My Banana Republic
By: Bert Guiang
Written for a local paper in Oxnard, California
No, not Honduras or other Central American
banana- producing country but in the Philippines.
You see, my birthplace Botolan, Zambales
got its name from a certain specie of banana or saging. It is a
vernacular name for a wild variety called Musa acuminata. Certainly,
most of us are familiar with the seedless specie Musa baalbisiana, the
fruit or sweet banana whose popular names are Bungulan and Lacatan and
the plantain a cooking banana referred to as a meal, vegetable or
horse banana, locally called Saba. Incidentally, the plantain is where
the Spanish word for banana, the“Platano”
The Botolan banana is nearly filled
with black, hard and rounded or angled seeds and has scants flesh.
Although edible the seeds are nuisance and unpleasant just like eating grapes
with seeds. The Botolans are indigenous to my hometown.
I believe my town folks cultivate the Botolan
not for its fruits but for its hardy and wind resistant fleshly- stalked leaves
which are good for lining pots and bibingka rice cakes urns and
for wrapping desserts like suman, tinupak, and puto and
fish dishes like pinangat na dilis or steamed anchovies. The leaf
pretty much serves as a sort of condiment, for it enhances the flavor of the
food. The aroma permeating from the heated banana leaf makes the dish more
inviting. Even plain steamed rice when cooked in a clay pot lined with the leaf
has a distinct flavor, which makes it more appealing.
By the way, I found something related in
the internet…“In the Philippines, the Pinatubo Negritos cut off a
banana plant close to the ground, make a hollow in the stump, which then fills
with watery sap drunk as an emergency thirst quencher”.
And may I add as a side note, that the Pinatubo
volcano is located in Botolan and the aborigines are also Botoleneans but
we call them Aetas, which is Sambal-Botolanfor Ita. Some of my classmates and
playmates were Aetas. They’re very dark, short and with kinky hairs. We
speak the same dialect but they have a very pronounced accent and add a
distinct adjective like “amakeh” at the end of some sentences. I picked up the
accent, which we call the punto when I was a freshman and sophomore in
high school but lost it when my family moved to Mandaluyong, Rizal.
We seldom find a Filipino household in the
U. S. without banana plants growing in the backyard. In fact, we treat the banana plant as an
essential and thus valued more than the other fruit bearing trees. The first
cultivar that Filipino will generally plant is the banana. It’s almost like
when we move into a new home, we’ll bring in the rice, sugar and salt first
before anything else. It’s our sort of superstition to bring in luck and
prosperity to the new quarters.
to some cultures, there is another part of the banana plant that is edible. The
Filipinos considered the puso a delicacy, which is the unopened
tapered purple-clad bud at the tip of the inflorescence containing the
last- formed of the male flowers. It is used as a vegetable accompaniment for
some specialty meat dishes like paksiw pata or sometimes just plain
curried in coconut milk (ginataan) like they do in the Bicol region. The
young bracts are thinly diced or julienne and the flowers are cooked in its
original length and added on to the dish during the last few minutes of heat to
prevent overcooking, just like cabbages.
In the Visayan region of the Phippines, the
new shoot of young plant is cooked as greens. In a way, although this is not
their original intension, this is pruning of sort to preserve density; that is,
only the most deep-seated sucker and one or more of its offshoots (“peepers”)
are permitted to exist beside each parent plant to serve as replacement and
maintain a steady succession.
Here’s some trivia of the most popular
fruit in the world…
The banana plant, often erroneously
referred to as a “tree”, is a large herb.
Banana is considered one of the most
complete foods for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. We all know that it
is excellent for constipation for its high fiber. Also, being high in iron,
bananas help in cases of anemia. High in potassium, it is the perfect food for
beating high blood pressure. Research showed that potassium could assist
learning by making pupils more alert. One of the quickest ways of curing a
hangover is to make a banana milkshake, sweetened with honey. Bananas have a natural
antacid effect thus has a soothing relief from heartburn. Bananas are also high
in B vitamins that can help calm the nervous system. According to research in
“The New England Journal of Medicine” eating bananas as part of regular diet
can cut the risk of death by strokes by as much as 40%.
I owe a lot to the banana …like all the
material things I now have, my less than frugal lifestyle and my being in the
U. S and all. I might not show it now or will I ever be again, but I was a
skinny 95- pounder when I received my calling card from the U. S. Navy. After
passing the written examination, I have to go through a physical examination.
Of course early on, I realized I was very much under the weight limit. Thus, in
order to give myself at least a passing chance, I would have to eat so many “hands”
of bananas everyday to gain weight. I ate so many of them that the Japanese
“Hot-dog eating champion” Kobayashi would have been proud of me. I ate them
‘nanas” to the point of throwing-up.
As a result, after my induction, I vowed
that I would never lay a hand on them “fingers” again… but just like our
ancestors, the homo sagings, man cannot live by rice alone, we’ve got to
have the nourishing “sagings” after all.
Tampo, Botolan, Zambales
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Doon po sa Amin