Negotiations are never easy, but eventually you see patterns in the way the bargains are done. I learned this lesson from a savvy dwende I met a few years ago while clearing out a part of my brother’s farm. He gave me four very important lessons. Lessons that I must recall today because a datu has contracted me to move an angry spirit away from a tree he intends to cut. The life of an albularyo is never glamorous, but when you are called, there is little choice.
The first lesson is to approach your target with an open hand. Trust must first be offered before it is given, especially when you are asking for it. This also gives me an opening to see just what kind of spirit I’m dealing with. I open with a story about my hometown and the first spirit I ever spoke to. The tree is quiet for a while before it scolds me for wasting its time. I can sense the prideful scorn emanating from the leaves. A Magtitima. I soon realize this isn’t going to be easy.
I take a deep breath and remember the second lesson. It always pays to know what your terms are. I was given a modest offering from the datu, but I don’t know if it will be enough. The datu needs the tree to be cut down to build a new house that much I know. At least I did my research, the preferred offering of this spirit is a white chicken served with basi, a rice wine.
Lesson number three is to always make the first offer. Most other albularyos would wait, trying to see how much information they could get out of the spirit before making any sort of deal, but the dwede told me a different tactic. You have to set the stage, I give a low bid of a few bags of rice to start with.
The Magtitima is insulted and plays right into my hands. The fourth lesson now comes into play: always make them think they have the advantage. Every buyer wants to feel they got a good deal, so I start the back and forth. The spirit demands only the best gold and jewels and I apologize for the lacking resources in the datu’s coffers. I counter with some precious stones and an heirloom kris.
The negotiation takes hours of time and effort. A spirit must never be reminded that he is conversing with a mortal so I make sure he doesn’t see me sweat. After what seems like an eternity haggling offerings and prayers I finally bargain him down to five white chickens and seven bottles of basi.
I smile and tell him the datu will offer a celebration in commemoration of the powerful spirit’s great generosity, something that the Magtitima agrees to wholeheartedly. I tell the spirit that it can move to another tree by the river, one that is bigger than the other trees in the forest. The spirit’s pride is too much to contain and it moves there immediately, not even saying a word of goodbye.
I look up at the stars and realize it’s been more than half a day since I started talking to the spirit. I pack up my things and head to the datu’s house with the good news, hoping that I can get something for my troubles. An albularyo can never demand payment, only accept it.
The life of an albularyo is never glamorous, but when you are called, there is little choice.