My Banana Republic Memoirs Part V
Still reminiscing Botolan…
In my humble opinion the hardest part in
primitive farming was the actual tilling of the soil. Perhaps I was not old
and/or strong enough to lift the aráro (plow) and the Huyod (harrow),
which was made out of bamboo and wood and pulled by the carabao to
pulverize and/or separate the large lumps of clay soil. I guess I tried my skills on it
just to get the feel and experience.
I remember getting red rashes over my
body that itched like hell after I helped picked the dalakerek (seedlings)
and riding the carabao. My grandma had to put talcum powder or almiròl
powder to relieve the itch.
After the rice has been harvested with a karet,
a special knife with serrated curved blade about a foot long with a wooden
handle to cut the stalks. The paddy was then threshed to loosen it from the
stalks. I remember riding the carabaos while threshing the paddy. The
carabaos or cows were sometimes harnessed in tandems or side by side and were
made to walk over a layer of sheaves spread in circles about a foot deep. The
sheaves were turned over several times with spading forks or rakes. The paddy
stalks were gathered into mounds, I believe we call them Pinanggeekan.
The paddies were not discarded but were feed as roughage to the carabaos, the
cows, the hogs, the sheep and other farm animals. They are also used in the
chicken coop for nests. And for us kids, they are natural “tent” material. We
just take the middle section out of the mound and carved out a cave. So warm and cozy (no need for blankets) but
sometimes gets very itchy. I spent a good portion of the bisperas and fiesta
nights in one of those.
My grandfather had a mortar and pestle
sitting by the kamalig or palay (paddy) storage shed. The mortar
was made from a large trunk of hardwood. The top center was hollowed out to
about 8 to 12 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches in diameter. The pestles were made
out of limbs about 3 feet in length, with both ends about 4 inches diameter and
gradually tapered to 2 inches towards the middle to form a handle so the
working ends can be rotated from left to right of the person doing the bayu (pounding).
The pestles have shiny handles from constant use. I get calluses easy when I
try them for a short period. I believe the mortar and pestles were used before
the rice mill comes to existence and when making palarok or pinipig. Its
principal use was used to remove the outer husk of the paddy to expose
the white or brown rice. Two people will
alternately hit the bottom filled to about 4 to 6 inches of sheaves in
synchronized motion. It takes practice to get the timing right for two persons
let alone three persons. The sheaves were then turned over so the bottom was brought
up to the top until all the husks were separated. It was then freed of chaff by tossing
it up-wind into the air. I am guessing this is how they make the palarok
(greenish young rice) used to add to halo-halo and also when added to
fresh coconut and panutsa in the mortar makes a good tinupak.
I remember my Uncles drying the paddy in
duck canvas mats laid along the paved highway in front of our house on sunny
days. The mats had U S Army stamped on it. (By the way we use the same type of
duck canvas in the Seabees to cover our strong-back tents) These mats are real
handy for they can be used as a ground cover during threshing and to provide rain
cover for paddy or for anything else. It is a treasured property because it is
so hard to come by, sturdy and thus become heirlooms.
Talking about coincidence, I did not know
that the U S Navy Seabees had ties to Botolan. When I was with the 32nd
Naval Construction Regiment in Puerto Rico, I
came upon an old Seabee book. We were cleaning up and discarding some archives.
I read the old hardbound book and saw Botolan in print; I decided that I
definitely had to have it so I asked the Chief Staff Officer if I could keep
it as a souvenir. The book talked about the two (2) Seabee lumber sawmills in
Botolan prior to WWII. One was in the
located in the barrio of San Juan
and the other in Batonlapoc.
The book also showed a picture of a 6 x 6
truck hauling giant lumber coming down from the mountains, which must be Bakilan
with some people sitting on the lumbers precariously. I remember
hitching a ride in one of those 6-wheelers when I was a sophomore in high
school from San Juan to the town proper. That the driver had a hard time changing gears (grinding
noises). I found out later on when I was in the Seabees that a driver had to
double clutch (from a gear to neutral then to another gear when up-shifting or
down-shifting), which is hard to do unless he was experienced. I almost had an
accident during one of our field exercises (FEX) when the truck started to roll
back a very steep hill ‘cause I could not downshift (find the gear) to give it
more power to make it to the top of a hill.
I also remember getting a bad case of
mumps (I did not know it was an acute contagious viral disease) in Bakilan.
We were crossing the Bucao river on a carabao cart
on the way to the Poonbato fiesta. My neck and part of my cheeks were so
swollen that my grandma had to put some blue powder (asul) on it. Since
we promised to attend the fiesta, and were afraid to suffer any misfortune for
breaking the promise of seeing the Ina Poonbato (the Patron Saint who
purported to have a miraculous character and was an object of veneration not
only among Botoleños but all the Zambaleños) we cannot renege. I was so
miserable but had to endure in any case or I will never forgive myself if
something bad happened to my grandma.
I used to go to the town plaza to watch the “Cortal” black and white movies (I don’t remember the movies but I
believe it was mostly Donald Duck cartoons, I just know that Cortal was a brand
of aspirin). The movies were free and were set up outdoors just like our
drive-in theaters but instead of cars we had carts and carabaos. Announcements were made through loudspeaker
secured on the roof of a jitney, which goes around town and barrios in the
morning prior to broadcasts the showing of the movie. I used to bring my blanket
and lay on the bagon watching with my uncles.
The thing that I missed most is the carabao
milk, which has a fresh and slightly sweet flavor. It must be high in vitamin
content and not high in bad cholesterol content judging from the consistency. A
farmer or sometimes his kid delivers them early in the mornings at the bottom
steps. We boil it to pasteurize then pour some over the steamed rice. No need
for meat or veggies or condiments. It was a dish itself already.
I also miss the native fruits like the lomboy,
atis, sigwelas, balimbing, kaimito, kamatchili, fresh kasoy and
nangka and kato; the veggies like piyas, malonggay and
fresh labong; the desserts like tinupak and tambong-tambong.
I can trace my love of reading and writing
when I was living with my Grandpas. It started during my elementary years.
Since I buy the “Bulaklak” and “Liwayway” magazines for my aunties, I get the
first crack at reading my favorite sections first before I take them home. I
would find me a nice cool shade and read all the articles.I got hook reading the weekly novelas.
Then, when my Tatay Mado started his Readers Digest subscription I started
reading the RD back to back too. (Tatay Mado had articles submitted to the
Readers Digest when he was a student in U.P.)
I thank God for my Botolan upbringing and
hope that someday, somehow, I can give back something. Indeed, one of my goals next year is to
establish a scholarship award in the name of my Grandfather Dalmacio Guiang for
a four-year high school in Botolan when I visit my mom. I hope I can do it
every year then maybe if I can twist my kids' arms to double it and establish
one for my Grandma Eugenia Basa too.
God bless my Banana Republic.
Tampo, Botolan, Zambales
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Doon po sa Amin