(...to the southern Philippines, specifically the perpetually conflict-addled island of Mindanao. It is there that a family of quasi-Christian cults collectively known as the Tadtad (“Chop Chop”) flourish, and occasionally wreak bloody havoc on the unfortunate populace.
The Tadtad remind us a bit of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, in that they’ve combined Christian doctrine, ancient shamanism, and Fascist radicalism into one awful cocktail. Like the other movements we’ve chronicled in this series, the Tadtad is able to attract young recruits by promising them a comic-book power—the ability to render bullets harmless. The various groups that constitute the Tadtad whole each favors a different approach to granting this power—amulets made of human kneecaps, t-shirts bearing Latin inscriptions, various anointing oils. Yet no matter what a group’s method, the end result is always the same—misguided kids get killed, and the leaders stand ready with excuses as to why their magic didn’t work:
Sixteen cultists who died in a fierce clash Friday with lawmen believed they were invincible against bullets, but their ”magical powers” did not work because many of them were sinners, the leader of the Catholic God’s Spirit cult said yesterday.
Alfredo Obsioma, 44, leader of the 300-member cult, said the 16 who were killed were disloyal followers who had ignored his advice not to fight the team of law enforcers who had come to arrest one of the cultists.
Four civilian militiamen also died in Friday’s encounter at the cult’s colony in Barangay Kimanait, Pangantucan town.
”They (the cult members) sinned. They had vices and above all, they resorted to violence,” Obsioma told the INQUIRER here…
Obsioma, a former Army soldier, said amulets made of paper scribbled with Latin prayers would have been enough to make his followers invincible to bullets.
”But the amulets are only for the good. They are not supposed to be used for evil,” he said.
He said the slain cult members had ignored his advice not to attack the police team, who had gone to the colony to arrest cult member Roberto Madrina Jr. Madrina was wanted on a charge of frustrated murder for stabbing a certain Patricio dela Cruz in a nearby village in 1989.
”They were emboldened by the idea that bullets would not harm them. They were mistaken,” Obsioma said in the vernacular.
”They lost their power when they disobeyed me,” he said.
We’d be curious to know what Obsioma’s excuse is when his charges inevitably perish while fighting under orders.
By the way, we highly recommend this 2000 Atlantic piece about the Tadtad, in which it’s revealed that a certain cult maintains its invincibility by only attacking on Mondays and Thursdays. Brendan I. Koerner)
What is Kulam?
Kulam is a kind of witchcraft practiced in the Philippines. Witches who use kulam are called mangkukulamand are often feared for their use of black magic. Nowadays however, there has been a move to revamp the image of kulam and present it under a more flattering light. A few locally published books, such as Tony Perez's Mga Panibagong Kulam (Modern Spells), hope to achieve this by bringing their case to a younger, more open-minded market.
Be that as it may, many still hold the traditional view of kulam as a dark, evil form of sorcery. Superstitious Filipinos intimate that mangkukulam are often from the islands of Siquijor and Samar, and the province of Sorsogon. Even in this day and age, residents of these places are often regarded with suspicion by neighboring communities. Incidentally, these areas are also known for their many "faith healers."
Kulam is heavily influenced by voodoo, and the foremost image of kulam in the public imagination involves kulam practitioners using a rag doll to injure their intended victims. Something belonging to the victim must be obtained by the practitioner in order for the curse to work, and it's often said that the closer the object is to the intended victim, the stronger the spell will be. Thus, things like a strand of hair, spit, or drops of blood are highly recommended for maximum effect.
The mangkukulam starts the curse by tying a string around the body of a black rag doll. She then utters an incantation - often in Pig Latin - invoking various spirits and elementals. The string around the doll symbolizes the witch's power over the victim, and at this point, anything she does to the doll will be also be felt by the victim. She may prick his arms with a needle, submerge his head under water, set his limbs on fire, and so forth. Believers insist that the curse can only be lifted by two methods: removing the string tied around the doll, or killing the witch herself.
Kulam, however, exists in a wider context, and is not simply about sticking needles into dolls. Most people see the mangkukulam as a kind of village witch, and often go to her for things such as love spells, spells to catch a cheating husband, etc. Sometimes the mangkukulam will maintain a rivalry with a village arbularyo or medicine man. Other times, the mangkukulam herself doubles as the village's witch doctor, or faith healer, "curing" sicknesses inflicted upon them by the local versions of dwarves, wood nymphs, and other spirits.
Interestingly enough, Philippine witchcraft often co-exists harmoniously with Catholicism, especially in the country's rural areas. Good witches invoke the name of saints, whisper Latin prayers, and even wear scapulars to ward off the machinations of their evil counterparts. Black witches, on the other hand, are said to be in league with the devil himself.
(from Mujahid: I don't practice Kulam "it's against my religion" but it's good to know how to protect yourself if ever faced with a Black Magick practitioner, especially one who practices martial arts as well... something to think about.)