10 November 2010

The Irony of the Old Batangueño Ililipad sa Makulot Threat


That mountain that rises from the municipality of Cuenca to overlook in all its magnificence the Taal Lake is known these days as a fabulous destination for weekend and holiday mountain trekkers. The name of the mountain, as everyone knows, is Maculot.

What is not known by many is that there live in some secret chamber deep within the bowels of the mountain countless young women who were abducted eons ago when they were still young girls and flown into the mountain where they have been held captive for generations. This story is alternatively called sheer and utter bull.

Of course, young people of today who have been brought up as the Pantene generation, have no way of knowing that once upon a time, young girls used to be frightened by their mothers into sitting down meekly for an afternoon’s session of kutohan by simply being told, “Sigue! ‘Pag dumami ang kuto mo, ililipad ka ng mga iyan sa Maculot.”

But I am getting ahead of the story… I cannot imagine that young people, brought up as they are in the era of medicated shampoos, even know what the kuto is.

Enter Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_louse], which tells us that the kuto – or, in English, the head louse – is a wingless insect that lives among the hairs of humans, crawling along the scalp and making a living by sucking human blood through the skin. Like most insects, they multiply quickly and attach their tiny white eggs to the hairs on people’s heads. These are called, in Tagalog, the lisâ.

Infestation can happen spontaneously, such as when two girls play together and their hairs come into contact with each another. Then, the infestation can quickly spread among the members of a family.

But let me clarify immediately; lice are not discriminatory. They will just as soon infest boys as they will girls. Adults, too…

Needless to say, the lice cause anything from mild to severe itching along the scalp. In the old days, the tell-tale sign of an infestation was always somebody scratching one’s head with abnormal frequency.


Now, back to the kutohan… This was as much a social event as a means to prevent the increase of the lice population on a host’s head. When I was a small boy, it was not uncommon to see members of a family seated in a line along the stairs of the veranda with the one behind patiently searching the hairs of the one in front for any kuto or lisâ.

When lice or their eggs were found, these were extracted from the scalp or the hairs using one’s fingernails and placed on any flat surface to be crushed underneath a well-placed fingernail. Alternatively, the lice – although not their eggs – could be extracted off one’s scalp using a tightly strung louse comb called in Tagalog the suyod.


I still see suyods these days in the barbershop that I visit once a month. However, these are used to extract tiny strands of hair that might get stuck on the scalp within the course of a haircut.

I just do not know of anybody these days who has an infestation. I rather suspect modern shampoos are responsible for making sure that young boys and girls do not have to suffer the ignominy of having to scratch their pates every few seconds just because the lice are having a grand party.

An old friend and former colleague and I used to laugh when we recalled the ililipad-sa-Maculot threats we used to hear ever so often when we were kids. The supreme irony of these threats – we now know – is that lice are wingless insects.

And therefore cannot fly…

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