oday I paid a visit to Galleon Trade captain Jenifer Wofford's home studio. More will be posted soon about La Woff, but there was one strangely lovely story that came out today that needs to be on this blog.
Apparently, in the spring of 2000, a southern Philippine Islamic terrorist group staged a mass kidnapping from a beach resort on Sipadan. The hostages were held for ransom for months, while the kidnappers dragged them around the jungle ahead of the Philippine authorities and added to their number with further kidnappings.
But in July 2000, one of the newly added hostages, a German woman with a complex of medical conditions that made her captivity a matter of life and death--even if her captors had not been capable of beheading her--became a minor local cause celebré, being the cause of a defingerization.
A freelance script writer named Leah Cabullo, who was on Jolo island, where the hostages had been taken, along with a passel of journalists, decided one night to
cut off a piece of her left middle finger and use her blood to write a letter appealing to Islamic extremists to free an ailing German woman among 40 hostages held in a southern Philippine jungle.
... Cabullo, a Manila-based freelance writer in her 30s, refused to leave her rented room at a retreat house in downtown Jolo and spoke with other journalists covering the 80-day standoff through a window. Blood was scattered at the lobby outside her room.
"I cut my finger as a sign of deep sincerity," she said.
The letter appealed for the release of 56-year-old German housewife Renate Wallert, ... who suffers from hypertension, a chronic anxiety disorder and other ailments.
Rosa Banagudos, a caretaker at the retreat house, said Cabullo was rushed to the Sulu provincial hospital for treatment after the bizarre act. The detached portion of the left middle finger was placed in a bottle filled with alcohol.
"I was still sleeping when I heard her scream," Banagudos said. "I rushed to her room and saw her hand bloodied. I didn't see what she used to cut her finger."
According to a friend of Cabullo, the severed portion of the finger would be sent to Robot and Susukan with the appeal letter, written in blood on white linen paper. The offering would be delivered by a courier sometime on Tuesday.
Note: "Robot" was the nickname of the terrorist commander. Delicious, no?
There's not much else to be found about this story on the internet, in any language. I even checked the Filipino Google, but no dice. Not even any follow-ups, although you'd think that the press would fall all over themselves to find out if it worked.
And the funny thing is, according to Woff, it did work. All the stuff I found chez interwebs about the hostage crisis never mentioned Cabullo as a reason, but Renate Wallert was released less than two weeks after Cabullo's sacrifice. This article attributes that to payment of a ransom, but her husband and son remained with the kidnappers until a month later (for the husband), and nearly two months later (for the son). It's not clear how much ransom money played a part in the men's releases.
This article from Asia Week has only confusion to report about Renate Wallert's release:
The 85th day dawned with the release of the first Westerner, ailing German Renate Wallert. The Europeans say neither they nor Libya agreed at the time to pay a ransom for Wallert. In the Philippine and German press, it was reported that $1 million was paid. Sources allege Aventajado raised $1 million through local businessmen and sent Dragon to make the payment. They also allege Aventajado asked Germany for a refund, but that officials refused. Aventajado denies all of the above: "That is not true."
The article doesn't mention Cabullo.
Well can I believe that Cabullo got Renate released ... and well, too, can I understand Woff's fascination with the story--which prompted her to center her installation Kandingan around a drawing of the only photograph she could find of Leah Cabullo ... holding up her maimed hand.
There's something inside that wants an extreme act like this to be able to affect people. I'd just call someone like Cabullo crazy to the creepyth degree. But then, if you're dealing with Islamic fundamentalist kidnapping beheaders--who risk their lives and international relations for arbitrarily chosen ransom sums, and then waste statesmen's time bickering over how to divvy up the take--how do you prove your sincerity, really, truly?
None of this stuff--terrorism, kidnappings, beheadings--is really capable of shocking anyone anymore. It's too commonplace and understandable ... or else too commonplace and permanently beyond understanding. What's shocking is that a civilian figured out how to speak terrorese from the point of view of the powerless. It seems crazy, but it also seems like she was the only who got through--or cared to get through.
Between a crazywoman and a transported, orgasmic Saint Theresa-type, Cabullo wants to strike me as the latter. Catholic redemptions are not far from the imagination when thinking about weird Filipino phenomena, for obvious reasons. Something wants there to be the closest thing we have in real life to magical realism: some kind of inspired, gritty communication, some kind of understanding-beyond-understanding, to exist in fanatical jungles and distant motherlands.
How strange and beautiful and creepy such things are. I wonder what she's doing now. I hope she hasn't been declared mentally incompetent.