Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rice Magick

Filipinos have many words for rice indicating its importance. The words described the various stages of rice when uncooked such as palay (unhusked rice grains), binayo (shelled rice grains) and bigas (uncooked rice grains) or when cooked, such as kanin (cooked rice), lamig (day old rice), sinangag (fried rice) or even pinipig (roasted then pounded green rice), There are more in the different Philippine languages so much so that in boasting of our country's indigenous wealth and sites, we point to the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, a United Nation's inscribed World Heritage Site.

I am told that when the rice terraces were being considered for inscription, the Philippine advocates reviewed the nomination and determined that though there are rice terraces in nearly every country in Asia, we have the most extensive and oldest terraces still in existence and continuous use for 2000 years.

Rice production began in the country in 500 BC, around the time the Ifugaos were building the terraces, though rice consumption began as early as 5000 BC. The care and planting of rice, however, has changed very little since then. Rice seed is soaked in water until they sprout after which they are covered in soil until the seedlings are strong enough for transfer to rice paddies (source: 100 Events that Shaped the Philippines, Adarna Book Services, 1999).

All the peoples of the Philippines are somehow involved in the cultivation and consumption of rice. Thus, it is no surprise that many of those still practicing the indigenous religions have spells involving it. The Ifugao, for instance, in their rather complex religion and ritual practice have a divination method called haposeng where rice is placed in a coconut half shell with water. The patterns formed by the floating rice are then read by the mumbaki or shahman on which his predictions will be based.

Pursuant to my study of the lowland magickal traditions, however, I could not find any spells or rituals involving rice. I surmise that because it is  food, the prevailing belief is that the use of rice for any other purpose is wasteful. In fact, I recall our maids warning us against playing with the rice grains because they would "run away" from us (lalayasan) if we displayed wasteful behavior.

There is however, one traditional that prevails, though it is primarily Western in origin -- the rice thrown at weddings. The practice dates back to the ancient Assyrian, Egyptian and Hebrew societies where throwing food items was considered a sign of fertility (source: http://blog.aurorahistoryboutique.com/the-history-of-throwing-rice-at-weddings/). However, I think that the more appropriate term is that the throwing of rice (or other food items) is a spell or a wish on the newly weds for children and wealth.

Kain tayo?

Marriage ceremony of the Batakks, showing rice ritual, 1911.

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