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Tiktik on the roof

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - November 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Super Typhoon Rolly reminds me of another Category 5 cyclone in 2013 that also struck in November, around the time of the days of the dead.

That was Super Typhoon Yolanda. After it flattened Eastern Visayas, a resident who has since moved to Manila told me that several pregnant women lost their babies in their community and surrounding areas.

Some people, she said, attributed the tragedies to nocturnal visits by the tiktik – a mythic aswang or evil spirit with a tongue like strong wire that penetrates roofs and pierces a pregnant woman’s navel, sucking out the fetus inside. Sometimes the tiktik goes straight for newborns.

I always thought this creature was called the mana-nanggal – a woman whose upper body separates from the lower half and flies on bat-like wings at night. The myth is that if you put salt on the lower body, the manananggal cannot return to it and take human form at daytime. But I was told that the tiktik is different.

Such beliefs are not confined to rural areas. Right in my neck of the woods, a woman sleeps with her bedroom window closed and covered with a dark cloth, even if she has no air-conditioning, because she worries that an aswang might enter from the neighbor’s two trees behind her house.

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A resident of Caloocan told me that when his wife gave birth to their second child about two decades ago, she had a difficult labor. The midwife told her that the baby was scared to come out because there was a tiktik or wakwak on the rooftop waiting to pounce on the newborn.

Having identified the problem, the midwife also had the solution: the pregnant woman had to burn one of her rubber slippers, because the acrid smoke would drive away the spirit. The woman did as told; the midwife said the spirit departed, and voila, out came a bouncing baby boy!

The guy who told me this story stressed that he didn’t believe in such mumbo-jumbo, but it seemed to work for his wife and baby boy so he had no complaints.

I still know a lot of people who believe not just in animist spirits but also in demons. Some of these creatures are benign and know how to live and let live with humans; others can be mischievous and might make your tummy bloat if you step on their homes without a by-your-leave; still others are malevolent and can possess people. Fortunately for those who believe in such things, there are also people who know how to drive away evil spirits. I personally know persons who are called to perform this delicate task.

Such beliefs aren’t always harmless; rituals to exorcise an evil spirit can turn violent. Epileptic seizures can also be mistaken for possession, although people I know who believe in these things insist they can tell demonic possession from a medical condition.

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There’s a theory that the myth about Capiz being the home of aswang in our country stems from the occurrence of a rare neurodegenerative movement disorder called XDP – for X-linked dystonia-parkinsonism.

The Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center of the US National Institutes of Health says over 500 cases of XDP, characterized by adult-onset parkinsonism (the average age of onset is 39), have been reported, all of them occurring in the Philippines’ Panay Island. In our country, the prevalence of XDP is one per 322,000 population, but in Capiz it is one per 4,000 (all male) population, according to the GARD literature on the disease. I’m not sure how updated the data is. The XDP gene was discovered in 2003, and the medical literature says all XDP cases have been traced to one common ancestor. XDP has also been diagnosed in US and Canadian males of Filipino descent.

GARD says XDP is transmitted through female carriers who are not affected by the disease. But the males suffer from focal dystonia – a neurological disorder that causes involuntary muscular contractions and abnormal postures of the affected muscle group. GARD reports that the fingers may curl uncontrollably into the palm, for example, or stretch outward.

Among the many manifestations of XDP listed by GARD are difficulty in swallowing and in opening and closing the jaw (which could cause profuse salivation), involuntary trunk protrusion or body twisting, trunk hyperextension, leg spasms, foot inversion, rigidity and resting tremors. The disease can last up to 16 years before complications such as laryngeal pneumonia may lead to premature death.

XDP has no cure, although botulinum toxin (yes, the main active ingredient in Botox beauty treatments) is being used together with medications for Parkinson’s disease to ease the symptoms. But you can imagine how the poor XDP patients, who were shunned in their communities, according to GARD, might have been regarded as aswang or possessed by evil spirits and subjected to exorcism.

Those studying the aswang myths also believe the tiktik and wakwak stories stemmed from the sounds of nocturnal wildlife, such as bats and flying lemurs (like flying squirrels).

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And yet there are still so many mysteries in life that people would rather believe in supernatural rather than scientific explanations for strange behavior and phenomenon.

Death is one of the biggest mysteries. Is there an afterlife? We don’t even know what happens when we sleep; about a third of our lifetime is spent sleeping.

Many of us have stories about personal paranormal experiences, or about relatives or friends near death who seemed to be genuinely talking with their dearly departed as if the dead were alive.

During the days of the dead I admit that I believe in paranormal phenomena. Many years ago I got a phone call from a friend who asked me to take care of someone dear to him. I told him he sounded oddly so far away. He made no comment and said goodbye. Only later in the day did I find out that he had died of a heart attack, and he was already dead when I got the phone call.

I have heard similar stories from other people.

It can be comforting, when we grieve over irretrievable loss and contemplate our own mortality, to believe that when our bodies give up on us, we actually live on, in a different form, in another level of existence.

If we believe in an immortal soul, we tend to believe in ghosts, and some can believe in tiktik.

TYPHOON ROLLY
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