Saturday, March 20, 2010

Going native

FIRST, they gave hoses and pumps to the parched uplands.

Now, the Cebu City Government is relying on “water psychic” Choleng Legaspi, 80, to point out where the water is hidden so deep wells can be set up.

According to Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 20 article written by Linette C. Ramos and Rene H. Martel, Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña and businessman Andrew Gotianun Jr. are chipping in their own money for the water psychic’s fees.

Osmeña anticipates difficulties with auditing rules if public funds are spent for paranormal solutions to the water crisis, now exacerbated by the El Niño.

Dowsing is the art of discovering the hidden, according to Internet sources.

Based on artwork dating back to ancient Egypt and China, divining to find scarce or hidden objects of value, from underwater water to coal deposits, may have been practiced for centuries.

Yet, in the Middle Ages, the art of dowsing or divining slipped in the public’s favor. Unexplainable by religion or science, water divining was denounced as “devil’s work.”

“Water witching” became another name given to dowsing, an association with the occult that’s reinforced by the use of tools like a forked twig and pendulum, the belief that water “calls out” to the psychic, and the pseudoscientific explanation of vibrations guiding the seeker to the energy fields surrounding the hidden object.

Although Osmeña can’t seem to make up his mind about Legaspi’s knack for finding the water—“luck, blessing, talent or whatever you want to call it”—the tart-tongued mayor is unequivocal about preferring Legaspi over the University of San Carlos Water Resource Center.

The so-called experts, he sneers not for the first time, have failed again to find underground water reserves.

The Association of Barangay Councils (ABC) president Eugenio Faelnar is also as unstinting in praising Legaspi. The water diviner “will solve the perennial water problem of mountain barangay residents every summer,” he was quoted in the same Sun.Star Cebu article.

In pursuing an unconventional but workable solution to finding water in unexpected places, the Cebu City officials remove the taint from the concept of “going native.”

According to postcolonial scholars, this was the expression Europeans reserved for those among their kind who “stooped” to adopting the indigenous ways of colonized peoples. The colonizers grudgingly accepted that the natives, by the feat of their very survival, demonstrated they knew best their environment.

Warring suspicion and respect of the primitive and traditional still persists in uneasy cohabitation. Relatives will slip in “mangagaw” juice to a dengue patient so as not to offend his doctor. In the 1980s, villagers in the waterless slopes of Nug-as, Alcoy in southern Cebu sat in meeting after meeting as development workers talked about constructing rainwater catchments. Not one was made.

We were illuminated later when we learned that for years, the locals coped during the dry season by harvesting the sap trickling from banana plants. People and livestock slaked their thirst with this, even though it stank like chicken manure when harvested after dawn.

A banana plant, with a hole bored at the trunk to drain away its moisture, cannot bear fruit so the Nug-as farmers planted in anticipation of this withering.

Yet, it is not only irony that’s lost if we think that “water witches,” even one as gifted as Legaspi, will save Cebu from thirst and devastation. Dowsing is only the art of finding the hidden; there is no finding what is absent, and perhaps absent forever.

Alcoy’s harvesters of sap taught me, an inspired but foolish community worker, that one must listen before opening one’s mouth.

What one harvests must be replaced, too.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 21, 2010 issue of “Matamata”

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