Footprints

For Cultural Hybrids Seeking Home

The Black & White Kapres of Mandalagan

01 May 2021

Between the cities of Silay and Bacolod, there is a region called the Mandalagan Mountain Ranges with a peak elevation of 1,237 meters. It overlooks the communities of Guinbalaon, Lantawan, and Patag. This area with its deep forests and several man-made tunnels was where Negrense guerillas encamped during World War II--their last stronghold against the Japanese. When the tables were turned during the last days of the war, the jungles of Patag likewise sheltered the remnants of the Japanese army./1/

Barangay Guinbalaon is situated at the foot of the Mandalagan Mountain Ranges and along the main road leading to a series of newly established cafes and restaurants. When the old farm hands get together with their friends from the two other villages, they entertain themselves with tales about mythical creatures encountered by their fathers and grandfathers.

One popular story tells of a Kapre who resided in an old Lawaan tree (referred to as Philippine mahogany) that once stood sturdy and strong in the forests of Guinbalaon./2/ A giant of a man, muscular and hairy, with fiery red eyes, the Kapre could be seen when he chose to appear, usually at sundown. He was eight or nine feet tall, resting on a hardy branch, always puffing a foot-long cigar. When he was in residence, people would see the smoke rise, and soon after dark, the smell of tobacco would fill the night air.

The Lawaan tree belonged to a man named Manong Kako who lived next to it. He had a small family land holding which he himself tilled, and he claimed the Kapre became his friend and helper, appearing to him in a traditional salacot (conical farmer’s hat). His accounts are now preserved in the family lore.

Manong Kako’s friendship with the Kapre started right after the war, when he was young and just married. Aside from tending his farm, he made his living chopping wood from the forest, cutting and sawing them, then taking the lumber to market. He of course did not have the tools of professional lumberjacks—instead, he would go to the forest and mark the tree branches that he could hew the next day with his axe and saw.

Often, Manong Kako recounted, upon waking in the mornings, he would spot wood blocks neatly piled up in front of his house, ready to be transported. They came from branches he had marked the previous day. Likewise, from time to time, he would see the carcass of a python or a cobra, as if the Kapre wanted him to know that he and his family were being kept safe.

In return, Manong Kako would buy the broadest tobacco leaves from the nearby growers to roll the smoothest and the tastiest of cigars for the Kapre. He knew when the Kapre was particularly pleased because, along with dangerous snakes, he would discover dead poisonous insects, including scorpions and black-widow spiders.

Less than a kilometer away from the old Lawaan tree, in Barangay Patag there likewise stood a huge Balete tree (species of rubber plant).  Next to it can still be found a derelict structure—said to be once a beautiful rest house. It was built in the 1970s and owned by one of the elite families of Bacolod City, the capital of the province.  However, the owners abandoned it after malevolent apparitions were allegedly seen, usually around noontime. These sightings were accompanied by a heavy stench that overwhelmed the area.  When sorohanos (shamans) were subsequently consulted, they confirmed an “evil presence” in the house but refused to get involved with its exorcism.

Then, puzzling incidents were supposedly linked to the Balete tree of Patag, including disappearances of strapping young men who tried to cut some of its branches for use in alternative medicine.  The plant is said to be good for dressing wounds and for treating headaches, among other ailments.

Down-mountain, there were three similarly huge Balete trees reputed to be residences of the Patag Kapre's sisters whom he frequently visited.  This was an accident-prone site.  A nearby highway that connected the villages to the different towns of Negros was well known for its many vehicle collisions, especially at night. Witnesses claimed specters were seen standing in the middle of the road and the people from Patag asserted it was their Kapre and/or his sisters.  They were said to be annoyed that their sleep was being disturbed by the passing cars.

For this reason, no one would dare walk around these trees, nor indeed near the quarters of Patag’s own Kapre for fear of the noise they might make.  As was to be expected, when a residential subdivision was later built around these locations, the developer could not find anyone willing to fell these trees although they created major obstructions.  The three Balete trees remain standing there today.

As the locals of these three villages compared their tales, they concluded that there must be two Kapres: one whom they called the White Kapre, was benevolent; and the other whom they called the Black Kapre, was pernicious.

The White Kapre and the Black Kapre did not get along. During a violent thunderstorm some years ago, a bolt of lightning hit the mid-section of the Lawaan tree of Guinbalaon. Fire consumed most of it so much so that Manong Kako’s son thought it would not survive. But survive it did and green shoots started growing soon after.

The inhabitants of Patag now hope that the Balete tree still standing in their midst would in due course receive an equally devastating blow from the strengthening Lawaan tree in a primal battle between good and evil.

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Whilst folktales indeed often explain events which are seemingly inexplicable, they also usually serve as mirrors of ourselves.  Good-and-evil, for example, is only one of the dualisms that exist in the human psyche.  In this story, they are shown as separate entities.  However, in another level, they are also mental abstractions.  We all have opposing elements within us and our struggles and battles are the results of the interplay of these opposing forces.

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Ascription: From interviews done by Jopy Plotria.

Footnotes: /1/Visitors can now see the glaring reminders of this period of hostilities: remnants of an anti-aircraft gun still in its rampart, foxholes, bunkers, even the vestiges of an old medical facility, and a memorial dedicated to the Japanese war dead; /2/Scholars opine that the folktales relating to giants living in mountains and roaming the island were already part of Negrense folklore long before the coming of the Spaniards. However, the word “Kapre” came from the Spanish-Arabic word “Cafre.” The Ortigas Foundation recently published pictographs on the origin of the word. The  “giants” were African natives sent to the Americas and other Spanish colonies as slaves. This followed the decree of King Carlos I that no Spaniard could enslave the natives of their colonies since they were now Spanish subjects. As Spain did not own territories in Africa, the Spaniards started their slave trade from there. The Nguni tribe from southern Africa, for instance, were brought to the Philippines through the galleon ships coming from Mexico;