hungrily, she looked all around her to see if someone was unlucky enough to be wandering around the countryside that early in the morning. Finally she heard loud snores and found Asoy Bantog asleep on the roadside. With a flap of huge wings, she landed on the grasses and turned back into her human form.
“Finally! Food!” she exclaimed, her huge frightful eyes igniting red at the thought. She stood over the sleeping Asoy and examined him carefully.
“Wait a minute, it’s... Pareng Asoy!” she said softly to herself. For a minute she hesitated, her aswang instincts warring with her better nature.
But an aswang was an aswang, and a hungry aswang had to eat or go hungry till the next full moon. So in a matter of seconds, she made up her mind.
“I’m sorry, pare,” she said, “but even a friend looks delicious at this time of night. But I better make you a tigbaliw, or Pareng Imoy Bagabaga and Imoy Madasig will be sure to hunt me down with bamboo stakes should they realize you’re missing. They’ll know I’d have eaten you. Just sleep tightly and I’ll be back soon.” She studied Asoy’s sleeping form for a while then changed back into a bird and took off with mighty beats of her giant wings and a long, drawn out kurokutokutokutooook!
Unknown to her, Asoy had been awakened when she had first landed by his side.
“Abaw! And the very good aswang wants to eat ME as well! We’ll see about that!” Asoy said to himself, turned over, and went right back to sleep.
Mare Pungking meanwhile had gone to a nearby wood lot to search for a branch that would approximate Asoy’s length, size and position, for a tigbaliw could only take on the appearance of a human being if it were as much like that person as possible, right down to the position of his body. Mare Pungking intended of course to take Asoy off to her tiny hut by the river for an early breakfast, leaving the tigbaliw in his place. It would appear, of course, that Asoy had died in the night, but at least the death would not be traced to her. Mare Pungking was nothing but an intelligent and very meticulous aswang.
It irritated her no end, of course, when she returned to the place where Asoy was sleeping. Only this time, Asoy, who had been sleeping curled up on his side like a baby, was now flat on his stomach with arms and legs sprawled like calabasa stalks in a vegetable garden. Mare Pungking stared at him, then at the now useless stick she had selected with such finicky care, huffed into her breast feathers, and flew off again to find another stick.
Asoy, who had been awakened by her wing flaps, waited till they sounded far away, then he sleepily tucked his legs up under him and went back to his peaceful slumber.
Imagine, of course, Mare Pungking’s annoyance to return and find her intended victim still sleeping on his stomach, but now with his head pillowed on his arms and his buttocks in the air like a Moslem frozen in position as he was praying. She had taken such care in choosing a branch with four twigs sticking out at precisely the same angles as Asoy Bantog’s arms and legs had been! Furiously she flung the stick into a nearby rice paddy and flapped off again to hunt for another stick, wondering where on earth she’d ever find one that looked like Asoy Bantog with his buttocks in the air.
Asoy Bantog now scratched his head, rolled over, and settled back to sleep. It had been rather cramped in his last position. When Mare Pungking returned, he had both arms folded across his chest and his legs were bent like the legs of the frogs they sell on barbecue sticks in the market. Mare Pungking wanted to just thread a bamboo stake through him like one of those frogs, but Imoy Bagabaga and Imoy Madasig would do the same to him if they ever found out. Again she threw away the stick she was carrying and hastened off to find another that looked like a frog with its arms folded across its middle.
It took her the better part of an hour to find a stick with just that peculiar appearance. Pleased with herself, she flew back to her victim, only to find that Asoy had now tucked a hand under his chin, scrunched up his face as if he were having a very bad dream, twisted his legs about each other, and wrapped the other arm around his knees.
Mare Pungking wanted to scream with frustration. She would, too, if she was sure no one could hear. As an aswang’s voice is very shrill and piercing, and it sounds louder the farther away you are, it was a very distinct possibility that the whole barrio, at some distance away, would be awakened from sleep, and then where would she be?
As she hopped up and down, seething with anger hot enough to rival Imoy Bagabaga’s legendary tummy, to her amazement and great trepidation she heard a cock crow.
She stopped and listened, hoping that a sleepy cock had awakened and mistakenly thought it was morning already, and having realized its mistake, had gone sleepily back to sleep.
But no, after a few minutes the lone cock was echoed by several of its comrades, until at last all the cocks in the barrio were singing in chorus. And Mare Pungking realized that it was already morning but she had not yet had her supper.
She looked angrily down at Asoy Bantog.
“So be it then!” she finally said. “Tigbaliw or not, I will have my early breakfast.”
She changed back into her human shape and bent and hoisted Asoy over her shoulder with his head hanging down her back and her hands clutching his legs. Then, huffing and chuffing, and salivating with hunger, she made for home, calling for Maracung to come and meet her for breakfast.
