TURNING POINT: The Covenant with Oyong

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/31 October) — One summer evening in the house of our grandfather, my cousins and I were engrossed in a discussion on death and spirits. Does the spirit of the dead really return and move around among the living for a while?

I was third year in college then and I shared with my cousins my experiences in Marawi on how we resolved issues of that kind. I told them that the easiest way to do it was to consult the spirit of the glass. They had not heard about this spirit-of-the-glass thing and I was almost convinced that only the stupid and desperate scholars of MSU were crazy about it. I related to them how a duralex glass with the spirit of Andres Bonifacio inside it  jumped from one letter to another to answer a question. Nobody believed me. I offered to demonstrate and conduct the rituals; everybody was scared and would not like to have anything to do about it.

Oyong, that’s how we called our 90 year-old grandfather, was smiling listening to our discussion in his rocking chair but said nothing. He was a man of few words who never asked any question unless it was so vital to his existence. And the only question I often heard from him is “Who took my tinustos (tobacco roll), I placed it here moment ago?” He would also not venture any opinion but would only shake his head in agreement or disagreement in discussions where he is present. My Oyang (grandmother) stopped nagging him long time ago because he would never react to her endless chatter but would simply rock his chair and smoked his tinustos all the way.

Although unassuming and taciturn, Oyong was always the primary choice in the collection of wedding sponsors in the community. And he was always the one to deliver the message or advise to the newly wed during the reception. He would gather the couple who automatically knelt before him and looked intensely into their eyes for some eternity without saying anything. A solemn silence would drown the crowd. He would dismiss the couple with his right hand on the head of the husband and the left hand on the wife’s with a terse order to each one. To the husband: “Pagtarong (Do it right).” To the wife: “Pagbinuotan (Be good).”

At 90 Oyong was still healthy, strong and stood like a giant for me in his 5’10” muscular frame. His teeth, like Oyang’s, were still beautifully intact, cleansed and nourished by buyo and apog every 15 days or so. His hair was thick and dense – head, eyebrow, nostril, all over – and was snow white.

Oyong had remained busy despite his age. He still trapped sand crabs and fished, and climbed the mountain to visit his banana and coconut farms two kilometers away. I went fishing with him once and he uttered not a single word despite my stories and my questions. He would simply smile, shake his head or nod, or point to this and that in response to my initiative to start a conversation. The only occasion that he said something to me was when I attempted to climb a coconut tree in the farm to get some butong or buko. He run to me and shouted angrily for the first time:

“There are things that you should do and things that you should never do in life. It’s not for you to climb a coconut tree. Never again do it. You will die.”

The pronouncement shocked me and it shocked me more when in a minute after saying it Oyong was already on the tree top dropping a cluster of young coconuts for me.

Well, in that evening of death and spirit talk, with my cousins around I requested Oyong to visit us after his death. I said:

“Yong, chronologically you will go ahead of us. We are trying to prove here whether or not the spirit of the dead remains, returns or hovers on earth after one’s death. Would you agree and promise to return to us, appear to us in spirit upon your death?”

Our grandfather grinned, looked intently at us and nodded in agreement. All my girl cousins panicked and demanded out of the agreement. Oyong just smiled and again said nothing.

Years rolled by, I got married, had a son, and went to graduate school. I forgot everything about my covenant with Oyong. But one very early morning in July six years after we sealed that agreement, my sleep was disturbed by a very strong sensation that someone was gazing at me. When I opened my eyes I was startled to see my giant of a grandfather who stood two feet away from my bed, smiling pleasantly at me. I thought I was dreaming so I rubbed my eyes. He remained there. “Oyong, Oyong,” I cried and tried to reach out to him. Before I could touch him, however, he disappeared.

The following day I received a telegram from my Aunt informing me of the death of my grandfather. (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.)