July 16, 2024

We didn’t sleep during our first night in our new house when we visited our hometown in Sadanga, Mountain Province. The house wasn’t inhabited since it was built 20 years ago by our aunt sold this to us since we own the land where it stood. Next to it is our ancestral house, built by my parents and where my four eldest sisters grew up before a community disease spread, killed my two sisters and forced our whole family to migrate in the city.
The two bungalow houses were made of pine wood and covered with GI sheet. Both are elevated and have wooden stairs and decorated with buffalo horns hanged on its doors. The ancestral house however has brittle wooden planks, and dilapidated walls while the new one has fresh brown wood and dusty floors.
Though these houses look similar they were inhabited by two different souls. My father who died from an accident when I was five months old, and my father’s only brother, Dusan, who just recently passed away – both of them wanted to welcome us in a manner that we almost felt their shadows pressing a boulder on us.
It started from our ancestral house. That night, my nephew felt a nauseating pain and threw up what he has eaten. We thought it was just from the long travel but my second sister who survived the disease in this place followed with the same throbbing pain. She crawled in the floor and vomited.
We stayed awake all night, thinking hard what food has poisoned them. Was it the warm weather in Bontoc that spoiled the food, or the sudden rain that landed with us, putting a spell on us upon entering our town?
Worried, I went to my aunt and asked for warm coconut oil and walked up in the community center to see if there were stores open to buy energy drink, but got neither oil nor clean water. It was not until my aunt said to me, “You forgot to pay respects when you occupied your houses. Offer the chickens you bought from Bontoc as early as you can tomorrow.” And it struck me – we are not in the foreign place but in our ancestral land and isn’t it that animals, people, and houses too have spirits here with pulsating breath and have stomach waiting to be fed that’s why they make their presence felt to human beings?
Before going back inside, I stood in between the houses and spoke in the shadows, “Delay your hunger until sunrise, do not consume us here.” In the middle of the night, a soft rain came and the wind swept in the roof of our house. My nephew and my sister finally settled and we watched them sleep, we took a nap for few hours until the cry of the chickens tied in house posts woke us the next day.
I asked my brother to offer the two chickens. He felt it too somehow. He knew how to please my deceased father. I watched him light a fire below the house, pluck the chicken’s feathers, some he planted in the house post. He used a small stick to pat the chicken’s blood before making a cut and draining it in a bowl he sprinkled with rice grains. When the smoke began to engulf the house, it calmed the terrors of the night and slowly the shadows in between the corners of the small houses drifted away to give way for the light of the day. We were all quiet while eating our shares of the meat. We drank its tasty broth and we all felt relief as our body acclimated to the environment.
But just as we thought that these were ghosts tormenting us, we were reminded that it was not the house that needs feeding, it was a part of our being that needs to be respected and recognized. When I stood in between the two houses and saw from where doors facing, I was met with vast spread of the mighty mountain ranges of Cordillera, I heard a small voice saying, “You are not visitors of this place but you are the heirs of this land, so in the coming days, act like one. Change the contours of this land with the imprint of your hands you inherited from your us – your ancestors.”