Sunday, October 28, 2007

Man Mountain

Man Mountain. A very apt description of the nocturnal monster that roams, or used to roam the town of Calbiga and its environs.

My mother was a native of the idyllic town of Calbiga in the province of Samar in the Philippines. I stayed there when I was about 3 or 4 years old. The town is nestled in a fertile valley beside the mighty Calbiga River. The place is quiet except for the sound of an occasional vehicle and the residents are mostly devoted Roman Catholics. The elders are respected and are the source of wisdom by the rest of the population. It is also from the old people that you hear of stories of the supernatural which actually happened in town.

One of the most pervasive supernatural Calbiga folklore involved the reported Man Mountain, kapre or agta in the Visayan vernacular. It is characterized to be a tree demon, but with more human characteristics. It is described as being a tall (7 to 9 ft), brown, hairy male with a beard. Kapres are normally described as smoking a large tobacco pipe, whose strong smell would attract human attention. Kapres are said to dwell in big trees like acacias, mangoes, bamboo and banyan (known in the Philippines as balete). A kapre is said to often wear a belt which gives it the ability to be invisible to humans if it wants. Further, a kapre is supposed to hold a magical white stone, a little smaller in size from that of a quail egg, which if obtained by a human, the kapre could be obliged to grant wishes. Kapres are not necessarily considered to be evil. They may make contact with humans to offer friendship. Kapres have been also said to play pranks on people, frequently making travelers become disoriented and lose their way in the mountains or in the woods. It is also believed to have the ability to confuse people even at their own familiar surroundings; for instance, someone who forgets that they are in their own garden or home are said to be have been tricked by a kapre. Reports of experiencing kapre enchantment include that of witnessing rustling tree branches even if the wind is not strong; hearing loud laughter or voice coming from an unseen being; witnessing lots of smoke from the top of a tree; seeing big fiery eyes during night time from a tree; as well as actually seeing a kapre walking by in forested areas. At night, an unfortunate traveler might happen to pass by one of these trees and notice a shower of sparks from the kapre’s lit cigar.

The most popular story about the Calbiga kapre involved a female public school teacher. She was working on her lesson plans at her house one evening. Calbiga houses of old were then made mostly of wooden planks for walls and doors and thatch roofs. At around midnight, the poor teacher felt the ground shake. She surmised it couldn’t be an earthquake because the shaking was rhythmic. Curious but afraid to open her doors and windows, the teacher peeked through a gap in the wooden plank wall.

She felt ice-cold chills on her spine when she peeked just in time to see a tall, massive, dark figure pass by her house. The figure was faintly illuminated by the full moon and it had enormous hairy thighs as large as coconut tree trunks. Thick dark hair covered its entire body. It was the kapre on its favorite nocturnal haunt.

There have been no reported incident of a kapre ever mangling a human being. In fact, like the sasquatch of North America, it prefers more not being disturbed. Rather, a kapre likes to scare people rather than harm them. Encounters between the kapre and humans have mostly been caused by the latter straying into the kapre’s territory or path. In the Eighties, stories of sightings of the kapre have subsided. Presumably, because of the advance of human habitation, it has retreated deep into the lush rain forests of the province of Samar. Still, when parents in the Philippines admonish their children to be good, they invoke the name of the Man Mountain.

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