My Banana Republic Memoirs Part II
The archway to Barrio San Juan, Botolan, Zambales
Still reminiscing Botolan…
After my elementary years my mom decided to
move the family to Consuelo to be near her two siblings, which is
understandable since they were orphaned at an early age. My dad was working for NWSA and was
transferred to La Mesa Dam in Novaliches, Bulacan from Ipo Dam in Norzagaray.
While living in barrio of Consuelo, I found
out things that I would not have learned had the family stayed in the town
I learned some ways of the Aetas (Filipino
aborigines). I once watched an elderly male Aeta get into a trance while doing
the Anito dance to get rid of the malady afflicting another member of the
family, who was sitting still in the middle of the hut. He skipped-danced around
her while chanting. I was told never to smirk or show lack of interest of the
ritual or I will have to leave. It is at this barrio also where I became good
friends with some Aeta kids. One thing I found out is that they are good
athletes. They have good eye and hand coordination. They’re good at hitting the
baseballs, su-yo, buga, manilô and manirador. They’re also very adept at
catching fish with their bare hands.
I learned survival skills when we moved to
the barrio. Lunch or bawon for us boys from barrios meant whatever we caught
that previous weekend like pa-hi-ngâ or ugík which are whole frogs pregnant
with eggs, ábaw or beetles, bisukol or farm snails, fresh water fishes, like
and bundakî from the fields and tawonahan or eel, paliyâ or trout from the
river, or birds like bato-bato or wild pigeons we hunted down with our tirador
or slingshots. It was not cruelty to animals to us then but just plain food and
trying to enjoy the fruit of our persistence and perseverance.
I learned that most barrio men have exotic
nicknames. They are more popular or better known by these names than their real
names. This is the reason why I never got to learn the last names of some of my
playmates. And how they got them is a story by itself. Some older folks got their
nickname from their physical deformities like the guy named Pokol whose right hand
was blown out by exploding dynamite while fishing illegally. The more exotic
nicknames like Malayàng or a thrilling sensation , were verbalized or
formulated during the wedding night. I found out that some uncles of the
newlyweds and their cohorts would eavesdrop on the couple during the night and
whatever passionate words they utter will be the nickname of the groom for the
rest of his life. Sometimes these names are handed down to their heirs not by
choice but by default.
There are no streetlights since there is no
electricity. The hub of the social life or the place to go when there is no
school the next morning is at the lone sari-sari store which is usually the
only highly lit part of the barrio. Traditionally there is a long bench at each
side of the front (teller) window. The folks and kids would sit and shoot the
bull on these benches. It is usually the oldest folk who would be telling his
tall tales when us kids are not playing but are otherwise intently listening.
Their favorite stories are about the scary cigar-smoking giants called kapris,
the spirits of people who died of sudden death called multos and little men
called tiyanaks who live in dirt mounds.
Of course, their stories are “their personal
experiences”. Oftentimes these tall tales are validated by other folks in the
group, to make it sound like they are part of the chosen ones who are able to
see these unusual imaginings. This makes it much more believable in the eyes of
us kids. By this time, most or all of us kids have already scooted in towards
the center of the benches and would not attempt to venture to leave the lighted
area unless accompanied by another person. These older folks have no inkling
that what they were doing was planting the seed of fears into the kid’s minds,
which would later on have negative emotional impact on the rest of their lives.
In my case, I still would not go near open caskets during wakes. The first and
only time I did that was when my dad passed away.
Barrio folks have their own quirky way of
doing certain things too. Like telling directions…if they tell you that the
place you are looking for is just on the other side of the hill, like “marani
bungat… bay-hen buwat ha kag-mang nin bákil”, prepare to walk at least a whole
day. They tell distances by “as the crows fly” not by kilometers or miles or
When you invite one family member to a
gathering... prepare enough food for the whole family and their neighbors too.
That sometimes hind leg or legs of butchered hogs have a tendency to walk off
during food preparations too. There it pays to be vigilant.
Exaggerations when describing things are
oftentimes the norm. “Halos agko ana nen maka íreng ha kabuhuyan”, which meant
“I am so full, I can hardly get up” when asked if he had eaten or how he
liked the food.
When looking for someone who either went to
the bábo or top or hillside (highlands) or to the Ay-pâ or riverside (lowlands), if the old lady
answers, ask to please specify. Like
someone asked, “Ayri naglako hi bapâ?” or “Where did Uncle go?" And if the
answer went like this, “Anti ya ha bábo” or “he is topside”. Asked which
bábo? There was a joke going around that someone
spent the whole day looking for a person who was supposed to have gone topside.
It turned out that “he was on top of her at the time”.
I also got indoctrinated into finding and
using medicinal plants growing in our midst like Kalibetbet’s white sap was
good for cuts, chewing young leaves of guavas are good for stomach aches, the
juice from the matured guava leaves when boiled in water are used for cleaning
wounds (tulî), oregano leaf when heated is used to bring down fever or
sometimes cloth soaked in vinegar tied around the forehead will turn the trick.
I was shown how to attempt to purify water
from the river by digging a hole, then filtering the water through the sand
after letting the silt and other impurities settle at the bottom. Other tricks
of survival were to keep my legs and feet away from the carabao’s pointed horns
when riding them. I can make a slingshot from rubber tubes and bands and a
specially shape guava branch in no time at all or a bamboo trap for the
seasonal noisy and feisty bird, whose name skipped my mind.
Fun times at the barrio included
shenanigans like exploding a firecracker under a pile of carabao manure when
certain unsuspecting victims walk by. Wetting dressed up people with buckets of
water during San Juan fiestas. Following and teasing the girls we liked during the Patron Saint’s
processional walkabout to the church. House- to- house (not door-to-door for
houses were spread apart) Christmas caroling with friends. Moving the unsecured
bamboo stairs from the front door of the stilt-supported low-lying nipa houses
during the Halloween. Then going to the town cemetery on All Saints Day to
visit the graves of dead relatives some of whom were a big part of our young
Those are the good old days…poor living but
fun filled. Quality of life can be had without material things.
Tampo, Botolan, Zambales
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Doon po sa Amin