By: Jena Isle
The mournful chant reverberated through the small four walls of the hut…” Aieeeee”.
Guinnaban – 9 at that time – was cowering in the eerie shadows. He was staring at the wrinkled woman wailing for the gaunt, pale corpse laid on the long table. The head of the corpse was at a grotesque angle, almost totally severed from his body.
“ Uma nangwa kansika anna?” ( Who have done this to you?) the woman wailed even louder.
“Aiieeeeee”….. everyone joined in and the hut became a cacophony of mournful cries.
The barrio captain motioned to the elders for a conference and they filed outside, their faces grim and murderous. Outside, a heated and frenzied debate took place.
Finally, the barrio captain raised his arm and shouted amidst the din, “ Intakkon no, umma uwayon yo, ittod tako kanida de kingwada.”( Then what are we waiting for? Let’s avenge his death.)
And so a full blown “tribal war” had began.
Guinnaban, grew amidst these bloody chaos caused by two warring tribes, who both fought for domination over the municipality. He accepted it as a way of life: the constant refuge in the deep forest even in the stillness of the night when the “enemy” had come to attack and the code of silence even when all he wanted was to protest at the top of his voice at the injustice of it all – these had become routine occurrences for him. And at age 10, he had stood as a sentinel on one of the night watches.
The “enemy” did not select their victims. Women and children were not spared by their avenging spears and bolos. Men had their heads always severed from their bodies, as a symbol of victory. The victor would bring home the grotesque, bloody head and would proudly display it like a trophy in their barrio. The warriors would dance gleefully around it till the wee hours of dawn. Head-hunting was normal and considered a warrior’s noble deed.
It is for this reason that women and children did not dare venture outside their barrio’s perimeter unless escorted by warriors.
He was 12, when a Belgian, missionary priest , Fr. Carl Belucci, visited their far flung barrio. Everyone was wary of him. What did this white haired man with a long aquiline nose want with them? He was not the enemy surely but might he be a spy? No one wanted to welcome Fr. Belucci and his companions to their nipa huts.
Guinnaban could not explain what prompted him to approach the priest, “ You are not here to help us, are you?” he queried, his big round eyes – probing and curious.
“I am here not only to help, “ the priest said in his soft, mellow voice.
Guinnaban believed him. At his age, he had a keen perception of people. He can perceive just by looking at people’s eyes, whether they were sincere or not; and he knew, the priest was his salvation.
From then on, Guinnaban served as the altar boy in each Holy Mass the priest celebrated. He began to listen to Fr. Belucci and learned that there is salvation for everyone, even for his enemies.
The elders however, were too far gone to forgive and forget whatever the sins of the past were, and continued with their thirst for vengeance. Some younger men, pleaded with the elders to forge a peace pact with the other tribe to end the senseless war.
They started proceedings but it seemed that their efforts were futile, there was still no vestige of reconciliation.
It was at this time that Fr. Belucci was called back to the parish church in town as it was becoming increasingly dangerous for him to stay on, in the barrio.
“Do you want to come with me?” Fr. Belucci asked Guinnaban, two days before his scheduled departure.
“You can continue serving as an altar boy and can go to school simultaneously.”
“But what about ina and ama?” Guinnaban wanted to go, but feared for the safety of his parents.
“They can come with you.” The old priest patted his head.
So on that gloomy, Monday morning, Guinnaban and his parents got what little was left of their belongings and joined Fr. Belucci in his 5 hr-trek to town.
(TO BE CONTINUED)