Superstition Invaded Icon

February 10, 2022

In the caverns of these rocks, the ancient Pintados interred the corpses of their heroes and ancestors in well-locked coffins.

These were surrounded by those objects which had been held in the highest regard by them during life.

Slaves were also sacrificed by them at their obsequies, in order that they might not be without attendance in the world of shadows*

The numerous coffins, implements, arms, and trinkets, protected by superstitious terrors, continued to be undisturbed for centuries.

No boat ventured to cross over without the observance of a religious ceremony, derived from heathen times, to propitiate the spirits of the caverns who were believed to punish the omission of it with storm and shipwreck.

  • In the Athenæum of January 7, 1871, Captain Ullmann describes a funeral ceremony (tiwa) of the Dyaks, which corresponds in many points with that of the ancient Bisayans.

The coffin is cut out of the branch of a tree by the nearest male kinsman, and it is so narrow that the body has to be pressed down into it, lest another member of the family should die immediately after to fill up the gap.

As many as possible of his effects must be heaped on the dead person, in order to prove his wealth and to raise him in the estimation of the spirit world ; and under the coffin are placed two vessels, one containing rice and the other water.

One of the principal ceremonies of the tiwa consisted formerly (and does still in some places) in human sacrifices. Where the Dutch Government extended these were not permitted ; but sometimes buffaloes or pigs were killed in a cruel manner, with the blood of which the high priest smeared the forehead, breast, and arms of the head of the family.

Similar sacrifices of slaves or pigs were practised amongst the ancient Philippinese, with peculiar ceremonies by female priests (Catalonas).

About 30 years ago a zealous young ecclesiastic, to whom these heathen practices were an abomination, determined to extirpate them by the roots.

With several boats well-equipped with crosses, banners, pictures of saints, and all the approved machinery for driving out the Devil, he undertook the expedition against the haunted rocks, which were climbed amidst the sounds of music, prayers, and the reports of fireworks.

A whole pailful of holy water first having been thrown into the cave for the purpose of confounding the evil spirits, the intrepid priest rushed in with elevated cross, and was followed by his faithful companions, who were fired with his example.

A brilliant victory was the reward of the well-contrived and carefully executed plot. The coffins were broken to fragments, the vessels dashed to pieces, and the skeletons thrown into the sea ; and the remaining caverns were stormed with like results.

The objects of superstition have indeed been annihilated, but the superstition itself survives to the present day.

The pastor at Basey said that there were still some remains on a rock. A few days afterwards, the worthy man surprised me with several skulls and a child’s coffin, which he had had brought from the place.

Notwithstanding the great respect in which he was held by his flock, he had to exert all his powers of persuasion to induce the boldest of them to engage in so daring an enterprise. A boat manned by sixteen rowers was fitted out for the purpose; with a smaller crew they would not have ventured to undertake the journey.

On their return home, a thunderstorm broke over them. The sailors believed it to be a punishment for their outrage, were prevented only by the fear of making the matter worse from throwing coffin and skulls into the sea.

Fortunately, the land was near. They rowed with all their might towards it. When they arrived, I was obliged to take the objects out of the boat myself, as no native was permitted to touch them.

Notwithstanding, I was the next morning successful in finding some resolute individuals who accompanied me to the caverns. In the first two which we examined we found nothing; the third contained several broken coffins, some skulls, and potsherds of glazed and crudely painted earthenware, of which, however, it was impossible to find 2 pieces that belonged to each other.

A narrow hole led from the large cavern into an obscure space, which was so small that one could remain in it only for a few seconds with the burning torch.

This circumstance may explain the discovery, in a coffin which was eaten to pieces by worms, and quite mouldered away, of a well-preserved skeleton, or rather a mummy, for in many places there were carcases clothed with dry fibres of muscle and skin. It lay upon a mat of pandanus, which was yet recognisable, with a cushion under the head stuffed with plants, and covered with matting of pandanus. There were no other remains of woven material. The coffins were of three shapes and without any ornament. Those of the first form, which were of excellent molave-wood, showed no trace of worm-holes or decay, whereas the others had entirely fallen to dust; and those of the third kind, which were most numerous, were distinguishable from the first only by a less curved form and inferior material.

No legend could have supplied an enchanted royal sepulchre with a more suitable approach than that to the last of these caverns. · The rock rises out of the sea with perpendicular sides of marble, and only in one spot is to be observed a natural opening made by the water, hardly two feet high, through which the boat passed at once into a spacious court, almost circular, and over-arched by the sky, the floor of which was covered by the sea, and adorned with a garden of corals. The steep sides are thickly hung with lianas, ferns, and orchids, by help of which one climbs upwards to the cavern, sixty feet above the surface of the water.

To add to the singularity of the situation, we also found at the entrance to the grotto, on a large block of rock projecting two feet above the ground, a sea-snake, which tranquilly gazed at us, but which had to be killed, because, like all genuine sea-snakes, it was poisonous. Twice before I had found the same species in crevices of rock on the dry land, where the ebb might have left it; but it was strange to meet with it in this place, at such a height above the sea. It now reposes, as Platurus fasciatus Daud., in the Zoological Museum of the Berlin University.

In Guíuan I bought 4 richly painted Chinese dishes which came from a similar cavern, and a gold signet ring.

The latter consisting of a plate of gold, originally bent into a tube of the thickness of a quill with a gaping seam, and afterwards into a ring as large as a thaler, which did not quite meet. The dishes were stolen from me at Manila.

There are similar caverns which have been used as burial-places in many other localities in this country; on the island of Andog, in Borongan (a short time ago it contained skulls); also at Batinguítan, 3 hours from Borongan, on the banks of a little brook; and in Guiuan, on the little island of Monhon, which is difficult of approach by reason of the boisterous sea.

In Catúbig, trinkets of gold have been found, but they have been converted into modern articles of adornment. One cavern at Láuang, however, is famous over the whole country on account of the gigantic, flat, compressed skulls, without sutures, which have been found in it.** It will not be uninteresting to compare the particulars here described with the statements of older authors; and for this reason I submit the following extracts :

Mas (Informe, i. 21), who does not give the sources of his information, thus describes the customs of the ancient inhabitants of the archipelago at their interments:—They sometimes embalmed their dead with aromatic substances . . . . . and placed those who were of note in chests carved out of a branch of a tree, and furnished with well-fitted lids. ….. The coffin was placed, in accordance with the wish of the deceased, expressed before his death, either in the uppermost room of the house, where articles of value were secreted, or under the dwelling-house, in a kind of grave, which was not covered, but enclosed with a railing; or in a distant field, or on an elevated place or rock on the bank of a river, where he might be venerated by the pious. A watch was set over it for a certain time, lest boats should cross over, and the dead person should drag the living after him.

According to Gaspar, the dead were rolled up in cloths, and placed in clumsy chests, carved out of a block of wood, and buried under their houses, together with their jewels, gold rings, and some plates of gold over the mouth and eyes, and furnished with provisions, cups, and dishes. They were also accustomed to bury slaves along with men of note, in order that they might be attended in the other world.

  • In the chapter “ De monstris et quasi monstris" . . . of Father Camel, “ Lon. don Philos. Trans.," p. 2269, it is stated that in the mountains between Guiuan and Borongan, footsteps, three times as large as those of ordinary men, have been found. Probably the skulls of Lauang, which are pressed out in breadth, and covered with a thick crust of calcareous sinter, the gigantic skulls (skulls of giants) have given rise to the fable of the giants’ footsteps.