Friday, January 21, 2011

Indigenous Toys of Dupax Boys

WHEN I WAS growing up in the fifties to the sixties, we boys in Dupax also had many toys. Unlike most if not all kids today, however, our toys were live animals (like turtles, dragonflies, and maybeetles) or were directly made of bamboo or gathered from the trees (like the fruit of the tibig) or crafted from discarded materials  (like sardine cans, slabs from the sawmill, flower sheaths of the betelnut palm).

We called this palsuot in Ilocano. Tagalog boys call it sumpak. It consists of about a foot of bamboo branch open on both ends for “barrel” and a “trigger” made of 3 o 5 inches of same diameter but equipped with a sturdy and polished stick enough in length and thickness to go through the hole of the barrel. The “bullets” would be any soft material that could be plugged on the top end of the barrel then pushed through to the other end. Bullets could be wet paper, kapok flower buds, herb leaves, and unripe fruits of sapang (karrarawit in Ilocano; lubalob in Tagalog; scientific name: Bridelia stipularis) [see photo]. To operate, push one bullet towards the end of the barrel, then put another at the top end. When you push this second bullet, the air inside the barrel is compressed and pushes the other bullet out of the other end, creating a PLOK or other such popping sound. Innovations include putting a broken off 7-Up or Coke bottle neck to make the popping sound louder. Some have a hole on the side with which to push a succession of bullets, thus getting a semblance of rapid fire. It is fun playing longest-distance shooting or war games with this toy – some kids take too long chewing bits of paper for bullet; others take too long pounding the bullet to allow for tighter air and thus stronger shoot.

Made of flat oval cans of sardines, the big ones. I seldom see these types anymore, but earlier the common brand was Rosebowl; one time in Dupax, a brand carried the name NAMARCO. The tin cans were good feeding trays for dogs, drinking bowl for chickens, containers of laundry soap (Perla or Argo) along with wash cloths and is-isu (bubbur in Isinay, this is a smoothened river stone used for rubbing body dirt), and organizer for nails, screws, and other small objects. But we often gave our old folks a stiff competition because the tin cans made good trucks (we had no concept of cars then). We bore a hole on one end and attached a string to it which we used to pull the thing. Almost always, our trucks’ loads were stones, sand, dust (tapok), and even a kitten or puppy. I recall one time there were plenty of Atlas moth larvae (fat, green ones) and the dreaded atattaru (Isinay term for an itchy worm; igges a makabudo) and we loaded and played with them too. For variation, a sardine-can could be opened only a little over halfway such that it has its top lid on; we folded this lid to resemble the roof of a bulldozer or a truck. More enterprising kids attach small Liberty or Darigold evaporated milk cans for wheels.

This is the slingshot we call baris in Isinay (tirador in Tagalog). This was my favorite multipurpose toy when I was a boy so much so that I have become an expert in making it (although not necessarily in using it). Many a perfectly Y-shaped guava twigs were sacrificed for the handle (pakawan) which I would first hunt in Pitang’s wild guava groves then tie with buri (silag) leaves to keep them trained (as in a bonsai). When finally I get to buy rubber (lastiko) from the market at Malasin, I would cut the guava branch and carved the handle into the desired U-shaped thing. I was wary not to go for the wide open Y handle as other kids would laugh at you and call your slingshot sawak. One time my Uncle Carting "Pagalmiduran" Legazpi has managed to get an inner-tire-tube from the sawmill, he let me cut my own supply of rubbers. Using Mama’s sharp scissors that she kept in her Singer sewing machine, I would go to Uncle Carting’s house and snip narrow shreds of rubber for tying the main rubber to my U-shaped pakawan. I would later abandon using these black truck-tire material for the more classy, well-trimmed and colored lastiko in Malasin that cost 25 centavos per length. Oh yes, the thing would not be complete if you didn’t have a palalat or that leather thing you attached at the other end of the rubber and on which you would set the stone for propelling by the rubber. I also happened to have an endless supply of palalat in the form of Papa’s discarded leather shoes. Other kids would use discarded upper soles of their mother’s bakya, which was not often good material. My slingshots were so artful I would not be ashamed of using them on my neck, like rosary or necklace, each time I would go out of the house. Not once did I also annoy Mama because I would pilfer some of the rubber bands she used for her hair-curling (kulot) livelihood as their red or pink colors blended well with my red or green main bands. As for Papa, I got his ire once when I lent my palsiit to my favorite cousin and playmate Nelson who used it to hit our neighbor Salin Calacala one time they quarreled and Uncle Ermin got the slingshot and shred it to pieces with a bolo while giving Nelson a scolding. Other recollections: Papa would capture slingshots from his Grade 4 pupils and bring them home. But he would not necessarily give them to me as gift then as I preferred the ones I personally made; besides, I didn't like their odorous smell that we called meyangdur in Isinay (naangdod in Ilocano). My sister Judith would of course choose one and, because I was her idol at the time, she would also wear one on her neck the way she would often see me wear one like a necklace. However, I have no recollections of the tomboy that she was ever hitting a bird or a mango with her slingshot.

