Licorice by Doug Hawley
Licorice by Doug Hawley
I had been working in the University of the Filipinas anthropology department for several years, when I got the break of my career. I was awarded a decent sized grant to study of the elusive Chupa people in the mountains of Luzon. People surrounding the tribe generally avoided them because of their reputation for aggressive and odd behavior. According the various legends, the Chupas attempted to suck any exposed flesh on those that they encountered.
My first challenge was to learn how to communicate. Their lingua franca was based on Spanish with a lot of words and phrases from other languages. The Chupas were not exactly unknown, but much about them was a mystery. As an ex-pat American, I hoped to get by with Spanglish and a little cramming.
My second challenge was to visit them. Again, I had good luck. Other than their reputed sucking behavior, they had the reputation as being quite peaceful.
For a few thousand Filipinas Pesos, not much in American dollars, I was able to get a guide as far as a path into their territory. That left just a few miles into their territory for me to go alone. When I arrived, many of the Chupas were waiting to greet me. Their appearance was quite surprising. Superficially, they resembled the people of South East Asia with olive skin, mostly dark straight hair and sparse body hair. They differed in that they had a sprinkling of blond or auburn hair, some of which was wavy. Perhaps their most striking feature was what appeared to be erythermas and hematomas (or hickeys as they are known) in various places about their bodies.
I was surprised to see a group of them waiting expectantly for me. It seems that I had been spotted along the trail, or someone had told them that I would be coming. They smiled and shouted “Hola” to me, and all I could think of was to respond in kind.
After some attempts at communication given my weak Spanish knowledge, the assembled natives decided to appoint a woman named Ann to guide me. I was amazed that Ann was so proficient in American English. She told me that she had spent quite a bit of time with an earlier traveler from the US, Duke Hanley. They had not only learned each other’s language, but he had left her tapes and books in English. Clearly, I would not be the first American to learn Chupa culture, but I could still be the first to document it. Ann told me that her friend traveled the world and kept a diary, but only for his own entertainment.
With our introduction out of the way, Ann took me on a tour of the settlement. The populations appeared to be in the hundreds living in thatched huts much like those in the South Pacific. Men and women wore skirts made of palm fronds. I didn’t observe anything that Westerners would call work, but there was some repair work being done on the huts. Some were casually eating the banana, papaya, coconut and jackfruit that grew abundantly. As with most of the Filipinas, there was little evidence of vegetables grown or eaten. Here and there pigs and chickens were barbequed. So far, nothing was out of the ordinary, except that the people mostly jogged and danced rather than merely walking.
After our short tour, Ann took me to the guest house and told me that she would see me the next day when the cocks crowed.
When we met in the morning, she explained the local mythology handed down for hundreds of years. People from the Western mainland left their homeland because of great floods. Much later when the Spanish missionaries tried to convert them to the Great Spirit in the sky, the Chupas largely pretended to accept Christianity, by mostly laughed it off. Since the missionaries left, the Chupas had largely been isolated and left alone, except for the occasional explorer. In her detailed telling the story took most of an hour. When she finished, I asked “How much of this gag am I supposed to believe?”
Ann looked startled for a moment and then began to laugh. After awhile, I was laughing with her. When she could talk again, she said “Not much. Most of us did come from the West, but not that long ago, and we are not the primitives we sometimes pretend to be. What gave me away?”
“So many things. After you left me last night, I wandered around as inconspicuously as possible. I saw one guy reading a book. Not exactly a stone age thing to do. Later, I saw Mack, the black guy. I think that I can say ‘the black guy’ because that is what he calls himself. He told me about finding this place after leaving the US Navy and never wanting to leave. I found out only a little from him, because he wanted to keep some of your secrets, but we did have a good time talking about our lives in America. If none of that had given you away, your ‘mythology’ is a mash-up of origin stories going back to Gilgamesh.”
“OK Dirk, you passed the test. We don’t like being treated like oddities, so sometimes we play games with outsiders. We do live simple lives. There is no hidden mall or arcade here and we like it like that, but we are not unsophisticated. Our ancestors mostly came from South China and what was Indo China in the time that Spain ruled the Filipinas. During times of misery in the mainland, the Spanish government in league with shipping companies would recruit people with promises of riches and even gold, playing on the California Gold Rush. When the people arrived, all they got was low paying menial labor. Escaping to areas like our highland was the answer for many. They found that it was easy to build dwellings from the local trees and palms, and food was there for taking from the trees. Chickens and pigs were added and let roam free for barbeques when desired.”
