Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Lessons from the Bagobo Horseman


Horse’s Mane
Made in Heaven, Guaranteed.

As a girl, I grew up on a horse’s back with father’s voice echoing in my ears, warning me never to loosen my hold of the reins, or else the horse will doze off to sleep and stumble on the next pothole. I had set aside father’s warning only once and sure enough, the ancient family horse that we used to love many, many years ago really dozed off to sleep and would have stumbled on a muddy hole if I hadn’t seized the reins on time and awoke it from lethargy. I still keep hearing father’s voice every time I was on horseback but the Bagobo horseman’s horse was no ordinary horse, a four-year-old female beast, never been touched, never been kissed by another horse and endearingly called “Inday” by its master. “You have to let go of the reins now,” Berto, the horseman, says while we were going down a steep incline and the horse’s body unevenly fell and swayed with the sloping ground.
“You mean, really let go??!” I asked, shocked and doubtful.
With what almost felt like wild panic, I surveyed the steep road full of rocks and mud stretching down before us. What if the horse will trip?
I reluctantly let go of the reins, of course. If I can’t trust this beast, just for once, to take me down this very difficult road, I don’t know whom I can trust anymore. My friends have left me—they took the other side of the cliff on foot---and I can’t even trust my knees! On our way to Tudaya, my knees crumbled and lost their strength after we scaled down that deeper ravine at the other side.
But then, was I amazed! The horse just breezed through all those muddy potholes and sharp-angled slabs of stones without tripping---not even once!
The horse is also used to taking orders from its master at our back, as if by remote control. I only found this out when, anxious at how painful the hard rocks must be for the poor beast, I grabbed the reins for a moment and tried to steer the horse away from the rocky track to a soft, grassy patch.
When we almost succeeded at this attempt, I heard the angry grunts of the horseman at our back. “Huh! What kind of beast are you,” the horseman yelled. “There’s a road up ahead and you refuse to take it?! Such a stupid horse! Why go another way?! Go back! Go back!”
Oh, if only the poor beast could talk! I did not tell the horseman that I had caused the trouble!

APPROACHING the foaming waters at the bottom of the ravine and the other side of the cliff looming before us, the horseman talked to me again for another set of instructions. “When we’re going up the hill, clutch at this,” he says fingering the horse’s rich, untrammeled mane, “This is made precisely for the purpose.”
Doubtfully, I looked at the beast’s mane and considered what the horseman said. Then, I tried to pull my hair, just to see if it doesn’t hurt. But of course, it hurts! Wincing at the horseman’s cruelty, I resolved to be gentle with the horse. But as we started our ascent and the horse gathered momentum for the climb, I never had any other choice but to grab thick clumps of its mane to keep myself from falling. At first, I did it with one hand (for my other hand was holding a hat) but when the horse started trotting over the huge slabs of stones, I threw away the hat to clutch at the horse’s mane with both hands. Boy-oh-boy, how I hang on desperately for dear life! How I thanked God's Great Heavens at that moment for having the wisdom and the foresight to create the horse’s mane long before I needed it!
The moment after that was probably the most difficult and the most dangerous part of the climb but it also brought instant illumination to my muddled mind. I felt as if the universe compressed all the wisdom worth knowing in a lifetime and delivered it to me on the horse’s back. (TO BE CONTINUED)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Lessons from a Bagobo Horseman


Just a few hours ago, I learned that during life's most precarious moment, no one is coming to your aid. Except for the advise of a wise horseman, you're on your own. Alone.
I was on horseback for the first time in years, looking down a deep ravine where foaming rapids takes its course more than a hundred feet or so below. The road we were about to negotiate was full of slippery granite stones and muddy craters formed by hooves of horses that have been treading this route before. The only other way out of Tudaya---a hinterland sitio of Santa Cruz town barangay of Sibulan where the Bagobo-Tagabawas live, was through a kilometer climb of another (and deeper) ravine at the other side, a route that was bad for uninitiated knees like mine.
So, I looked down again upon the promise of the road below me, a panorama so beautiful it can make you cry, but my eyes instead took in the image of the cliff precariously hanging near its slippery edge.
"Will I ever get out of here alive?" I asked myself but as I did so, the horse had sunk its left hoof in a soft bed of mud, lurching its body forward so suddenly that it briefly threw me out of balance. I shrieked.
"Hold on! Hold on--and don't ever jump!" said the horseman behind me, with a stiff authority of a scoutmaster. "Jumping off a horseback is a dangerous thing!"
He is a Bagobo-Tagabawa, but his Bisaya is good enough. He is such a small man, one could easily mistake him for a child, but his eight year old son is walking along beside him and so does his 10 year old daughter while he carries my backpack to allow me to concentrate. He said my load is much lighter than the 12 kilos he used to carry for Mt. Apo mountaineers."Always remember," he said, as the horse reaches the grassy spaces in between the boulders, "When negotiating with steep roads like this one, carry your body opposite the slope's direction. That will keep the balance. Then, if the horse makes sudden movement, just hold on, everything will turn out right. Unless the horse's body already lies crumpled on the ground, don't jump. Jumping off the horse back while the horse is negotiating a difficult trail is dangerous."
"Allow the horse freedom to make decisions. The beast is familiar with the trail and knows what to do better than you do. Keep the rein just to keep it from jumping off the cliff but reining it in most of the time, will limit its freedom of movement, hence, impedes its progress. (TO BE CONTINUED)