Among the province of Batangas’ colorful beliefs — if it can even be called one — of old was the “ililipad ka sa Maculot1” (you will be flown to Maculot) admonition that was customarily issued to children. For the benefit of those not from Batangas, Maculot is a mountain that rises 3,107 feet1 north of the town of Cuenca. It is part of the southern rim of a caldera left behind by the prehistoric eruption of a large volcano at least 5,000 years ago.
In the present day, Maculot is considered a dormant stratovolcano3 that is a popular weekend and holiday destination for hikers and mountaineers. It is also a frequent theme of Batangas’ many legends and folklore4.
Before the days of medicated shampoos, lice infestations in Filipino families — certainly not only in Batangas — was quite common. The head louse — “kuto” in Tagalog — was indiscriminate and was happy to infest human scalp to feed on blood regardless of whether the human was adult or a child, male or female5.
A louse comb, called “suyod” in Tagalog, was helpful in removing head lice. Unfortunately this was useless in removing louse eggs, called “lisâ” in Tagalog, which are attached to hair strands. Thus, the more effective way to remove lice was to sit an infested person down and manually remove the lice and eggs.
This was a meticulous process that required a lot of patience, sharp eyes and nimble fingers. Sometimes, removing lice was done almost as a social event within families or even neighborhoods, when the process was livened up by the exchange of gossip and banter.
|A Filipino "kutohan" session during the American colonial era. Image credit: CA State Library.|
Getting children — with their boundless energy and limited attention span — to sit down in these sessions was, needless to say, always difficult to do, since children were wont to prefer running around or playing in the yard to sitting still for any amount of time.
Thus, when they refused, mothers would admonish them with, “Hala ka! ‘Pag dumami yang kuto mo, ililipad ka nila sa Maculot!” Translated: “If you don’t get your lice removed, one day they will multiply enough to be able to fly you to Maculot.”
The origin of this belief — if, indeed, it was one — is obscure, and the scare stories about what was supposed to happen to a child once in Maculot varied. Some said a child would be imprisoned inside the mountain by fairies or monsters, and never be able to leave. Some said the child would be eaten by the lice.
What is so amusing, of course, about this piece of Batangas folklore is that it conveniently ignored the fact that the head louse is a wingless insect. Therefore, it cannot fly.
Notes and references:1 Tagalog spelling: Makulot. Many historic documents give the mountain’s name as “Macolod.”
2 “Mount Macolod,” Wikipedia.
3 A stratovolcano is a volcano that was “built up by many layers (strata) of hardened lava and tephra” or volcanic debris. “Stratovolcano,” Wikipedia.
4 This web site has a collection of transcribed documents about Batangas’ culture and folklore archived at the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection page.
5 “Head Louse,” Wikipedia.