“That answers a lot, but why isn’t it widely known?”
“When the Spanish were overthrown, what little records there were, were lost, and the Spanish were not anxious to admit their shameful behavior. Our ancestors became fluent in Spanish and did keep records, which is why we Chupas know our history. The Filipinas government and the Chupas find it advantageous to maintain the mystery. They don’t bother us and we ask nothing of them.”
“Is there any truth to your reputation as suckers?”
“There has been a lot of confusion and exaggeration involved, but the story is even bigger than you are likely to believe at first. Some of the original immigrants from the Hong Kong area were orally fixated. Their ways spread to all of those that came to be called Chupas. Their rituals did involve licking as a way of welcoming people or as a romantic gesture. The legend is wrong in that we lick more than suck. You may not have noticed it because we were attempting discretion while we were unsure of you. You will have to convince yourself of the rest of the story. Our licking is a way of forming bonds of different sorts, including love. Licking tells us about the licked – whether that person is friend or foe, what he eats, or even whether that person is a likely lover. Before you dismiss this, think about what many animals learn from licking or sniffing other animals. Maybe there is a latent part of homo sapiens that we have uncovered. Chupas – sucking people is inaccurate. It should be Lamas – licking people. ”
“You are right, that is a little tough to buy, but I’ll attempt to keep an open mind. Another area – I’d like to collect saliva from your people to get a genetic fix on you – do you think that I can do that?”
“You can start with me and I’m sure that others won’t mind.”
I got out my collection kit. Ann opened her mouth for the swab. As I leaned in, she licked my cheek. I jerked away while she smiled and said “You may change your beliefs.”
I told her “I should break off our conversation for now and go write my notes from the day”, and left for my guest room with my head spinning. I ended up sitting down the rest of the day, unable to concentrate. Later that night Ann came to my bed. When I tried to keep her at arm’s length, she said “You can’t fool me, I’ve seen inside you. You want this.” My resistance wilted.
Maybe that night happened because my wife had broken up with me before I came to the Filipinas and I was lonely and vulnerable. Maybe I already liked Ann or it was the power of suggestion. It might have nothing to do with licking, but my skepticism was weakening.
Wandering around and talking to Ann and others I found out more about the people. Despite living a simple life, they became allies with an odd group of friends that had discovered their story. Billionaires that feared for their lives in a natural or economic apocalypse gave the Chupas financing in return for sanctuary if necessary. You have heard of some of the investors if you read Bloomberg. I have not yet learned what the Chupas did with the money. Environmental groups bought surrounding lands with the promise that the Chupas and their friends would provide enlightened stewardship.
Their apparent health was easy to explain. As noted, they ate natural foods. The climate at their elevation was good year around. With little work to be done, they spent their time with sports and arts. Both men and women played games with rocks of various sizes – throwing for distance and accuracy – and other kinds of track and field. They lacked exposure to electronic devices and the problems and stresses of the outside world, but instead had a taste for creativity. There was an amphitheatre where they danced, sang and put on plays. Writing in all forms was a popular pastime.
No place is perfect. The Chupas had some of the problems that plague mankind, but on a much smaller scale than I had previously observed. I will be staying here longer than I expected. It probably has a lot to do with Ann. Marriage or even exclusive relationships are not valued here, but I treasure my time spent with her.
After one of my reports on the Chupas was released, I accepted an invitation to give a talk on them at my alma mater, Portland State University (it was college when I was there).
I was able to spend some time looking up old buddies from my time at Portland State. I noted with some satisfaction that they had gained weight and lost hair. Jerry had done both and was stuck in a bad marriage with three kids. I shouldn’t feel too superior, I remained short. Jerry told me that my ex-wife Jelly had gotten a divorce from husband number two after he left her for a younger woman. As the guy that she left for an upgrade years ago, I looked at it as karma. For reasons that I can’t remember I was Jam and she was Jelly when we thought that we were young and in love. Jerry must have told her that I was in town because my caller ID indicated that Jelly tried to call me several times, but after running many scenarios through my head, I could think of no way that talking to her would be a good thing.
A couple of days of looking people up made it clear that Portland was no longer home. Seeing people from my past consisted of long awkward pauses followed by “stay in touch” or something like that.
When it came time to check in with Portland State I was introduced to my minder/guide, graduate teaching assistant Gretchen Simpson. She seemed quite subdued, the reasons for which became clear later. As she was showing me around Portland, much of which was changed since I lived there, she asked out of the blue. “Do you really believe everything that you have said about the Chupas?”
