NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/31 October) — When we kids were still in grade school we always looked forward to All Souls Day. It meant a sumptuous eat-all-you-can fare of native delicacies: biko, suman or budbod, puto maya, and the cold-looking but deceivingly hot tsokolate. The neighbors would always have any of the preparations, and the practice then was to exchange what specialty was prepared among nearest households.
Even if we didn’t have any relatives buried in the cemetery, we would go there just the same because some friends were visiting theirs’. It was a pleasure to troop to the cemetery bringing a bolo, a walis tingting, a rake or whatever cleaning materials at hand to help our friends clean the final resting place of their loved ones. Some enterprising boys much bigger than us would carry around a gallon of cheap white paint and offer their services to visitors to repaint the tombs of their departed ones. We could only marvel at their skill of haggling for the price of their labor and their ability to finish the task at no time at all.
My friends and I were still too young then to concern ourselves with making money. It was enough for us to be rewarded for our collective labor with native delicacies, sometimes with soda or ice-drops. When our task was done we moved around the cemetery jumping from one tomb to another observing what people were doing in remembrance of the departed ones. We would also collect partially burnt or melted candles and balled them to sizes to become floor wax at home. If we have more than enough of balled candles we would share some of it with our respective classroom teacher for her use at home or school.
Moods in the cemetery differed. Many were happy and jubilant, especially those families and relatives who came in band, bringing with them food and other goodies. The gathering in the cemetery was a reunion of sort, a time to update everyone on the social, economic and even probably the political plight of relatives, or the health, the travails and pains of others. Tents were set up, and then there would be eating and drinking, and even some singing till nightfall.
But there would be others who either came alone or with company of one or two with so much sadness, remorse and depression swathed in their faces. They would kneel on the mound of earth that could be the burial site of the departed and pour out their anguish in silent cry. Children as we were yet the sight and melancholy rubbed on us and made us forlorn for some moments.
At night when the moon was round and bright we would gather in the purok waiting shed and exchanged exaggerated stories about ghosts, kapre, kalag, multo and aswang until all of us were too scared to go home.
On one occasion the eldest of our gang brought a turtle and a candle and led us to the entrance of the cemetery at around 7 in the evening. The guy lighted the candle placed it on the back of the turtle and let it cross the road when a large group of exiting cemetery guests were about 70 or 100 meters from the gate. They were terrified seeing a moving, floating candle and scampered in different direction. We could hardly control our laughter.
The following morning the breaking news in town was the phenomenon of the lighted floating coffin in the cemetery narrated by multiplying numbers of witnesses at different levels of exaggeration and embellishment. Many claimed seeing a floating open coffin with an old shrunken woman in flying dirty white tattered clothing firmly holding a lighted candle on her chest. But no one ever saw mischievous turtle.
Over time we began to love as well as believed the reported scary stories rather than the truth we knew about it. Indeed, fiction is stronger, more interesting and more convincing than truth. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental.)