But she had barely reached the portion where the stream that fed the rice fields met the river when she felt a strong sinewy hand grasp her throat. She reached up to wrench it away and in the next instance felt the cold touch of a very sharp blade of curved steel.
“As you may know, my dear kumare,” Asoy’s voice said in her ear, very silkily, “I happen to have the sharpest sanggut in four towns and then some. One very tiny wrong movement, and I might cut your throat without really meaning to, if you know what I mean.”
Mare Pungking very nearly collapsed from shock and fear. She hadn’t thought it was really possible to frighten an aswang until that moment. As it was, she dared not collapse for fear that she might really get her throat cut. She knew that sanggut; it could slice the top off a young coconut in just one swoop.
“Pa-pareng Asoy..!” she stammered. “It is you! It’s me, your kumare. Don’t you recognize me?”
“It seems, kumare, that the question should be whether YOU recognized ME,” Asoy answered, tightening his grip on the sanggut. Mare Pungking rolled her red eyes downwards in an effort to see how near the blade was.
“I, I, I,” she stammered, grasping for words.
“Yes, Kumare?”
“I was heading for home already when I recognized you. Surely I just couldn’t let my kumpare just sleep by the roadside! I, I, I was just carrying you home to save you the trouble, that’s all…”
“And took the trouble to search for just the right tigbaliw to put in my place? Tell me the truth, kumare. You were planning to have me for breakfast, weren’t you?” Asoy Bantog pressed the sanggut a little closer.
“He, he, he, Pareng Asoy, now don’t be hasty,” Mare Pungking said nervously.
Just then Maracung came slithering up, six feet in length of thick, heavy crocodile and at least a two-foot row of glistening sharp teeth. He was expecting a hearty breakfast, and his jaws snapped in annoyance to find his mistress apparently having a discussion with their intended meal.
“One wrong movement, my fine leather friend, and you or your mistress will be eating one or the other of you,” Asoy said when he spotted the crocodile.
“Maracung, stay right where you are. Don’t move,” Mare Pungking ordered. In a panic, she noticed that a thin strip of gold was beginning to seep across the sky. “Look, Pare, can we just forget the whole thing?” she begged Asoy Bantog. “If I don’t get home before the sun rises, I’ll be dust and you know it. Have mercy on me for the sake of our friendship.”
“Friendship?” Apparently Asoy was in no hurry.
“Please, Pareng Asoy! I don’t want to die! I’m weak, and scared, I haven’t even had a bite of supper, and now I won’t have it until next month! That’s why I was desperate enough to even think of eating you… I admit it! I’m sorry, please, Pareng Asoy, just let me go so I can get home in peace before the sun rises….”
Asoy Bantog took a few moments to consider.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll let you loose once you and Maracung have dropped me off at my house, since we’ll be passing by there anyway. But until then, I’m not taking this sanggut away from its present position, so you better hurry, Mare Pungking.”
“Come quick, Maracung!” Mare Pungking ordered. “I need a ride and we better hurry.” When Maracung had approached her, she carefully stepped on the back of the crocodile, still with Asoy Bantog draped around her shoulders and his sanggut at her throat. Maracung quickly pushed off, paddling his feet with all his might. The sooner he got this load off his back, the better.
They finally reached the riverbank nearest to Asoy’s little shack on Montogawi.
“Here we are, Pareng Asoy,” Mare Pungking said nervously.
Asoy slid off her back and onto his feet on the riverbank, still clutching his sanggut.
“I hope that teaches you a lesson never to even think of eating me again!” he said. “Or any of my family, for that matter!”
But Mare Pungking and her pet crocodile were already far down the river, hurrying to get home before the sun rose completely, for if an aswang who has been out hunting is caught by the sun before it has gotten home, it will catch fire and disintegrate into ashes. Normally, the sun does not hurt it except in those vulnerable instances, but the exceptional instances are fatal to it.
Mare Pungking made it up her bamboo ladder and into the safety of her little hut before the sun rose completely. Whimpering, she curled up into a ball on her papag and tried to recover from the fright and hunger. Maracung bolted for the shade under the house and buried his aching stomach in the cool dust. They both didn’t stir for a long long time. Perhaps until the next full moon.
Asoy Bantog, on the other hand, stumbled up the footpath to his own hut. Putot, who had kept vigil on the tiny porch all night, ran to meet him. Asoy patted his dog, went inside the house, stuck his bare sanggut into the tinadtad wall, and, dirty clothes, empty scabbard still on his belt, and all, he flopped on the bed and peacefully resumed his interrupted slumber.
But one thing was sure. From then on, Mare Pungking, or any other aswang for miles around for that matter, avoided Asoy Bantog on full moons. No, not even if they were dying from hunger. It just wasn’t worth it.

“So, you see,” Lolo Bucio concluded, “Asoy Bantog wasn’t afraid of the aswang. Not a bit. Not even of the crocodile. So you, his great great grandson, have nothing to fear. When it sees you, it will say to itself, oh, no, not that one! That’s Asoy’s grandson! It’s not worth it!”
Toto sighed contentedly.
“Toto Bantog, grandson of Asoy Bantog,” he murmured dreamily.
“Bantog? You? Ha! you better learn to go to the outhouse alone at night first!” Neneng sniffed.

No comments:

Post a Comment