Monday, July 20, 2009

Tonying: No-Hands Guitarist

Manila to Cebu via Ormoc: Palo

Yep, I was just about to move out of the Mac Arthur memorial landing site when I heard a man singing. I instantly knew it was some beggar. When I looked, it really was so! However, he was about a meter or two from lovers sitting on the grass and looking out into the sea. They were all under the shade of a big tree and the scene looked interesting. I went near to ask the couple if I can take a picture of their backs since they looked quite a scene with the water in front of them. This never happened! I got distracted. And I like it still!

When I got nearer, the beggar singing and strumming his guitar was blind and has no hands. I got curious and watched him play. Both limbs are cut above the wrist. The right arm is fitted with some bracelet like rubber where a pick is attached so he could strum the strings. Left arm is fitted with a drinking glass and that is what he uses to press the frets of the guitar. Amazing! I watched carefully how he would move the drinking glass across the arm of the guitar since, like him, the glass do not also have fingers! But how could he create the correct chords or keys for his song – which I think was an Am (“A minor” tune). I did not ask but just assumed he calibrates the strings differently so that the correct tune would come out. Now how can he calibrate the strings without fingers? I still wonder!

When he was done singing, I asked if he was truly blind. He said yes and removed his sunglasses to let me see. OMG, I don’t want to describe that anymore. Then I followed through with a remark that I was amazed how good he played the guitar without any fingers. I think I pressed the correct button… it started him telling me about how everything came to be… Here goes:

La Naval, Biliran… he was 23 in 1965 and already had 3 children since he married early at 18. He had perfect eyesight and good perfect hands. His father-in-law asked him to go with them fishing. Boom, dynamite exploded in his hands, instantly severing them and even blinding him. Only hence did his father-in-law stopped dynamite fishing.

He moved on with life trying everything he can to live with the help of his children… and now his grand children. He says there was a time he went to Metro Manila and lived with one of his children in Binangonan. Some folks advised him to go to Quiapo and sing there so he could gather alms. He diid but the syndicate would get everything leaving him with just enough amount of money to be able to ride back to Binangonan.

Now back in Leyte, he opted to live with his eldest daughter in Palo. His grandchildren are the ones who bring him to the park or the red beach picnic areas so he can sing for donations.

After the stories, I fished a P100 bill from my wallet and inserted it into the pocket of his shirt asking if a one-thousand peso bill would be fine. He expertly took the bill from the pocket with his “bare” arms, rubbed the paper in his nose a few times and grinned saying one hundred pesos is already a lot of help. In amazement, I asked how he does that when his eyes do not have eyeballs anymore. He just beamed proudly grinning and said he knows the smell of any bill. Whether he was joking, I did not press any further.

Mano Tonying is a living testament that dynamite fishing is bad not only for marine but even human life. Oh well, I already had enough of wonderful surprises for the morning so I bade them goodbye and told them I was going to walk down to the resort for a brief go-see and probably lunch. Mano Tonying was quick to advise me that it was closed and under renovation! His reply was “sarado… under renovation”!

What a tour!

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