I gave up on the Ontong mystery a long time ago. Ever since I came across this whole Ontong clan living in Bohol Island (part of central Phili-ppines) who apparently also do not have any knowledge of the other Ontongs living in their midst. Is that not depressing ? You would imagine that at least they would be aware of the existence of the other Ontongs in Bohol, but clearly they are not and Bohol is such a small island with only a solitary urban hub, Tagbilaran City.
Once in 1985, when I was Project Coordinator (fancy title for a funds delivery guy) for the Executive Director of the Philippine Bureau of Employment Services, I was directed to deliver the funds for a project in Zamboanga city (maybe you’ve heard of it – the place where there are a lot of Muslims and was the center of the world’s attention when one of the major leaders of the 9/11 tragedy in the US was arrested and another was killed in an encounter there).
So in 1985, once there, I was introduced by the local director to a Hadji Untung who was then pushing 80 (a different spelling yet again, but undoubtedly a relative) who said their branch of the clan came from Papua New Guinea and said his surname was formerly On Tung ( a Chinese spelling variant – the Hadji HAD chinky eyes and was fair-skinned !). He invited me to some kind of a clan gathering in my honor (since I worked in the country capital and was obviously a (?) high-ranking official in government !
So there I was with about sixty or seventy very old and very young Untungs and there were a lot of dances and stories about the journey the Untung descendants made from Papua to the Philippines (FYI, the southern parts of the Philippine archipelago was once connected to mainland Asia by land bridges which have since sunk to the ocean centuries ago).
But all the Hadji could tell me was the existence of the Ontongs in Bohol, because the Hadji said part of the tribe that came over from Papua got lost and if you observe the currents in the seas over there, once you miss the Zamboanga peninsula, you land right smack in Bohol Island, several nautical miles north of Zamboanga. And the Hadji was a well-traveled guy and said he has met several Ontongs in Bohol which is why he doesn’t wonder why they are there and why their spelling of the surname got changed.
Anyway, the end of the story is that the Hadji lived with us whenever he traveled to Manila, a Muslim religious living with Catolicos cerrados (i.e. dyed-in-the-wool Catholics). But then, Untungs are Ontongs, and my whole family embraced the kind, old guy as long-lost kin.
Again in 1999, in a sleek mall called SM Centerpoint in the heart of Manila, when I was borrowing movie CDs and the clerk was asking me my surname to locate on the computer, she typed up an Esmeralda Ontong. Surprise ! Surprise ! I did not know of any Esmeralda Ontong living any where in Manila !
I’ll save that story for next time.
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