A Ghost of Fire
An Old Ghost Story set in Baao
Though we have no equivalent of a Halloween night in the Philippines, stories about fiery ghosts are heard in the town. With just a few details missing, we have a story like that of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". These stories, I suspect arose from our proximity to a lake which would on occasion discharge the phenomenon we call in the vernacular as "santelmo". In Physics, "santelmo" or "St. Elmo's fire" is a ball of methane gas evaporating from a stagnant body of water like a marsh, lake or ricefield. Static electricity could set it aglow and the glowing ball would float eeriely on the surface of the water or ground were the wind would take it. I've heard of local farmers play with it by fanning it to make it move to any direction. To the unfamiliar, it would be a ghostly apparition, thus the stories we hear as children about ghosts that we might meet on the road at night. The following story was found published in a pre-war American magazine among a compilation of legends from the Philippines. The story was reprinted recently in the Philippines in a thick compilation of Philippine Legends. What other stories about Baao are hiding among the countless American publications about the Philippines I wonder.
Once upon a time their lived in the town of Baao two robbers who were accustomed to attacking people who went past their hut, for in those days the government was weak. One day, a Tagalog merchant went to the robbers to sell them some clothes. The robbers offered the merchant good food and bed for his siesta. When they saw that he was sound asleep, they killed him and threw his body into the river. The night after the merchants death, people in the neighborhood heard a hoarse voice saying over and over again ”Give one half of my money to my family.” Chance travelers were terrified, for the spirit would whisper to them too. Finally the officials of the town asked the priest to exorcise the spirit. When he had performed the rites, the voice became silent. However at night a fiery man would walk about the town between the hours of seven in the evening to six in the morning. The inhabitants were so frightened that they ate their last meal of the day at Four o’clock, after which they shut up their houses tightly until the next morning. One time a traveler arrived in Baao about eight in the evening. As he passed the church, he saw the fiery man coming toward him. In terror he whipped up his horse and tried to get away, but the ghost caught hold of the reins and stopped the horse. The ghost turned into a real man and said, “Please tell the officials about the two robbers near the town. They killed a man secretly and took away his money.” Then the figure disappeared forever. In the morning the traveler hurried to the tribunal and told his story. The police captain sent five strong men to capture the robbers. Their guilt was proven and they were put into prison for a long time