MANILA, Philippines -- There must be some historical record of Valentine?s Day being celebrated in the Philippines before World War II or even earlier. There must be some obscure primary source somewhere that should let us know whether the day dedicated to love and lovers was celebrated then the way we do now -- with red roses, expensive chocolates, restaurant dates and trysts in motels.
Without detailed research to disprove it, we may say that Valentine?s, Mother?s Day, Father?s Day, and Be-late-for-something Day were all invented, packaged and propagated by Hallmark Greeting Cards. Perhaps we should thank Socorro Ramos, the ?Super Nanay? of National Bookstore for bringing us Hallmark cards and Valentine?s Day. When the history of books in the Philippines is written, Ms Ramos, together with National Bookstore, whose name she simply took from a cash register, will find her rightful place. National Bookstore bags were made of plastic, with the iconic logo and the familiar white and red stripes, the better to have Valentine?s Day every day of the year.
We have no documented Valentine?s Day tradition, or a popular church in the Philippines dedicated to him. St. Valentine was a bishop martyred in the third century by Claudius the Goth and his connection with the day of lovers is a bit of a stretch because scholars maintain that the little available information on St. Valentine is unreliable. If we are to believe Nick Joaquin, the saint honored on Tuesdays in Manila?s Sampaloc area and in Makati City?s Forbes Park subdivision -- San Antonio de Padua -- is the patron of lovers. In art, he is depicted in the brown habit of the Franciscans (which explains why the ?manang? devotees of old went to church on Tuesdays in brown with a white tasseled cord around their waists); he has a ring of fine hair round a bald spot on his head and is often young, fair and beautiful in a perversely feminine way. St. Anthony usually carries the baby Jesus in his arms or balances the child on top of a book, the same artful way a waiter carries food and plates on a tray. San Antonio is popularly known as the saint to invoke when you lose something.
Well, in times past, San Antonio was invoked by the desperate who wanted to find a lover. He was also implored to bring back or restore lovers who had fallen out of love or strayed from the relationship.
If we look back to pre-colonial times, we read or hear about love potions (?gayuma?) and special amulets and charms (?anting-anting?) to find, develop, maintain, or destroy love. The happy and relaxed relationship the Catholic Church has with our pre-colonial beliefs is best seen around Quiapo Church, where people peddle novenas and religious articles side by side with assorted herbs and amulets. There are instant love potions to be had in Manila?s Quiapo area and, depending on intimacy and its resulting complications, you can also buy ?pampalaki,? ?pamparegla? (and, in the days before the pro-life movement, bottles with potion labeled ?laglag bata?). There are brass amulets in the form of a key or susi that are supposed to be worn on the neck or best placed under the tongue to make articulate the timid or dumb. After all, honeyed speech is believed to be a key to a woman?s heart, or a gullible person?s money.
My favorite ?anting-anting? is the small brass Santo Niño with rays of light emanating from his head; it fits in the palm of a hand.
The Niño holds an orb or ball in his left hand, while the right is raised in blessing. Nobody is upset that this Santo Niño is naked, complete with an erect penis. Fortunately, this amulet is outside the authority of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board and the self-appointed guardians of morality.
One can only guess what this amulet is for. Love? Perhaps, fertility?
While this column is too late for Valentine?s Day 2008, those who do not wish to remain loveless in 2009 can get some ?gayuma? tips from the two-volume ?Dictionary of Folk Beliefs and Customs? compiled by Fr. Francisco Demetrio, SJ. One way to attract the opposite sex (what about the same sex?) is to immerse a handkerchief in holy water during Holy Week (best on Good Friday) dry it and bring it when you go a-courting. More complicated would be to steal a lock of hair from the desired person and tie it around an insect called ?langaw-langaw,? which is found in mud pools where carabaos cool themselves. This is said to induce craziness in the desired person if he/she does not see the person who performed the ?lumay? or ?gayuma.? If you see a falling star (quite rare in cities with glare), pick up a pebble and put it in your mouth to provide luck in love.
Now, this one is worth trying: ?Before the sun rises, you must go to a remote place and kneel facing east on a place where no tree covers the sun from you. Bring one tobacco leaf. Pray seven Apostle?s Creed. As the sun rises, look straight at it without blinking until three tears fall on the tobacco leaf. Fold the leaf. When you visit the girl, smoke the leaf in a place where the smoke will reach the girl. Then as you leave, she will cry for you.?
Obviously, people cry a tear when smoke gets into their eyes. You risk blindness to accomplish the above, but then love is something that costs more than we can ever imagine.
These ?gayuma? tips are all shortcuts to love; and we are always warned of the consequences of falling in or out of love, for they have no quick folk remedy.
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