Thursday, August 9, 2007

Rainy day thoughts

The falling of rain was front page news two days ago. For too long the parched metropolis and the rain-starved countryside had waited for the sky to open and wash clean the grime and slime of the oppressive (election) summer and renew life in faraway towns and farms.

While some parts of Asia were swirling in mud and excess rain water that caused thousands to perish, we in the Philippines had to resort to cloud-seeding, oratio imperata and threats of water rationing in order to avert a water crisis.

And then the rain poured.

Though farmers had to suffer losses because of the rain’s delay, there is still a lot to be thankful for, among them, lessons, lessons, lessons. And plans to address similar crises in the future.

But weren’t such plans made years ago when the El Nino-La Nina crises were playing out in our lives? What happened to those pond-like rain reservoirs and other water preservation methods for farmers to put in place?

There is something mystical about rain and its coming in torrents after a long wait. It is celebrated in psalms, poetry, pop songs and folk tales. And films. To name two--”Singing in the Rain”, and the mushy “The Miracle” starring Robert Redford and Carol Baker in their prime?

I love the look, on a late evening, of an empty rain-soaked street or alley reflecting light from the moon or lamp posts. Or an early afternoon shower in the rural countryside, with a rainbow emerging from the mist. Or dawn breaking with the chorus of frogs competing with the patter of rain. Coffee and warm bread, wine and Frank Sinatra with every breath you take.

And if you have not frolicked in the rain as a little child or walked recklessly into a thunderstorm as an adult in order to do some good to someone, then you still have a lot to go on the long and winding road.

But as they say, into each life some rain must fall. Rain has its harsh side, like the deadly landslides that brought death and destruction in vulnerable places. Sure the heavy rains had something to do with these disasters but so had people who wantonly destroyed the environment and rendered it vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. There were, indeed, tragedies waiting to happen because of our neglect. And let’s not blame these entirely on the rain.

Climate change is upon us. With global warming is the warning that it’s not going to be all warm. It’s also going to be watery because of the ancient glaciers and snowcaps melting and the atmosphere going haywire.

Ancient cultures had ways of dealing with the long wait for rain. Rain dances and other rain-making rituals live on to this day. Call them pagan or whatever but these must have a way of altering the forces in the universe, the same way that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings could affect climactic conditions. Same with the force of prayer or power of thought. We are all interconnected.

Sir James G. Frazer, in his ground-breaking book “The Golden Bough: The Roots of Religion and Folklore”, devotes pages and pages on rain-making, staying the sun and making wind. (The first edition appeared in 1890 and has since made an enormous impact on culture and literature, far beyond its field of anthropology.)

Frazer wrote: “Of all natural phenomena there are perhaps none which civilized man feels himself more powerless to influence than the rain, the sun and the wind. Yet all these are commonly supposed by savages to be in some degree under their control.”

In a village in Russia, when rain-making became the last resort, three men would go up the fir trees in an old sacred grove. One of them drummed with a hammer on a kettle to make the sound of thunder. Another knocked two fire-brands to make sparks fly to imitate lightning. The third man, the rain-maker, sprinkled water on a bunch of twigs.

In an island in New Guinea, a wizard induced rain by dipping a branch from a particular tree and sprinkled the ground with it. In another place the rain-maker wrapped some leaves of a creeper in a banana leaf, moistened the bundle and buried it in the ground. Then, with his mouth, he imitated the sound of rain.

When the corn began to wither because of lack of rain, the Omaha Indians of North America would fill a vessel with water and dance around it. One of the dancers put water into his mouth and spurt it into the air to make a drizzle, then he upset the vessel and spilled the water into the ground. The dancers would fall down on the ground and drink up the water and get muddy all over.

The Australian Wotjobaluk rain-maker dipped a bunch of his own hair in water, sucked out the water from it and squirted it westward. Squirting water from the mouth is also a practice in West Africa.

In Samoa, a stone that represented the rain-making god was housed in a structure. In time of drought, priests carried the stone in procession and dipped it in a stream.

In Navarre in Spain, the image of Saint Peter was taken to a river where people asked for his intercession so that rain may fall. Some would call out that the image be dunked in the water.

In New Caledonia the rainmakers blackened themselves all over, dug up a dead body and took the bones to a cave and joined them together. They then hung the skeleton over some taro leaves. They believed that the soul of the departed drew up the water and made it fall down as rain.

There are so many ways of making rain that Frazer had documented. Alas, despite my forays into indigenous communities, I know nothing about their rain-making practices (creation stories, yes.) If there are any, I am sure Filipino anthropologists know about them.

Time to try them out, to help raise our water(conservation consciousness) level.