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By M. L. Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:31:00 02/10/2008

Filed Under: Culture (general), relationships and dating

MANILA, Philippines - I wonder at times, when I?m in Quiapo and swept along by the sea of humanity, how much of the fervor here is spurred by love. I?m not referring to a religious fervor or spiritual passion, but to good old-fashioned this-worldly kind of love.

You can see it in the devotees? faces inside the Quiapo Church. There are the young pairs, still deeply in love, some of them newlyweds, most of them praying to be kept together through this and worlds yet to come. Then there are those who come more out of anxiety, pining away for a loved one who is away, in Kuwait, Kansas, wherever. At least they still have some faith in their partners. Others are less fortunate; they come with palpable loneliness, troubled, anguished. They?re lost. They?ve lost. And their prayers are desperate cries for the return of an errant loved one.

Outside the church, there?s more you can do for love. Look for the vendors with candles, color-coded for causes you can?t always bring up when praying to the Nazarene. There are the violet candles for material wealth, the green ones for green bucks, but in these debauched-dollar days, better pray for pesos. There are orange ones for studies, best to light up on exam days. And there?s more for love: pink ones for ?love and healing? and red ones for ?love life or families.? (I?d pray for love life and families?try having a love life when you?re raising a family.)

Then?I?m lowering my voice now?there are the black candles. The vendors explain, cryptically, that these are for conscience. But people know better, buying up the regularly-shaped black candles together with human-shaped black ones. At any one time you?ll find people, usually women, holding a lit one upside down while intoning a prayer for, or maybe a spell against, the feckless and the treacherous. Conscience indeed.

Further along behind the church are the famous vendors of amulets. Generically called anting-anting, they actually have different functions. The agimat is said to protect the wearer from harm. The president of the first Philippine republic, Emilio Aguinaldo, was said to have had one, and so did 1950?s bandit Nardong Putik. But both seem small-time compared to former President Ferdinand Marcos, another reputed owner of a powerful agimat.

The anting-anting is part of the macho culture, going well with ?pare-pare? talk and tattoos. But if you?re perceptive enough, you?ll find there are anting-anting, too, that betray male insecurity. These are the gayuma, so-called love charms. Carry one around and women will never say ?no? to you, or so the claim goes. They vary?the most popular ones are bullets, clearly chosen because of their phallic shape, as well as their ball-istic nature. Many Filipinos swear by their efficacy and refuse to part with them, which gets them into trouble when they?re deployed overseas because some airports, notably Singapore?s, have a strict ban on these penile lookalikes.

There are all kinds of objects from nature as well: stones and semi-precious stones, sea corals, even oddly-shaped twigs and branches. Vendors say they?re for good luck, but if you probe some more, they?ll smile and admit that they can be used as gayuma. There are even hybrid gayuma-aphrodisiacs, the most popular being the crocodile penis which is supposed to imbue men with a crocodile-like appetite in bed.

Then there are the religious medallions. Some are sold as agimat, to ward off bullets and harm. Others work like the phallic bullets mentioned earlier. The most popular one is the Santo Niong Hubad or the Naked Holy Child, tiny figurines of the baby Jesus with an erect penis. Philippine cultural guru Gilda Cordero Fernando tells me they?ve been around for years, and were once known as Santo Nio de T__i. Again, vendors will say they?re for good luck but if you look desperately macho, they?ll give you a formula to activate it?you know, like you do with SIM cards, except that in this case, you recite a prayer over nine consecutive Fridays. Once activated, you?re supposed to put the figure under your tongue as you whisper sweet nothings into your intended target?s ear. ?Hindi sila makakahindi,? the vendors assure you, they simply cannot say no.

But be careful?it?d be too embarrassing to explain how you swallowed the Holy Child as they?re wheeling you into an emergency room.

There?s sexism in these gayuma, as these are mostly intended for straight men out to seduce women. The bullets are sometimes sold to women but are meant, now visualize this, to help them get pregnant. My suki in Quiapo also keeps trying to get me to buy a tukong-kambal, a metal rendition of a coupled couple, guaranteed to keep my partner from straying. I sometimes think she has psychic powers as well.

Do I believe in them? We anthropologists believe in belief, and the anting-anting and the gayuma are all accessories to belief. Get some of those Santo Niong Hubad figures this Valentine?s Day, explain what they?re for and, with the proper ambience, you might find that they have, here I?m lowering my voice again, a life of their own.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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