The World Inside A Glass Bubble

man-in-glass-bubble

This was a dream I dreamed several years ago. I dreamed that the world is trapped in a huge thick glass bubble, spellbound by a dramatic but repetitious movie it is constantly watching. The multitude’s faces were anguished and world-weary in the dark — caught in a cyclical shadowy human condition. No one in the dark was aware of their predicament.

          I saw the whole world inside a dimmed movie house. The whole world was watching a movie. The movie screen looked like a giant computer screen. All eyes and attention were focused on the movie which was taken as real by the moviegoers. At one point in the dream, I, too, was inside the movie house and I could agree that the movie was very interesting, except that, I noticed, the plot was nothing new. It appeared to be an old story being revived over, and over again through different times and locations with a different set of actors acting the same roles. I was going to speak to the man seated to my right, to say a casual comment about the movie when I sensed he did not want to be bothered. He was laughing at what he was seeing in the movie. I turned to the woman to my left, but she too sent the vibes that she did not want to be disturbed. She was crying at what she was seeing in the movie. I thought it quite amusing that an exact same scene in a movie could make one cry and another laugh.

Crowd watching movie in theatre

          As I was watching the people watching the movie, it occurred to me that it was only their collective perception which was making the movie appear like real, for in my vantage point, as I watched them from outside the movie house, they are only looking at a man-made movie. Then I noticed that the movie house and the people in it were inside what looked like a huge bubble. I concurrently became aware of the distraught and world-weary faces of the moviegoers. I thought that as it is merely a bubble encasing the whole world, the bubble could easily burst and everyone in it would be freed. A closer look, however, revealed the bubble to be thicker than it initially appeared. It was a very thick glass bubble. Nobody among the moviegoers seemed to be aware that they are watching a movie in a dark movie house contained in a glass bubble. I thought, if only somebody would poke at the glass bubble to create noise, the viewers’ one-pointed attention on the movie would be momentarily broken, enough for someone to take notice of the confinement and inform the others. I had the idea of hurling a stone; even if it lacked enough impact to break the huge thick glass, it might distract some to notice their enclosure. I scrounged for a stone, but could not find any. And then, a most astonishing revelation took place: it was the multitude’s age-old, deep-seated, complex and tangled thoughts, which, over eons, consistently wove a membrane that solidified into an impenetrable hard glass bubble. I knew then that the bubble could only be cracked from the inside – from its very source. As this almost frightening realization struck me, my body involuntarily convulsed, and I awoke from the dream.

The world’s prevalent and enduring thoughts compounded, gained density, and formed a spherical aquarium-like glass bubble that confined a whole world which is totally oblivious of its confinement.

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Rape Among “Savages”

More than a year ago, I watched a documentary about two Filipino young women, victims of sexual abuse, who wanted to know if there exist a society where women can live without any threat of sexual maltreatment or sexual violence. In the course of their search, they came upon the work of a distinguished anthropologist, Dr. June Prill-Brett, who, while researching in the 1960’s, found out that the Bontoc Igorot indigenous people of the Mountain Province (Philippines) have no known term for ‘rape’. Intrigued by this curious discovery, Dr. Brett, who herself hails from Bontoc, dug deeper and found out that indeed, in Bontoc, the worst crime against women – rape – had been an unknown phenomenon for centuries. The concept was foreign to the indigenous people, and they claimed that they had no incidences of rape!

The two young women followed-up this lead and went to Bontoc to investigate the truth of the matter. But alas, those who could validate the existence of such a rape-less society were only the elders (both male and female) who had witnessed a time in the past where girls and women were spared from any of fear of sexual abuse or violence. This means, what we have here (the elders interviewed in the documentary) are the last generation of Bontoc folks who, having lived in such a society, could attest to the existence of a rape-less society based on actual experience. After this last generation passes away, our information about a rape-less society will no longer be based on first-hand experience, as rape, in present day Bontoc, is not anymore an unknown occurrence.

Asked as to why they think there was no ‘rape’ before, the elders answered that it is simply unthinkable to force a woman to engage in a sexual act if she is not willing.

It must be borne in mind that in traditional Igorot society, women (and men for that matter) were well aware that they are the sole owners of their own body. A woman’s body is not owned or controlled by any “superior being,” say a god, a husband, a father or a brother (who could have the authority to give her away in marriage to a husband of his own choosing). Also, in traditional Igorot society, physical assault, whether directed to a man or a woman, a child or an elderly, is considered a threat to life. Any offense perceived as ‘threat to life’ was regarded a major crime. And major crimes almost often automatically call for a deadly vengeance.

We read in history books, we watch in historical or documentary movies, we see on T.V., we read in newspapers that not only killing but also raping, are what happen during wars. It is even widely believed that rape is a normal by-product of wars.

Not in Bontoc.

During the time of inter-village warfares, warriors did their best to avoid alerting women whom they found working in the fields. And if a warrior had to take an enemy woman’s head, the woman’s sexuality was never ever violated.

Why?

There is a very powerful supernatural explanation for that. It made any form of assault against a woman, whether sexual or not, a big no-no.