Called dalih-dalih in Isinay, this had many variations: one with a meter-long stick/pole just to push around with, another with a bird or butterfly carving at the end and their GI sheet wings are attached with wire to the wheel such that the wings flap if you pushed the thing. The dual purpose (for play and for water-fetching chores) consists of a 2-meter sturdy bamboo pole that had a handle bar and could carry another kid or a pail of water. Some have two wheels of tebbeg (a fig tree; tibig in Tagalog) fruits; others with wheels made of sawn ends of round poles/posts. The dual-purpose or heavy duty ones usually have one sturdy wheel made of chiseled wooden board big and durable enough to carry loads. You could use discarded wheels of kiddie bikes for wheel or even those of a wheelbarrow. I saw one equipped with “busina” made of a string at the end of which is a milk can; if you pulled the string, a sound is made.
Much working like a water gun, this I usually made of the slender stems of the bulo (see photo below) that our elders discarded when they made garong (a huge bamboo basket used to store palay), this is simply a tube with the node left intact but with small hole on one end  and the other end opened to allow the entry of a stick with cloth coiled to it. The tube is filled with water which spurts into strong squirts when the pusher is pushed -- yes, it worked like a piston. We used this as toy when we bathed in the banawang (irrigation ditch) or when there was not much to do in the neighborhood and so we had all the time to play and chase the dogs and chickens and ducks in the whole neighborhood in I-iyo. If there were no dogs to chase (as they would often run for dear life in their langgotse beds under the ladders of houses when they see us terrorist barrio goons coming), we would use as target for our water guns a water-loving pig tied under a langka tree. Or we would compete as to how far the water from the nozzle reaches. Sometimes it goes up to10 meters.

A hollow bamboo tube made of the thin bulo (uhaw in Isinay; boho in Tagalog; scientific name: Schysostachium lumampao) bamboo. We polished the mouthpiece to prevent injury to our lips. Then we would find seeds of the bugayong vine and use it as bullet. No. sir, we didn’t use mungo beans and the like as we valued their use as food. To operate, you put one seed to the tip of your tongue, set it on the mouthpiece of the tube, then in a strong spewing action often with the sound of “pit-tuww” you hit the target you and your playmates fancied, like a sleeping dog or a hen with newly hatched chicks.

This is the bamboo toy that most often comes out in December when I was young, particularly when the St. Vincent and the Eagle Swing orchestras have awakened the whole town with their marchy music to encourage them to attend the misa de gallo masses (from Dec. 16 to 24). This flute-like toy produces musical sound depending on what tune you blew it on. The life span of the torotot however is only a few hours or as long as the bamboo film that gives the sweet vibrating sound lasts. To make one such flute, you have to have a green or half-mature  bamboo branch with less than one-fourth inch hole and has one-inch diameter. Cut one lawas (biyas in Isinay; internode in English) about one foot long of the green bamboo branch and remove the nodes on both ends. Smoothen one end to form the mouthpiece then leave the other end as is. Using a sharp bolo, you carefully sliced off one side of the less than foot long bamboo with the intent to expose but intact and uninjured the white film that forms part of the core of the bamboo. If the film gets broken or punctured, the instrument will not make a sound. 

The kadang-kadang is the bamboo stilt that was a favorite toy of both Ilocano and Isinay boys when I was going to school in Dupax Central. I don’t know how it started but word got around that a senior woman named Baket Ayang was mad at boys who passed by her house (Parucha’s house, before the Benitez) “aboard” such bamboo stilts. Pretty soon, a song to the tune of  Paul Anka’s “Diana” would be shouted by the more naughty boys with these words: “I’m so young ni Baket Ayang, iparitna ti kadang-kadang, aglayus ti karayan…” I was an expert in using this one and, imagining that there would soon be a kadang-kadang race during the fiesta, I practiced jumping onto the foothold of the stilts and race as fast as I could. I started with ones that had about  one-foot-high foot-holder and graduated to over two-feet-high items that made walking on muddy roads or crossing the river easy without wetting your legs. The tall ones also made us safe from dogs.

Called ta-i-tâ in Isinay, this instrument is called bamboo clapper in English. It is usually made during Good Friday and used  in place of church bells, that is, to announce the start of the Black Friday procession around town. In earlier times, it is said this instrument was used to warn the neighborhood of the arrival of pirates or visitors, while some farmers use it to drive away the swarms of sparrows that attack ripening rice grains with its "plak-plak-plak" noise that could be heard perhaps even a kilometer away specially at night when all is quiet. To make one palakapak, you have to select a well-seasoned bamboo or what they term in Isinay as neyamsan (natangkenan in Ilocano). Aside from making a more audible sound, this seasoned bamboo didn't break easily. Depending on your height, you can choose a bamboo pole a meter or more in length. The fatter the pole, the better. Then with a sharp bolo or better yet a hand saw, carve out about a foot-long hole on the nodal end of the pole taking extreme care so that the pole will not break. Carve out a similar foot-long hole on the other side of the first hole, then scrape the "wound" to remove sharp edges that may cut your fingers. Then turning now to the other end of the pole, get a sharp bolo and split the pole into exact halves until you reach the gaping foot-long pair of slits and making sure you don't totally split the pole into separate halves. After you've successfully freed your bolo from the pole, your bamboo clapper is now ready for use. You can hold the end of one side of the halved pole with one hand and the nodal end with another and proceed shaking the contraption the way you clap your hands. You can "clap" the halves into the sound made popular in the early 1960s that we called "Let's Go!" and went like this: "plak-plak... plak-pla..plak-plak... plak-plak!" -- CHARLZ CASTRO

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