Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Buwaya! we'd yell at our hometown basketball player who thinks he can shoot each time he has the ball in his hands even if missed the net in all his previous attempts. Ipakakain kita sa buwaya was how we'd bully little kids for throwing tantrums or for being boorish every so often.

Of course, these expressions reflect the ferocious nature of the crocodile--the buwaya in all our dialects, the cayman of olden times--we learn about from literature and TV documentaries.

This was the beast feared by the fathers of boys in the Ilokano barrio Alusiis who had to walk to school in the far-away Zambal town of Cabangan. Danger lurked along the way, so it was the one big excuse in February 1846 to seek approval of the church authority in capital town Iba for the hiring of a resident teacher for their sons.

If there's anything else outside of Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara that we remember most from our high school reading of Noli me Tangere, it's the crocodile that almost spoiled the river picnic. It devoured all the fishes in Kapitan Tiago's first baklad, and so the picnickers knew that the beast is around them somewhere. We came to know later that the nameless boat pilot in that episode is Elias, who first dived to slay the beast. He tried to muzzle the beast but it escaped, dragging him along. Crisostomo went to his rescue to Maria Clara's horror, and we can only imagine her great sigh of relief when both men emerged from the water with the dead monster.

While we are at it, did Fr. Pedro Chirino's crocodile accounts in his Relacion de las Islas Filipinas (1604, in Blair & Robertson XIII) influence national hero Jose Rizal in the writing of the fishing party? We know that Rizal was close to the Jesuits, and we can be certain he read Chirino. Could he have named the helmsman Elias because the priest compared the village chief who slew a large crocodile to the Biblical Eleazar? "He leaped alone in the water," the priest wrote, "and swam toward the beast with a knife. Then, diving beneath the crocodile, like another valiant Eleazar, he gave it several knife-thrusts in the belly and killed the beast..."

There are plenty of crocodile stories in friar accounts, and one of these is a detailed procedure of inducing the beast to open its mouth. A brave soul would then insert a pointed object, which would immobilize the animal with jaws propped open for the killing.

Another favorite account is from Paul de la Gironiere (Adventures in the Philippines, 1855), and the illustration (above) and the caption tell it all--'A native woman seized by a cayman.'

The woman, a servant of Gironiere's wife, went to bathe at the edge of the lake. She was surprised by an enormous monster.

"One of my guards," he wrote, "came up at the moment she was being carried off." He fired at the cayman to no avail. A month later, the cayman was found dead on the river bank several leagues away from their house in Jala-jala. They found the woman's earrings in the animal's stomach.

Today, we can only conjure images of big crocodiles although we can go watch how they are fed in farms where they are raised for their thick skin. It was reported sometime ago that they released some baby Philippine crocodiles in a river up north but we can't say for what purpose, and would the area be fenced off from the curious and the poachers?

We may see another species of crocodiles walking and speaking in our midst within the next six months. Most of them shed, here we go, crocodile tears after every calamity that befell us, the most recent being the visit of Ondoy and Pepeng. Shall we say, voters beware!?

Note: The cited Chirino and Gironiere are taken from Project Gutenberg eBooks. The first is from Volume XIII of Blair and Robertson. The second is the English version of the French book.

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