The Man with the Bag

I’m slowly learning how to play this strange instrument, the kubing.

Found all over the Philippines, the mouth harp is called Kubing among the Mindanao trives [sic] (Maguindanao and Maranao), Kulaing in Cotabato, Subing in Visayas, Barmbaw among the Tagalogs, Kollibaw among the Negritos, Kinaban among the Hanunoo Mangyans, Afiw (made of metal) among the Bontocs, and Coding among the Ibaloys and Kalingas.

With this instrument, it is said that courtships are made and the common words and language of love and lovemaking can easily be expressed.

It turns out that you really shouldn’t hold it against the teeth, as I had been doing, but simply press it against the lips. I guess that’s how it became associated with courtship: it’s not very loud when played this way, and absent a microphone, you’d have to get it pretty close to a listener’s ear. If my own experience is any guide, there must be quite a high risk of spraying one’s date with saliva. Fortunately, folks at home won’t have to worry about that. With the microphone turned all the way up, you can hear my breathing pretty clearly, though, which may or may not improve the effect. “Man with the Bag” is my own off-the-cuff composition.

“The man with the bag” was something my maternal grandfather used to joke about. Evidently this was his own mother’s name for the bogeyman: Be good, or the man with the bag will get you! I don’t know if that came out of Southeast Pennsylvania folklore, or was just something she made up. Georgina Dresch Myers was quite a storyteller, I gather, and my Pop-pop, as the first-born of her three sons, must’ve been especially favored with her off-the-cuff bedtime stories. She was by all accounts a very bright woman, who pretty much ran the local Methodist church for many years. She lived as much as possible according to the Golden Rule and the beatitudes, and was forever scolding my Pop-pop for his focus on making and saving money — not atypical for a boy who came of age during the Great Depression. Pop-pop told us that his mother fed every beggar and hobo who came to the door, usually in return for some token chore so they would feel like they were earning their bread. There were many men with bags wandering through Pottstown, Pennsylvania back then.

8 Replies to “The Man with the Bag”

  1. Good lord, A-M, I didn’t realize you were blogging in English again! That’s great! (Well, great for us Anglophones, anyway. Though I suppose just about everyone in the Netherlands knows English, too.)

  2. Your jaws/jew’s/juice/mouth harp is constructed from bamboo, then, and not metal? Have you ever played a metal mouth harp? If so, how does this one differ?

    Listening to your audio file, I can detect perhaps a lack of twang, but…?

  3. Yep, bamboo. The twang is not so much in the instrument itself as in the way I shape the notes with my mouth. The vibrating tongue of bamboo somehow manages to produce a tone cluster that includes a low drone note, if I’m describing that correctly. This kubing was a gift from an uncle, after he returned from the Philippines to bury his wife, who was Filipina. I haven’t really ever played a metal jew’s harp, except to fool around on one a few times when I was a kid. But as luck would have it, last night I went to a free showing of the 1939 John Ford movie Young Mr. Lincoln, in which Abe was pictured playing a jew’s harp often to help himself think. (His explanation for the metal instrument’s strange name: “It’s descended from the harp that David played in the Bible”!)

  4. Gina – I think you’d have to order, though maybe one of the instrument stores in State College could do that for you. If you click on the link I gave, you can order through that website, apparently. I don’t think you’d get it intime for V-Day, though.

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