Say bari-bari to the spirits

By Marifi Jara

MOTHER told us when we were kids that every May 1, at least one person dies from drowning in San Fabian because the spirits of the sea always have to take a human sacrifice during the Pista’y Dayat, the Festival of the Sea.

We believed mother, of course, as much as we believed, twinned with utmost fright, her childhood story of seeing a kapre (also known as tikbalang in Philippine folklore), a giant human with a horse head and smokes a huge roll of tobacco, sitting atop a tree one dusk as she was walking home from Sanitas Elementary School.

Fiction or real, my young mind understood then that these stories – just like all good legends, fairy tales, and fables – were supposed to teach a moral lesson.

I suspected that the story of the sea spirits and the kapre were meant to caution us against venturing too far out when frolicking in the water despite San Fabian’s beaches being known not to have sudden dips on its seabed, and discourage us from wandering too far from my grandparents’ home when evening comes despite those days of old when everyone in the community were practically relatives or at least knew and trusted everybody else.

I embraced the tales and I obeyed. Truth is, I still do – embrace the tales, but not always obey. I now have doubts about the authenticity of the spirits and creatures, but I still love the stories and I believe them, sentimentally. Perhaps because I love my mother and I can’t not believe her. Or maybe I am afraid of losing the magic of the San Fabian of my childhood summers if I stopped believing.

I think it’s perfectly alright to tell such tales to our young… no, make that we must pass on these stories to our young. But at the same time, we have to be careful about sowing irrational fear; we have to make sure that they understand that these are myths, the stuff of wonderful fiction that are a part of Pangasinan’s literary heritage.

What would be silly is to use folklore as an excuse for, say, shrugging off the recurring drowning that still take place in Pangasinan’s beaches when our barangay and town leaders can adopt measures that will help minimize these tragedies. Or say allowing imaginary creatures to hold a community in paralyzing terror to the point that the police have to divert precious resources to calm the people down, like in the recent infamy that Pozzorubio got over rumors of an aswang prowling one of its barangays.

“Imagine the impact of the story on the minds of young kids,” said an exasperated Chief Inspector Satur Ediong, Pozzorubio’s police boss. Amen to that, chief. Go ahead, take the man who spread the bogus photos and burn him at the stake! (read: tie him to a tree riddled with ants.)

There is enchantment in folklore. And fiction is definitely a brilliant, timeless tool for teaching values. And then there’s reality. Criminals are the scarier creatures of our times.

Back again when we were kids, mother taught us to always say “bari-bari” whenever we would go off exploring, especially when coming across a nuno sa punso (that mysterious small mound of earth that houses elves – ok, an anthill if you need to get real) or when visiting someone’s house, especially if it’s the first time. The complete expression, meant to ward off whatever evil or naughty spirits that may be lurking, is “bari-bari, ag yo kami ibambano, lake, bae”, but since that was quite a mouthful, we just stuck to simple bari-bari because it is supposed to work the same magic anyway.

Until now, when I go someplace that gives me a creepy feeling, whether it is in Pangasinan or wherever else, I would whisper bari-bari. Many spirits most likely don’t understand Pangasinan, but I do believe that the power of the chant cuts across language barriers. If I’m wrong, well, it doesn’t really matter – it is enough that bari-bari works wonders in making me feel a little braver.

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