My wife came from a remote village in Batugalang, wherever that was, and her village celebrates its fiesta once every five years, which was really weird. Being observed every five years, the fiesta was an extravagant event in the village. So, it was very important for her to come. She asked me to go with her, and I did. I packed my bags and accompanied her on the most unforgettable trip of my life.
After debarking from the boat, we rode a tetanous jeepney for four agonizing hours, then rode a horse that looks more like a dog than a horse for two hours, and then trekked the mountainside for eight more hours. “No wonder the village celebrates its fiesta only once in every five years” I sarcastically told my wife, “the travel alone would take you a year”. When we finally got to the village the first thing I noticed were the carabaos. They were well groomed some of them even had leis of flowers on their necks. What surprised me most was that they were not working the fields; they were kept tied in the balcony of the houses like a pet dog. I asked my wife about this, and she told me that in their village it was an honor to own a carabao. They were treated the same way we treat a pedigree pet dog or cat. “Weird, but to each his own,” I replied.
After three days of traveling, at last I met my in-laws. Theirs was a very simple and rustic like like most of the people in the village. Their house was a classic nipa hut with no electricity and running water. It seemed that time stopped here and even the clothes they wore were pre-Spanish in style. Their Tagalog was so pure untouched by English, Spanish, and Chinese that I thought I was in another country. We ate dinner and I enjoyed the meal they prepared for us. The vegetables were sweet and the chicken meat, although dark, was rich and delectable. Curious about the carabaos, I jokingly asked my in-laws about the grooming and the flowers. I told them that in our province carabaos were working animals and not pets. They were angry at hearing my words “Carabaos are beautiful creatures. They are not made for work. Here we respect and treasure them for we believe that they are the reincarnation of Apo Kalimagmag’s dog. The dog that saved the life of the revered Apo. It’s an honor to own one,” they angrily told me. That was the end of the dinner; I did not made a good impression with my in-laws.
Hoping to make amends, I told my wife to discreetly ask how much a carabao would cost. I was hoping that if my allowance would allow it, I would surprise my in-laws with one. She came back and told me that they cost two hundred pesos each. I was elated. “Two hundred pesos! That’s just a kilo of pork in Manila.” I told my wife, “Go and buy five, let’s surprise your mother and father,” I added.
I can’t describe my in-laws reaction when they saw the five carabaos tied to their house post. I thought they would collapse on the floor. They were so ecstatic that my father-in-law even kissed me. I was happy at what I had done. Five carabaos for them, they were millionaires in the eyes of these people. And for only two hundred pesos each, it’s a bargain. I was almost asleep when my in-laws went to their side of the hut. They were still talking about the carabaos.
Early the next morning, I was awakened by the noise of people talking. When I rose from the bamboo cot and peeped outside, I saw ten people’ who all bowed to me, talking with my in-laws. My father-in-law invited me to join them in their discussion. After having coffee and rice cake I joined them. “Son, these people are the elders of the village, and it is the unbroken tradition of the village for the giver of carabaos to christen each in ceremonial feasts before the receiver can formally accept them. We were touched by your generosity. The village council had to be convened because this is the first time in the entire history of the entire village for someone to give five carabaos at the same time. And now we are discussing the details of the ceremony: like the twelve customary sets of godparents for each carabao, the musiko’s, the feast, and the traditional three-day announcement of invitation to the whole village. Since you gave us five we are discussing of having the feast at five day successions, of course the actual village fiesta will not be included in the five day count.”
I lost consciousness and remember nothing more of the conversations. The next thing I knew was the albularyo saying some strange words to my ears. “ Pare, aside from exhausting my ten thousand pesos allowance, I had to sell my watch, my wife’s watch, my camera, my necklace, our wedding ring, and even my extra pair of rubber shoes so that we can go home” he cried.
I had never seen my kumpare cry before even after his father’s death. I was surprised when he did this time.
I don’t know if my kumpare’s story is true but from the way he reacts every time he sees a carabao I’d say he’s had a traumatic experience with them.