Part 2 of a Series
Towering against the horizons of the Pacific Ocean is the most sacred mountain of the Dumagat people at the northernmost part of Quezon province. It is a rock formation that prevent the roaring and rumbling Pacific waves from sweeping the tiny community of indigenous people in the coastal village of San Marcelino in General Nakar town.
The walls of rocks are curtained with endangered species of trees that are hugging the mountain for generations. In the belly of this manicured landscape is Tulaob Cave – the most sacred place of worship of the Dumagat people.
Dumagats from all over Quezon and neighboring provinces in the Sierra Madre mountains converge here every August 4. It is the annual pilgrimage for the surviving members of the this vanishing indigenous people to pay tribute to Makedeppat — the god that protect the Dumagat Agta from the wiles of the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s the time of the year where we pay respect to the god of our tribe and ask for good health, protection against calamities, and for the sea too give more of its bounties,” said Tatay Nestor.
Legend has it that it was Makeddapat who waged war and prevailed against the gods of the Pacific seas. At the command of his voice the rocks raised from the ocean floor to protect the Dumagats from the wiles of the Pacific waves. The tales claimed that other gods trembled at the voice of Makedeppat.
Tulaob, according to Tatay Nestor, means the echoes of his voice. The Dumagats claimed that the echoes of the waves lashing through Tulaob Cave could be heard as far as Sorsogon and other provinces. This usually happened on the eve of the New Year, when the old parted with the new.
Visitors can access “Tulaob Cave” via Barangay Pamplona through 45-minute boat ride at a hefty amount of at least P1,200 per boat. However, the tribe would only allow them until 3pm. But with the tribe testing my faith and intention, the village people offered a free boat ride to send me to Tulaob Cave.
It is impossible for the first timers to find the mouth of “Tulaob Cave.” At high tide, it closes the lone access to any visitor. When the tide recedes, the sand could cover its mouth that only the locals knew where to dig to find it.
I thought my companions will accompany me all through the “test-of-my-intention”. But after pointing the mouth of the cave offshore, he left me alone at “Tulaob Cave”.
The adrenaline rush was picking up. While I wanted to soak myself in this wonderful corner of natural landscape, I was trembling and sweating in fears.
I dug the sand to squeeze myself through the tiny entrance, kneeling and crawling to get inside. It was dark and eerie. I groped in front and above my head to prevent myself from bumping any obstacle.
I slowly move deeper and deeper into the cave while saying, “Nandito po ako. Gusto ko sanang bumisita sa magandang lugar ninyo. Sana po ay payagan nyo po ako. Kung hindi po ay sana pauwiin lang po ninyo ako sa aking mga mahal sa buhay.”
I stayed inside for three to four minutes. But it seemed like forever.
What if the rocks collapse? What if there’s snakes and other animals? What if the tide suddenly soar to cover the entrance? What if I hear voices answering to my words? These were questions that were playing in my minds.
Minutes later, I decided went out and saw the light of day again. I took a deep breath and sit by the side of the entrance of the cave and told myself, “JP, what are you doing here? What are you trying to prove?”
I went back to the village on foot, surviving the giant coastal boulders that divided the village and Tulaob Cave. Going back to the Dumagat village in San Marcelino, Tatay Nestor wore his sweetest smile upon seeing me walking on the shore.
He asked me of my impression of Tulaob Cave. I told him that it is the only church in the Philippines, or perhaps the entire world, that one must need to kneel and crawl to enter and worship inside.
He then connected it to the essence of the faith of the Dumagat people – “to be humble at all times especially when we come to present ourselves to our god.”
Holding me in the arm, he said, “The gods and the guardians of Tulaob Cave must have given their favor to you, young man. You can now fix your tent anywhere on the our beach and stay as long as you want.”