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Looking Back

‘Luha ng buwaya’

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Crocodiles were believed to cry, thus luring their sympathetic (and stupid) victims to their end. Crocodiles were believed to shed tears as they devoured their victims, thus making “crocodile tears” a figure of speech that describes insincere remorse or sympathy. Shakespeare refers to crocodile tears in “Othello” in these lines remembered from my high school literature class: “O devil, devil. If that the earth could teem with woman’s tears, each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.” Closer to home, we have the novel “Luha ng Buwaya” by National Artist Amado V. Hernandez.

The crocodile has been a part of Philippine history and culture long before “Lolong” put the Philippines on the map simply by being the world’s longest captive crocodile at 20 feet and three inches (6.17 meters), as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. Unfortunately, all things, both bad and good, come to an end. Lolong passed away early this month; thus, his title was returned to the previous holder, “Cassius” of Australia.

It is not so well-known that Lolong was named after Ernesto “Lolong” Goloran Cañete, a crocodile hunter who organized and led the team that captured the erstwhile longest captive crocodile. Cañete died of a heart attack a few days before Lolong was snared in Bunawan Creek, Agusan del Sur, and the captured prey was named to honor its hunter. All these make for elements of a good short story, and if one needs more crocodile material, a lot can be found in travel accounts of the Philippines all the way down to the 16th century.

Then as now, captured crocodiles are slit open, and their bellies emptied of the remains of its meals. Lolong was said to have eaten a missing Agusan farmer and a 12-year-old girl whose head was found in the area. No human remains were found in Lolong’s belly—quite a disappointment because we have long heard tales of people found whole and undigested in crocodile bellies. One historical account even states that a man’s arm still clutching a bolo was found in a crocodile belly together with many large stones that were believed to have been swallowed to give the crocodile weight and balance while swimming.

Domingo Fernandez Navarette was a Dominican missionary and archbishop who was in the Philippines from 1648 to 1657 and taught in the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. He left us with notes on his travels, including a few that concern crocodiles like this tragic tale from Lake Naujan:

“Shortly before I arrived on this island, a strange thing happened. Some natives were celebrating a marriage feast and when the guests were about to partake of the repast, the bride took it into her head to wash her feet, as the people are wont to do every hour of the day. As usual, a portion of the house was built over the river. While she was washing her feet, a crocodile attacked her and grabbed her. On hearing her cries for help, the guests saw the unfortunate woman securely held in the powerful jaws of the saurian and the brute was proceeding to take her away. Seeing the tragic incident, the bridegroom, in the fullness of his love, and thoroughly enraged, more foolhardy than wise, plunged into the water, dagger in hand, and followed his beloved bride’s captor. He overtook it, fought it, recovered his wife, and returned in triumph with his precious prize in his arms, but her life had already been snuffed out. The widower was sorrow-smitten and wept bitterly, and the marriage feast thus wound up in tears.”

Then there was the story of Fr. Luis Gutierrez killed by a crocodile in Cagayan:

“On the day of the Presentation of Our Lady in the year 1653, he had said two Masses in different towns, but there was another town three leagues off, and, to console the Christians there and believing that on such a solemn occasion they should not be left without a Mass, he determined to proceed thither to say his third Mass, sailing over a lake infested with crocodiles. At the landing place a crocodile was furiously scurrying hither and thither. The natives manning the canoe got excited and made an effort to scare it away with their oars and by shouts; but all without any avail for with two wild blows of its powerful tail, the saurian overturned the canoe and all the occupants were spilled into the water. Not being handicapped by an excess of clothing, the natives had no difficulty in reaching the shore, but the unfortunate missionary, not knowing how to swim and being prevented from exerting himself on account of his robe and other wearing apparel, was caught by the ferocious and bloodthirsty saurian; the beast wreaked its fury on him and devoured him.”

In a tone typical of friar accounts of the Philippines, Navarette said Gutierrez’s death was an act of God, and that having said two Masses before he was killed by the crocodile, he went straight to heaven. When you read the scene of Ibarra, Elias, and the crocodile in Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” you will find that the tone is different. Here the crocodile was slain and, according to one of the young men at the picnic, this was so because the crocodile had not gone to Mass that morning.

Crocodiles used to abound even in the Pasig River. Today the only “Crocs” you have to worry about are brightly colored plastic shoes/sandals that often get caught in escalators.

***

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu


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