“I have firsthand experience of everything that I reported.
“You think that you can really find out about a person by licking him or her?”
“You can after you have studied with the Chupas as I have.”
“Would you care to prove it?”
My “OK” was followed by licking her right cheek using Chupas’ technique. While in the Filipinas for several years, I’d missed the “Me Too” movement, so I didn’t know any better than to do that without her consent. After about two minutes of concentration, I responded “You appear Caucasian, but have a significant amount of African ancestry. You are questioning your sexual orientation. That happens particularly now during your period. I didn’t need the lick to know that you don’t like me.”
Gretchen appeared paralyzed momentarily. Finally she said “Oh my god, you got at least three out of four.” I was wise enough not to ask which three. After that Gretchen became respectful if not worshipful. I learned that I’d made a mistake when she started touching me and whispering in my ear. My licking technique was not sharp enough to avoid giving her a romantic bond with me. I was fortunate that I only had to avoid her for another day until my talk was done.
During the talk to students and faculty I deemphasized the controversial elements of the Chupas’ society and treated the licking, and to a lesser extent the sucking, as simply a minor ritual. After the Gretchen experience, I wanted to avoid controversy. I succeeded so well most of the audience snoozed through my talk. I’ve always felt that that the audience should be the one to fear public speaking, not the speaker.
At the Manila airport an English language newspaper headline read “Licking breaks out in America.” Damn. In the body of the article “The outbreak has been traced to Ohio, but still has not been pinpointed more closely.”
I remembered that Gretchen told me that she was going back to Akron, Ohio to be a bridesmaid for an old friend. In my mind, I could see lots of her old friends doing kissy face when they met before the wedding. Up until that moment, I had no idea that Chupas kissing could work like Chupas licking. I saw the Chupas’ ritual in a new light. Could their behavior and ability be neither cultural nor genetic, but caused by a virus which had infiltrated their bodies? It was a stretch, but stranger things have occurred in animals. Biologists have learned that much of evolution has been through viruses which have settled in our cells. If my new theory is true, I must have the licking bug which was passed through saliva.
The authorities were ahead of me in some ways. They tried quarantine in Akron, but as I found out, the infectious wedding party had already dispersed though the U.S. The licking virus did no damage to the infected, but it did allow them unwanted invasion of privacy among the licked.
The rest is history, but I’ll do a short recap in chronological order for anyone who is too young to have lived through it, or anyone who missed part of the story.
Americans were not allowed to travel outside the country until they were deemed “disease” free.
There was a spate of sexual assaults by predators who falsely claimed they were infected by the lickademic, as it was called.
The Center For Disease Control urged Americans to spray disinfectant over all exposed body parts and to avoid exchange of bodily fluids including blood, saliva and ejaculate. The first part worked fairly well, but the second part failed.
The spread slowed significantly after the nature of the “disease” was discovered and the carriers were identified.
The CDC quickly came up with a vaccine and the lickademic slowed to a trickle. The anti-vaxxers urged their followers to avoid that vaccine as well as the better established vaccines.
Licking cults and communes for the infected sprang up around the country.
Senator Springfield sponsored a bill which would require the infected to wear a lavender armband. He may have been hoping for support for his presidential run. The bill was narrowly defeated.
An eccentric space and auto billionaire quietly maneuvered Delaware into a majority infected state as a social experiment. He wanted to see if the healthy living of the Chupas could take hold in the U.S. Delaware was one of the most infected states to start with and the billionaire bribed many of the uninfected to leave the state, and sold their homes to the out of state infected. As he put it “I want to see if the Chupa culture can thrive here.” The experiment failed, when to improve their lives, the billionaire cut off Delaware’s cell phone coverage, but a new political party, Lickadelican, became the major political party in Delaware and Vermont.
A former U.S. president tweeted from an assisted care facility that he owned “We need to contain these lickers. Build a wall around them. I think that they are cousins to vampires. My successor, what’s her name, hasn’t done anything to control the threat. Sad.”
That brings us to the present. I’m still with the Chupas. The reality of Portland obliterated the nostalgic glow that I had. I had no connection with my old friends, the traffic was intolerable, the local newspaper would fail an eighth grade English class and the government was as bad as ever. As for America in general, just play the old Guess Who song, “American Woman”.
Copyright Doug Hawley 2019