A Folk Story: Myth of the White Carabao
Dr Abe V Rotor
This is a true story, and how Melecio angered his teacher on his first day in school.
“What is the color of the carabao?”
“White, Ma’am,” promptly came an answer at the back of the classroom.
There stood a small fellow, steely and kayumanggi, typical of a barrio lad. He was in full attention, anticipating a favorable reaction. But his classmates laughed instead. Others suppressed giggling.
“What?” exclaimed the bewildered teacher. “I repeat, what is the color of the carabao?” emphasizing the question, then stealthily eyed at the belligerent kid.
“White, Ma’am,” came a louder answer. The class went into an uproar, but Melecio was not at all daunted, unnerved.
“Go home and plant kamote. And don’t come back until you ‘produce’ your father.”
Can you imagine if you were Melecio?
Since that incident Melecio did not like to go back to school.
Days passed. Melecio would rather join the harvesters in the field, the farmhand that he had always been since he learned to use the rakem, a hand held harvesting knife. He would talk to his carabao, and even imitated his teacher.
“What is the color of the carabao?” This beast of burden simply continued chewing its cud, burping.
“Tama!” Melecio looked up. “Mabuti ka pa.”
When Melecio’s father learned that his son was not attending school, he confronted his son. You can imagine if you were in a situation between an angry father on one side and an angry teacher, on the other - and you are barely seven.
That evening Melecio told the whole story, and found comfort on his father’s broad shoulder and in the warmth of his mother’s embrace. Trinity smiled on them for the first time as far as he remembered.
Monday came. Father and son went to school to see Mrs. Paning Rosario, the teacher. Mrs. Rosario promptly accompanied them to the principal.
Apologetically the elder Melecio explained to the principal and the teacher about the white carabao - his son’s pet, an albino. It is all white, and the tips of its horns and hooves, are transparent like glass. The retina of the eyes which is supposed to be black is not. A gray spot on the head, gave the carabao’s name, Labang.
Scientists call animals that lack pigments albino, a genetic characteristic among animals like the carabao, rhino, and elephant. In fact this condition also affects human. I had a classmate in the elementary we nicknamed, White. He also had an albino sister, although both their parents are typical Filipinos. Albino humans are often mistaken to belong to the Caucasoid or white race, sometimes igniting debates on their parentage.
“Nature commits mistake, too.” That’s how my genetics professor Dr. Ruben Umaly puts it. The genes that govern dark skin pigment (melanin) are dominant.
Nature sees to it that they are regularly transcended in the gametes of the parents. But there are instances that these dominant genes fail to transcend from any of the parents so that it is the recessive albino gene that is expressed in the offspring, thus resulting to a pigmentless condition.
This renders the individual susceptible to the deleterious effects of heat and radiation. In fact, an albino has difficulty seeing under bright light because the retina also lacks pigment that serves as natural shade. Darwinian law of natural selection can explain the rarity of albinos in the animal world. Albinos have little chance to survive and reach maturity, which is nature’s way of correcting her own mistake.
It is only through man’s intervention that albinos are given a chance to survive, giving them a place in his beliefs and culture. In fact, albino elephants are revered in India and Thailand. In Greek mythology, King Minos was given a white bull by the gods, and for not following the gods’ wishes to have the beast sacrificed, he was punished by having a son half-man and half-bull, called the Minotaur.
A figure of speech was developed from the term, white elephant. For example, a grandiose infrastructure that has not been put to use as planned is metaphorically called white elephant.
“Have you seen a white carabao, ma’am?” “Sir?”...... “Ma’am?” “Sir?”
There was complete silence.~