By Edilberto K. Tiempo
When I was twelve years old, I used to go to Libas, about nine kilometers from the town, to visit my favorite uncle, Tio Sabelo, the head teacher of the barrio school there. I like going to Libas because of the many things to eat at my uncle’s house: cane sugar syrup, candied meat of young coconut, corn and rice cakes, ripe jackfruit, guavas from trees growing wild on a hill not far from Tio Sabelo’s house. It was through these visits that I heard many strange stories about Minggay Awok. Awok is the word for witch in southern Leyte. Minggay was known as a witch even beyond Libas, in five outlying sitios, and considering that not uncommonly a man’s nearest neighbor was two or three hills away, her notoriety was wide. Minggay lived in a small, low hut as the back of the creek separating the barrios of Libas and Sinit-an. It squatted like a soaked hen on a steep incline and below it, six or seven meters away, two trails forked, one going to Libas and the other to Mahangin, a mountain sitio. The hut leaned dangerously to the side where the creek water ate away large chunks of earth during the rainy season. It had two small openings, a small door through which Minggay probably had to stoop to pass, and a window about two feet square facing the creek. The window was screened by a frayed jute sacking which fluttered eerily even in the daytime. What she had in the hut nobody seemed to know definitely. One daring fellow who boasted of having gone inside it when Minggay was out in her clearing on a hill nearby said he had seen dirty stoppered bottles hanging from the bamboo slats of the cogon thatch. Some of the bottles contained scorpions, centipedes, beetles, bumble bees, and other insects; others were filled with ash-colored powder and dark liquids. These bottles contained the paraphernalia of her witchcraft. Two or three small bottles she always had with her hanging on her waistband with a bunch of iron keys, whether she went to her clearing or to the creek to catch shrimps or gather fresh-water shells, or even when she slept. It was said that those who had done her wrong never escaped her vengeance, in the form of festering carbuncles, chronic fevers that caused withering of the skin, or a certain disease of the nose that eventually ate the nose out. Using an incantation known only to her, Minggay would take out one insect from a bottle, soak it in colored liquid or roll it in powder, and with a curse let it go to the body of her victim; the insect might be removed and the disease cured only rarely through intricate rituals of an expensive tambalan. Thus Minggay was feared in Libas and the surrounding barrios. There had been attempts to murder her, but in some mysterious way she always came out unscathed. A man set fire to her hut one night, thinking to burn her with it. The hut quickly burned down, but Minggay was unharmed. On another occasion a man openly declared that he had killed her, showing the blood-stained bolo with which he had stabbed her; a week later she was seen hobbling to her clearing. This man believed Minggay was the cause of the rash that his only child had been carrying for over a year. One day, so the story went, meeting his wife, Minggay asked to hold her child. She didn’t want to offend Minggay. As the witch gave the child back she said, “He has a very smooth skin.” A few days later the boy had skin eruptions all over his body that never left him. Minggay’s only companions were a lean, barren sow and a few chickens, all of them charcoal black. The sow and the chickens were allowed to wander in the fields, and even if the sow dug up sweet potatoes and the chickens pecked rice or corn grain drying in the sun, they were not driven away by the neighbors because they were afraid to arouse Minggay’s wrath. Besides the sow and the chickens, Minggay was known to have a wakwak and a sigbin. Those who claimed to have seen the sigbin described it as a queer animal resembling a...
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