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Agi Lang

A case submitted by

Ther Largo

I am Ther, a Bisaya girl who first moved to Manila, the bustling capital of the Philippines at age 16, and then moved to (what I call) the capital of the world, New York City, at 23. This is my story of how wherever I go, how much my mind has expanded, and how much of the world I have seen, I can never erase the beliefs embedded in my own heritage.

Whenever I would visit my grandmother in a rural town in Davao Oriental, Mindanao, Philippines, or whenever when we’d go on trips to the outdoors with my big extended family, my elders would always tell me never to step on the roots of trees. However, if the situation left me with no choice to step on these roots, or perhaps walk across a forest of some sorts, I had to say sorry to the spirits around and say, “tabi tabi po” (in Tagalog) or “agi lang” (in Bisaya) which meant “excuse me, just passing by!” I was told stories of how my mom was followed by dwarves living in surroundings, of how I shouldn’t stare too long at a balete tree so as not to anger the “kapre" or “tree giant” living in it, and of how if I feel like I angered any of them I had to bite the back of my hand. Childhood TV shows would depict how these powerful spirits mingled with humans, sometimes falling in love with them, sometimes haunting them, and sometimes just co-existing with them. This folk belief system of having this spiritual view of nature was always something that fascinated me. After all, for a country that is predominantly Catholic, where do these beliefs of animism belong? The more I learned about the deep ecological psychology of Filipinos, I have come to appreciate how before we were even colonized, we had such a beautiful spiritual connection to nature. Nature was the source of abundance and guidance in indigenous peoples’ lives. Colonialism coined this connection to nature as barbaric and uncivilized, however, despite how much they tried to burn these beliefs literally and figuratively, they still prevailed. And it is even more fascinating how these cultural folkloric beliefs still have strong influences in our psyche, despite being exposed to more “modern” and “logical” viewpoints. Even as someone who has moved to the most industrial cities, if I were to go back and cross the same forests and step on the same lands and roots, even if I don’t say it out loud, I will always say, “agi lang.”

It is no surprise that the Philippines is one of the most affected by climate change and natural disasters. Being an archipelago situated in the pacific ring of fire, we experience everything– multiple earthquakes in a year, forest fires, intense heatwaves, the most destructive typhoons, landslides, drought– think of a climate disaster, we have it! (Except snowstorms of course.) I grew up used to this. I can’t count the number of earthquakes I’ve experienced, the number of hot summer days where I feel like I would burn off the face of the earth. However, the most destructive of them all are the typhoons we face multiple times a year. If you look up deadliest typhoons in recent history, my country is almost always a victim. Thankfully, I am privileged enough to have safe shelter, but every year, thousands of Filipino lives are lost to these natural beasts. Cities and municipalities get completely wiped down. Trees are uprooted, homes are left to bits, roads are turned into rivers, and it takes decades for these cities to get back to what they were like, if they even had the capacity to. Whenever these typhoons would strike, I can’t help but think, who did we anger to face this much wrath? Are the spirits rejoicing at our demise for having ruined their homes, or are they gone with the destruction too?  

The Philippines faces the disproportionate effects of climate change as our typhoons get stronger and our lands become larger dumping sites of the trash of the first world. With these huge climate disasters inevitably coming up in the near future, will there even be a natural environment to connect to? Will there be the same trees to tiptoe around? Will our children only come to know of the harrowing storms and destructed lands when we won’t have any nature to keep our folk beliefs prevailing?


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