(12 April 2009, Bacolod)
When I was a child, my parents, siblings and cousins who lived with us used to challenge each other with riddles during nighttime. This is usually an offshoot of school assignments that require at least 3-5 Filipino riddles the following day. At times, this nocturnal fun has met much remonstrance from my paternal grandmother (Mamang Vita) whenever she paid us a visit. Casting riddles in the night was a taboo.
Mamang Vita used to tell of olden days when tamawos (plural, Hiligaynon for engkanto or elementals) used to besieged farmers who lived in the mountains. It was believed that the tamawos are constantly disturbed by man’s meandering in their territories so they retaliate. One form of retaliation is by striking fear and surprise to those men at night. Tamawos would join in conversations, peek through open doors and windows and sometimes chase the farmers when they go out at night. Riddles were avoided because according to Mamang Vita, there were many instances that when the riddles were too difficult to solve and no one was able to answer, someone from the window or under the bamboo floors would offer an answer. We believed her story (I still believe them along with many others) but we were so engaged that we would continue throwing riddles. Part of the reason why we continued with the riddles was that we all liked Mamang’s stories. Yes, our Mamang Vita, like my paternal grandfather was also a master storyteller.
Riddles are an essential part of the Filipino culture. Mamang Vita, in spite of her admonitions about casting them at night encouraged us to do them during the day. But we continued doing them at night… The thrill of stumbling upon a very difficult riddle and almost expecting an answer to come from someone out of the window or under the bamboo floor made the experience of breaking an old taboo exciting.
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