The following is an excerpt from my book:

Within the cultural context of the Igorot people, when a woman deliberately exposed her private parts in anger, protest, or defiance against a man, an Igorot man knows better to immediately look away and leave. It was believed that if a man looked at a furious naked woman who exposed her private parts with the intention to shame and curse him, he would be blinded and would meet bad luck. This taboo could explain why there were no cases of rape in the olden times in Igorot land.

Furthermore, according to Dr. Brett, the Bontoc elders claimed that in the experience of their people, each of the men cursed by women in the manner explained above, have had the bad luck of having their heads cut-off when they went to battle. This, they say, gave credence to the belief that assaulting women, particularly sexual assault, is an absolute taboo (lawa, paniyiw, inayan).

That was the way the Bontoc women defended against potentially offending members of the opposite sex. It must be noted, however, that such a practice was not limited to protecting oneself only. There are historical cases when native women in the region, thinking perhaps that respect for women’s status and sexuality is universally acknowledged, collectively resorted to baring their sexual parts to shame and drive away the mining companies and the destructive mega dam projects that threatened to destroy their land and lives.

Unfortunately, the proponents, workers, and military protectors of these mining companies and dam projects were outsiders and did not share the same indigenous values and worldview.

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Naked But Not Asking For It!

Igorot youths

 “Ub-ubfu” – young Bontok men and women of the same age-group help one another in the fields. Women were naked on top but there was  no sense of malice or judgement as sexual objectification had not yet entered the society.  Circa 1930s (?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The River’s Journey

When I was not slumbering, I spent long hours sitting at the balcony looking out to the river of my hometown. Each time I sat there by myself, I imagined Grandmother telling me more stories about the River’s Journey.

“In its journey, the river undergoes many experiences and changes. It even changes its color and size. Here in our village, the color is usually what you see now, crystal and shiny reflecting the sun’s radiance. But depending on the life around it, a river may turn into other colors.

“In the olden times, when we didn’t have mirrors hanging on our walls, we went to the streams and rivers to look at our reflections. The river is our mirror ― as we are alive, breathing and moving, the river is also alive, breathing and moving. If you poison the river, you will in turn be poisoned by it. Like the healthy blood flowing inside our veins, the river is the blood of the earth, and as long as it is healthy and keeps flowing, all life on earth is nourished.

“The river may grow big and may also shrink. It may unite with other rivers coming from different directions. If they find a common ground, two or more rivers unite to form a bigger and a more powerful river. Joined rivers travel for a while, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, sometimes forever. Often, after traveling together, joined rivers separate and go different ways. But they would no longer be the same as when they first met, for they would have already given and taken something from each other. It is like in a family, or between friends.

“You find a friend to share your journey of life with. You and your friend walk some distance and you give and take and share and learn from each other. But a time may come when you may have to go your separate ways. When this moment comes, you would no longer be the same people as when you first met, for you would have added to each other’s experience in the journey.

“Maybe you have to part ways for the reason that you have different opinions on how to travel downstream. Perhaps your friend wants to explore more of the nooks and crannies of the big towns while you prefer to flow on the more laid back riverbeds of the countryside. You had a father, a mother, sisters, brothers and me. Some of us leave first. You continue the journey with your siblings, but as you are all grown up, you are drawn to explore different directions. Despite this, all of us, in the end, would eventually meet at the final destination and be reunited again as the one big family that we are.

Bakun waterfalls

Bakun, Benguet Philippines

 

“And when in your journey, you find yourself confused and agitated, or in a turbulent mood – when as if your emotions are like the river rapids – in a rough flow – so to speak, don’t resist where the current brings you next. Do not be discouraged or disturbed by constantly shifting landscapes. Does the river get intimidated and perceive itself a victim when an immovable giant boulder blocks its course? No, the river simply curves smoothly around the obstacle and flows on.

“Does the river cringe in fright when it finds itself standing at the edge of a precipice? Certainly not. The river takes a leap of faith; it is then that the murmuring river becomes the roaring mighty waterfalls! It survives the leap and discovers more of itself – its abilities and possibilities.

“The river knows that after a rough flow, a smooth flow awaits for it, right at the next bend. And when there is not much happening and the river is smoothly flowing, does the river complain of boredom? Again, no. The river takes such quiet moments as opportunities to get itself clear. So you see? The river yields and yet it is invincible. The river can tap into its ancient spirit’s wisdom, and know, that this is truth.”

“The river’s spirit is ancient?” I suddenly reacted.

“Only as a way of talking, we may say that some rivers are quite old, having been flowing on the surface of this earth for a very long, long time. Yet we may also speak of rivers which are newly fashioned. An old river has already smoothed and refined many jutting rocks and rough stones, so those parts of it coming later may follow the same path without wounding themselves too much.”

I sensed Grandmother’s presence and wisdom as I channeled more of her River’s Story in these imagined conversations. I felt greatly relieved from my illness of pathological pessimism.

Excerpted from: Becoming Mad and Asking Why the River is Flowing by Allu Kuy. 

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