Dr Abe V Rotor
Photo study of figurine made of volcanic rock from Mt Pinatubo eruption.
Sculptor unknown. Bacolor, Pampanga (c. 1995)
It was already dusk when my family and I decided to visit the sunken church of Bacolor, Pampanga. We had just spent the weekend in Morong, Bataan and we were on our way back to Manila.
An old woman, frail and bent in the waning light, met us at the narrow entrance of the old church.
"Sir, bilhin na ninyo eto. Pambili lang ng pagkain." (Please sir, buy this thing to buy me some food.) She was referring to a stone figurine she was holding.
The thing was a roughly carved figure of a lying carabao, made of volcanic rock from the recent eruption of Mt Pinatubo.
"One hundred pesos lang, sir."
I pulled out a hundred peso bill from my wallet and got the figurine.
"Salamat, sir." Light shone on her wrinkled face.
We did not actually go inside the church because it was half buried with lahar. You have to stoop low to get through the arch of the entrance. So we just stood at the entrance and Cecille, my wife, led a prayer.
It was eerie silent. There must have been pilgrims ahead of us, but the place was now deserted. So with the abandoned buried houses not far from the place. Not a soul. A gust of wind came, then another. I pulled my jacket close. My children did the same. Cecille cut our prayer short.
Curious, I looked for the woman. She wasn't around. Where could she had passed? There was a long stretch of footpath down the road, but there was sign of her. Not a silhouette.
I thought I was the only one who noticed her sudden departure.
"Papa, uwi na tayo," my children chorused and we drove home.
When we reached home I examined the figurine. Why it's a work of art! Did the old woman make it? Who was the old woman?
It didn't take a long time I had another chance to visit the church. This time there were people around. It wasn't yet sunset. I asked those apparently familiar with the place who the old woman was. I described her like how I saw her face when she handed me the stone carabao.
"Wala pong matandang ganong dito." (There's no such old woman here.) And they looked at each other in bewilderment.
I pondered on this puzzle if it has any message at all. Or could it a sign to remind us of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? In this biblical story God commanded a righteous couple to flee the wicked city, and never to look back. But pity on the dying stopped them on their track and they became into stone.
Stone figures take us even farther to Greek mythology – to Medusa who wears a headdress of snakes. Anyone who looks directly at her turns into stone. Aware of the danger the hero Perseus used his shield as mirror in slaying Medusa. And when he presented Medusa’s head to the tyrant king and his court, all of them turned into stone.
The story in the bible of course is not to be taken literally, so with that in Greek mythology. But these usually take us to a higher level of consciousness about life and about the world we live in. What could this puzzle of the Stone Carabao mean then to us?
When I told the story to a good friend of mine who is an expert on carabao, he stood up and exclaimed, "Why, don't you know that the Philippine carabao is now a threatened species? So with other buffaloes all over the world?"
I remembered the old woman and the stone carabao. Now I have a story to tell. ~