MANTALONGON

November 2001

Wednesday afternoon the Cebu South Terminal was packed with holiday travelers. Next day was All Souls Day, and it looked like most of Cebu had come to the bus terminal to leave town for the four-day holiday. There were long, snaking lines for the buses, and the occasional V-Hire van was instantly mobbed by the milling crowd. Very discouraging. Somehow Ana, Loida and I managed to squeeze into a V-Hire heading south. Once loaded, I counted 26 passengers in the small van.
Two hours south on the coast road we arrived in Dalaguete. After a quick meal we switched to a habelhabel, a motorcycle with an extended seat. With four of us on the bike, it was a bumpy 45-minute ride up into the mountains to Mantalongon.

Mantalongon Photos

Surrounded by beautiful peaks and cloud forest, Mantalongon is a mountain village. I estimate the population at a few thousand people. Surrounded by truck farms, it's a market town where farmers bring their produce and pigs to sell for the city. The market is filled with huge baskets of cabbages, carrots, beans, onions, garlic and other vegetables destined for Cebu, as well as boxes of dried fish brought up from the coast for local consumption. This is a busy place, people selling and buying and eating and drinking and talking, chopping up pigs and fixing motorcycles.
Ana's family house is a one-minute walk from the market, thru the stalls of rice and dried fish and videoke bars back to the small concrete house perched above the creek. We arrive and greet her mom Quirina, her sisters Tessie and Delia, her brothers WingWing and Benjie, and a few neighbors. I met everybody on my previous visit and it's nice to see them all again. In about one second we're all blabbing, with lots of joking and laughter as usual. We just ate an hour ago, but it's (mandatory) time to eat again soon after our arrival.
I brought masks, candy and plastic wind-up yakking skulls from Cebu, my plan being to introduce the heathen American tradition of weird costumes and candy gorging to supplement the local spiritual ritual of paying respects to the dead. We spend Halloween eve playing with the masks and toys, then get down to the serious business of watching Filipino soaps on TV.
Next morning I had a long-awaited conversation with Ana's mom. With her sisters Delia and Tessie helping to translate, I told Quitina that I want to apply for the position of son-in-law. I really love her daughter more than anything in the world and want to marry her. She said she'll respect her daughter's decision; later, if we go ahead, she'll have more questions for me. She also agreed it'd be a good thing for me to go and speak with her husband, Ana's father Fernando, who lives in Surigao.

Ana's Family Photos

In the afternoon we visited the cemetery. It covers several acres on the side of a large hill, no fence or gate, just a huge chaotic collection of graves with informal paths throughout. Many generations of Mantalongeros must be buried here. A large crew must have spent the past week with bolos, cutting the tall grass which lay piled everywhere, and many of the graves had been spiffed up with freshly piled dirt and new grave markers. We passed about 20 flower and food booths set up at the entrance, and then joined the big crowds already there. It wasn't a somber atmosphere, but not as boisterous as one would expect with so many Filipinos about. People were standing, sitting, talking, praying, eating, and drinking. Our first stop was a big concrete mound topped by a cross, a sort of general praying spot for ancestors whose graves have disappeared amidst the fast-growing plants or been covered by more recent graves. Quirina led the family in burning candles and praying for Ana's grandfather and youngest sister who are buried here.
The graves are a varied lot. Most are marked by simple wooden markers or small concrete crosses. It looks like poorly marked graves get "overplanted" with fresh bodies and markers. Probably the only ones that remain identifiable more than a few years are the richer ones at the perimeter, large concrete multi-tiered boxes. Lush growth of plants up through the graves, mounds of freshly turned dirt, and teeming crowds of people; this cemetery really struck me as a place of LIFE.

Cemetery Photos

Afterwards, back to the house for another meal. I'd been sick for the past two weeks so I took a nap upstairs. Then, another evening watching TV, eating and talking. After two visits, here's what I notice most:
-No books to be seen anywhere in the house.
-Lots of talking and laughter, but I never heard even a single word of reproach or anger. This is a loving family who enjoy each other's company.
Next morning we caught a habelhabel down to the coast and a V-Hire back to Cebu. Hope to be back for a visit soon.

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