Four lucky men, some unlucky ones and a witch

I had an enjoyable experience reading some Visayan folktales that Berton L. Maxfield and W. H. Millington compiled for The Journal of American Folklore in 1906. These tales, published by the American Folklore Society, are meant to introduce Americans to the “few of the tales related by Visayan parents to their children, or by the public story-teller in the market, as the people gather to the material for the evening meal”.

There are seven tales in the first of its series but I will talk only of the first six. The last one, Juan Pusong, a more popular story and longer, will be reserved for another post with much discussion.

Visayan folktales

At The Well (1901). Art Nouveau (Modern) Poster by Ivan Bilibin. Retrieved from on December 29, 2016.

The other stories are new to me even when I’m a Visayan. I live in the Central Visayas of the Philippines. The compilers were stationed separately in Iloilo and Mandurriao (both in Western Visayas), a long trip by ship from where I am. Still, I find these tales highly interesting for they share similar themes with those of the Cebuano folktales and with some of those I’ve read from outside the country.

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Secrets of the Barrio Farmer

I stumbled upon an old book by Maximo D. Ramos, considered Dean of Philippine Lower Mythology, titled Remembrance of Lents Past and Other Essays in the Filipiniana section of the college library. Since he was fascinated with Philippine mythology and folklore, it is not a surprise to find several scattered essays about these topics in the book. But one section caught my attention. It was about folklore and social control and under it are topics on folk beliefs and social control; secrets of the barrio farmer, barrio stockman, barrio housewife, and barrio funeral; and Filipino customs and beliefs related to death.

I have read first the Secrets of the Barrio Farmer since such topic is close to the heart. My paternal grandfather was a cacao farmer and my husband’s paternal grandfather was a palay (pre-husked rice) farmer. We often share each other’s stories about the things we remembered about them as farmers. My own lolo, always smiling like he had nothing to worry about when it comes to feeding his four sons, had very thick calluses on his feet, walking barefoot from the house to the farm and back, which is a good walk away. My lolo-in-law, described as serious by my husband, would wake up early morning every day to drink sikwate (hot chocolate) before going to the farm.  

Secrets of the Barrio Farmer is not really about secrets. It is about farm practices, especially those by the Ilokanos in Southern Zambales, now made known in print. Barrio refers to the barangay, the smallest political unit in the Philippines. Large tracts of land in the archipelago are dedicated to farming. Over time, our farmers have learned scientific farming. But I wonder if there are farmers, especially those too far from the government’s support, who are still practicing superstitious beliefs in growing their crops to gain good harvest.

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