Friday, February 9, 2007

At the Gates of the Tagalog Titan

The Gates of the Tagalog Titan 3, originally uploaded by revcruz.

Every journey back from the regular group reflection activities I facilitate with my interns at Wawa in Montalban, Rizal is like emerging from a fantasy world rich with mythological, spiritual and historical significance. The sight of the dam waterfall flanked by the towering limestone walls is enough to leave anyone in awe at its beauty. The vista of the magnificent gorge, combined with the soothing ambient notes of the rushing waters creates a contemplative atmosphere, being humbly enveloped within a virtual hug from Mother Nature.

This is the home of Bernardo Carpio, a legendary figure in our rich Philippine Mythology. Although numerous versions of his story exists, owing to the fact that Filipino folklore is mainly traditional - that is, handed down from generation to generation through oral accounts, the basic form of the story recounts of a local lad with superhuman strength and abilities being trapped between two great rocks in the mountains of Montalban, Rizal. A version depicts Bernardo Carpio as a giant, as supported by the presence of enourmous footprints he is said to have left behind at the mountainside (One of the caves there houses a unique stalactite formation that locals claim to be the teeth of this giant). This version of his myth is etiological in nature, as this provided early Filipinos an explanation for the occurences of earthquakes. The area in which Bernardo Carpio is said to have been trapped is interestingly the same site where the Marikina Valley Fault system runs through.

The name 'Bernardo Carpio' is obviously Spanish, showing perhaps that the myth did not originate from Pre-Spanish times in Filipino history. If it did, it may have been modified from is earliest forms during the Spanish occupation. In another version of the legend, Bernardo Carpio is said to have been born of ordinary parents. As expected from the basic form of the story, the boy demonstrated unusual strength, which prompted the parish priest to christen him with the name of a Spanish legendary hero, Bernardo del Carpio. Interestingly, this is a foreshadowing of the type of life that Bernardo Carpio would lead. As he grew up, the atrocities of the Spaniards became more and more unbearable leading to the formation of the early revolutionaries (Note that the Spaniards occupied the Philippines for 400 years, so do not confuse this with the Katipuneros' time). Bernardo Carpio would be invited by the revolutionaries to be part of the rebellion. His strength was dreadfully feared by the Spaniards, and in order to neutralize him, they conspired with an enkanto, a local shaman, to trap him through supernatural means. Setting up a meeting for a truce, the Spaniards lured him into the caves where he woul be magically trapped by huge boulders and chains. Attempts to save him would prove futile and fatal to the rescuers. It has been said that he is still living beneath the rocks, and eventually when he will be free and last chains that binds him are broken, "the enslavement and oppression of the Filipino race will be replaced with freedom and happiness." - a Filipino Messiah of sorts.

Aside from its mythological significance, Wawa is also bestowed with an abundant historical heritage. The familiar Wawa Dam was actually constructed by the Americans on 1909 to serve as a water reservoir and pumping facility to boost the capacity of the waterworks system of the growing Manila city. During Japanese occupation, the gorge and the dam area became a strategic holding point. The site became a battle field with the Americans attempting to retake the area amidst fears of the Japanese blowing up the dam (This would be very disastrous, as this would cause destruction and flooding of neighboring towns). The mountains would then become the grave of numerous fallen Japanese soldiers, and a marker was actually placed on top of the cave paying homage to the bravery of these soldiers. Numerous holes within the caves and mountainside can be seen and locals claim that these may have been sites where the rumored Yamashita treasures and golden buddhas may have been hidden.

But in terms of history, the most important of which would be the legacy of the Pamitinan Cave. It has been said that Andres Bonifacio along with his revolutionaries (Katipuneros) would seek refuge in Pamitinan Cave as a clandestine meeting place. This would be the notable event in which Bonifacio and his katipuneros would shout the KKK's (Kataastaasang Kagalanggalang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan) first cry of freedom. This was on April 1895, almost more than a year earlier than the more popular "Cry of Balintawak" on August 1896. On the walls of the cave was written in charcoal the phrase "Viva La Independencia Filipinas!". Andres Bonifacio (an admirer of Jose Rizal, who was reportedly to have made a pilgrimage earlier to this same cave) was often considered by historians and critiques to be rash and impulsive, in comparison to the military strategists of the rebellion (like Aguinaldo). But it has to be said that Bonifacio may be quite deliberate and deeply thoughtful of the selection of this refuge. Why of all possible hiding places did he choose this particular cave tucked within the mountains of Montalban, Rizal?

Consider these points. The katipuneros met in Pamitinan Cave on April 1895, particularly on a Good Friday, which in Christian tradition, commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at Calvary. In Filipino culture, it is a day of the "penitensya", where Filipino Christians do penance even to the point of self-flagellation and real reenactments of the crucifixion. A cave in Filipino culture is a rite of passage, where successful emergence and survival signifies the integrity and purity of the devotee. The katupineros met in Pamitinan Cave, not only to talk in secret about plots of revolts, but also to undergo a spiritual purification process, an eventual preparation for leadership. The cave according to myth, is the site where Bernardo Carpio, the "imprisoned King of the Tagalogs" is struggling to break free from bondage. Bonifacio apparently was telling the Filipinos and his katipuneros that they should be ready to face sufferings if the Katipunan was to play the role of redeemer of the people from their centuries-old yoke. He was obviously paying homage to Filipino folklore, that is deeply embedded in the psyche of the locals; devotion to Christan traditions, that is also reflected in the deep spirituality of the converts; and advocacy to political freedom from Spanish oppression and atrocity. The Katipunan would later emerge from the cave, purified and devoted to their roles, infused by the messianic spirit of Bernardo Carpio. History books fail to highlight the deep spirituality of the Katipuneros, and this would just be accounted for as an attempt of the Katipuneros to hide and escape. But it seems that Bonifacio had a lot more in his mind... and heart.

Myth and spirituality is deeply infused in the Filipino psyche. It is still evident nowadays in our people's attempts for freedom from corruption and poverty. The apparent lack of spirituality of our leaders and respect to our Filipino heritage would seem to compound our nation's fast plummet to mediocrity. The ancient Filipino concept of “pamathalaan” (a conjunction of “pamahalaan” or government, and “bathala”, God or creator) or God-centered governance has been evident in the Katipunan's beliefs. Ancestral spiritual movements (Rizalista cults, and present derivatives of Katipunan) are seeking for the adoption of such form of governance as a solution to our nations' problems. Perhaps, they are right. Perhaps, our leaders should go to the caves (they act like cavemen anyways) for purification and instill within themselves the true spirit of leadership.

Interesting, isn't it?

I will be conducting another group reflection activity to Wawa, particularly a climb to the Pamitinan Cave on March 1, 2007, 1-6 PM. It will involve an hour hike to the cave (if the waters are still deep enough to be crossed) and an hour walk within the cave. Please contact me if you're interested in joining the interns in this climb. My photos of our previous activities in Wawa can be seen in my Flickr account sets: Montalban Magic, 3rd Batch Pictures and 4th Batch Pictures or my Multiply photo set: Montalban Magic. Be part of the 5th Batch Pictures.

(Sigh... I miss PI100...)

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