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Nestor’s Engkanto

His name is Nestor. That was what the news reporter saw fit to call him in her offbeat item in yesterday’s late afternoon regional news show.

I would say late twenties or early thirties; even good looking in a rough proletarian way. He wears his hair longish with a lock of front hair curling somewhat to one side of his forehead. His complexion is darkish; the skin leathery from working in the outdoors.

He has week-old stubbles on his chin; and his eyes are weary, almost as though he is looking into a horizonless distance as he narrates his story to the reporter.

His house is a mere barong-barong in what is unmistakably a bukid in a locality called Unisan somewhere in the province of Quezon. The video clip’s first shot was of him coming from the woods. On the rickety bamboo front porch of his shanty, he tells his story.

He was chopping some trees, he narrates, when he suddenly started to feel weak as though from extreme fatigue. Unable to do any more work, he made his way back to his shanty where he laid down and lost consciousness for all of two days.

When he regained consciousness, he was able to tell members of his family that his body was taken over by five engkantos. “I must have disturbed their kingdom when I was chopping the trees,” he tells the reporter.

“They took me to their kingdom,” he continues. “It was a place of light where everything glistened. I was even served food that shone as though they were bedecked with jewels.”

Then, with his eyes still staring into the distance, he tells the reporter, “One of the engkantos fancied me somewhat. She wanted me to come live with her in their kingdom.”

Nestor then tells the reporter the engkanto’s name: Hazel.

“I am scared,” he says. “They might come back and take me there again.”

My initial reaction to the news clip was to wonder what on earth it was doing in a news show. Was the day so devoid of incident that the news crew thought even that was newsworthy?

Yet, I could not deny my fascination. I am an educated man; but I am also Filipino. I am certain that many educated Filipinos can relate to my own personal take on engkantos and other entities in the so-called spirit world. Although I will not be naïve and claim for a fact that they exist, neither will I be brazen and say that they do not.

I just do not know; and I keep an open mind.

Maybe if you grew up in a brightly-lit metropolis, you are bound to be a hundred-fold more sceptical if not outright scornful. The atmosphere is just not conducive to belief in such folklore; although that said, even the Big City makes allowances for tales such as the Balete Drive’s uninvited passenger.

Truth be told, I had not thought about engkantos for the longest time before yesterday. This city has just simply shorn its agrarian character that even where I live in the suburbs, large container trucks rumble on the roads even in the wee hours of the morning.

Back when I was growing up, though, the nights were dark and quiet. When the leaves of the trees rustled as the breeze blew, a young child’s playful and fearful mind would wonder if there were harpies frolicking outside. Even a diminutive cricket’s mating call, in the quiet of the night, seemed as other-worldly as a sound could possibly get.

In those days, though, the engkanto had a real fancy name like Mariang Pula or Mariang Makiling. That is why I was fascinated when Nestor told the reporter his engkanto’s name. Hazel is as stark as shift to the contemporary as an upgrade from Windows 3.1 straight to Windows 7.

Whoever I heard the stories from, they were always the same. These engkantos were either spirits who guarded the forests or mountains; or were these beings who built and lived in dazzling invisible palaces where the likes of you and I would only see a large balete or an acacia tree.

They were tall, blond, graceful, fair-complexioned and beautiful entities who, if they chose to, could appear to some people that they took a fancy to almost as humans; although it was said that you could tell they were engkantos because they did not have that indentation in the upper lip that we call ngusô. It was also said that if they took you inside their palaces and offered you food, it was best not to partake of it because you would not be able to return to the land of the mortals.

Sometimes the engkantos were benign. Many times they were also thought of as malignant and could cause ailments to human beings. Then, it was time to call in the neighbourhood arbularyo to perform his quack rituals which were, nonetheless, always effective.

What really amazes me, now that I come to think about, it is how much of these tales just came back naturally to me after being triggered by Nestor’s supposed encounter with the engkanto Hazel and her four other spirit companions. Belief in these folkloric tales – or, at least, just knowing them – is all, I suppose, part and parcel of being Filipino.

I can imagine that it is a lot more difficult for kids of the present to believe in engkantos and the other tall tales that I grew up hearing. Modernity has this nasty habit of de-romanticizing folklore. To hear Nestor tell his story to a television news crew, though, tells me that these tales are not about to disappear just yet. If just for this alone, I guess his story was newsworthy, after all.

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