Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Town Among The Hills

There’s a town way up there among the hills
Everybody there’s happy and gay
All the people there are busy all the day
Yet sweet smiles you see everywhere.
Oh town of Dupax… I’ll never forget
My humble home where I freely love to roam
Town of Dupax… keep me closer unto thee
Ever and forever we will sing thee mabuhay!

One's balik-bayan or homecoming would not be complete without a visit to say a little prayer inside the St. Vincent Catholic church of Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, Northern Philippines. Older than the churches of Laoag City (Ilocos Norte) and Vigan City (Ilocos Sur), this witness to the Dupax of yore has for over two centuries now (1772-2011) remained the most durable symbol of the Isinay/Inmeas tribe even as the beautiful Isinay language itself is now starting to dwindle -- much like the huge molave and narra trees, the dutiful carabaos, and the Isinays used to build this glorious monument. 

ONCE IN A WHILE a time comes when, walking down a garbage-littered city street the likes of those we now see common in Metro Manila, suddenly a flash of half-forgotten images appears in your mind’s eye and then, although you have set your self for a busy work day in the office, you fall prey to the itch to write.

And so you write or rather pound furiously at the computer, unmindful of the day’s deadlines and do so by consoling yourself that, oh well, deadlines can wait... bosses can wait some more time... but not inspired moments which, when left unattended, will surely no longer come back and as sweet as they first knocked on your consciousness.

A thing like that just occurred to me today, with the song about my town Dupax del Sur, in southern Nueva Vizcaya, above suddenly coming back to my mind and sending off myriad images that, while parading in my memory, surely kept me oblivious of the filth and the garbage and the noise and the concrete and steel jungle that is Metro Manila.

First, there was the image of ricefields framed on one side by gentle mountains and on another by glistening rivers. The blue sky accentuated by a few cirrus clouds here and there, and a gliding hawk out there... give only one message: these fields are fortunately not yet polluted.

Farther back in time, there were the grassy hills west of the Dupax Elementary School. The gurgling waters of Abannatan. The gigantic acacia trees in the St. Mary's and St. Vincent Church compound. The mango and sapang and guava paradise I used to play kites on in Pitang. The starlit skies when there was no electric lights yet in Dupax. The long line of carabaos passing by the house in Domang. The picturesque country road to I-iyo that swirled with dust in summer and was a haven of mud puddles when it rains.

There was also the panorama of the whole of Dupax when you went to gather firewood up there in the remnant forests of Mount Abuwew, or when girls and boys in our part of Domang went to climb the highest hill nearby and set a bandera among the wind-swept rocks up there. And there was the image of the place we called Tamuhaha where in grade school some intrepid upper-class boy would lead us to during very welcome teacher-meeting breaks and we would all troop to the site, like little soldiers, to gather all the pitcher plants we could (for what purposes other than showing them off to our girl classmates I don't remember), and on the way find a muddy guava left unpecked by birds or outdo one another rolling brown rocks downhill.

The images were of course more than the fleeting and intangible shadows of a bygone era when childhood was bliss and all the town was free playground and the rainbows were frequent, for they came in full color -- along with their respective scents and sounds even -- that were part of the now fast vaporizing mementos of a half-century-old city rat compelled to be like that by circumstances all pointing towards the need to earn a decent living and keep family and soul intact.
My town among the hills may not have the luxury of superhighways, glitzy hotels, fast-food centers, and shopping malls that cash-strapped people  may crave for. But at least it has sweet and bird-rich mountains, rice-scented and emerald green scenery, and fish-endowed and unpolluted rivers that are now becoming a rarity in many Philippine towns. Reflecting now on this September 2010 photo of the grandkids of Junior and Isabel Calacala, was it very long ago indeed when as a child in the 1960s up to the early '70s I freely roamed this upstream part of Dupax del Sur myself and enjoyed sun-kissed places, forest-fresh water, and the thrill of "fish jumping as high as the sky"?  

I shall later write vignettes triggered by those returning shadows of those days in Dupax when, oh well,as the lines of the Brothers Four’s song “Time to Remember” go:

...when grass was green and grain was yellow
and dreams were kept beside your pillow
and love was an ember about to billow.

July 24, 2001


  1. From: LATARP@aol.com
    Subject: Kumosta
    To: charlzcastro@yahoo.com
    Date: Sunday, March 6, 2011, 10:06 AM


    How are you? I don't know if you still remember me. Sa-on si Peping Latar. Ana' Uncle mun Apolonio Latar on Gregoria (Goria) Castro. I think my brother Jose was your classmate. If you remember, our house was by the gate to the Gabaldon school. I know your house was in the corner there of the loop around Domang. I remember, when coming from the Gabaldon school, you go all the way to the Laccay's house, turn left and at the end, before you turn right, is your house. Am I correct?

    I saw your article and pictures about Dupax and I just want to thank you for writing about the Isinay culture and language. I heard that Isinay is on the decline as children in Dupax, even those of Isinay parentage do not speak the dialect anymore. That is sad.

    So much for that. Gosto' lojom an mampasalamat i-si-a' for promoting the Isinay people, culture and dialect. Kumosta't Uncle Vicente on si Uncle Ermin?

    Best Regards to all.

    Thank you,

    Perpetuo C. Latar
    Bank of America / Merrill Lynch
    New York / New Jersey


    Hi Wa Peping!

    Of course, I remember you as the guy who always had first honor ribbons from Grade 1 to High School.

    But this you probably don't remember: you were a staff member (or was it editor?) of the St. Mary's College LINK and you wrote something about how to pronounce "ghoti" and some other copies of the student paper found their way to St.Mary's Dupax -- and I was so proud that a person I knew had his name in print and there and then I also resolved to also break print soon.

    Oh yes, Joe was my classmate also from Grade 1 to High School and was in fact part of my close-knit group of Isinay-speaking friends (that's why I was always excused by Auntie Goria or Uncle Polonio each time the guavas by your fence turned yellow and boys and girls at the Gabaldon-Prefab complex could not resist giving in to the temptation).

    Joe emailed me once to say you taught for sometime at the University of Baguio; I also did part-time teaching at UB's Arts and Sciences Department in 1977-78 -- and that's where I found my wife who mad me settle in Baguio ever since.

    You're correct in your memories about certain spots in Domang. But did you know I preferred taking the short-cut route that passed by Pitang? No matter if I would have my short-pants get full of amorseco, I loved that carabao trail as it enabled me to munch guavas, sapang, kamiring, and sompalo that were all free for the taking then.

    Ah, how fast time flies. You must now be 65. Da^mi y Joe ya man-60 ami tay lojom (Joe in July; saon ila ya Agosto).

    Papa passed away March 11, 2005; Uncle Ermin died December 15, 2004.

    Oh yes, misalsalamata^ podda, uwa, toy tinuwilim di man-ojar an blog u. It is a merry mix actually of my boyhood memoirs, samples of my more kilometric writings, and photos that I happen to take once in a while that I am able to visit our hometown.

    In fact, I'll have one post soon that will probably interest you -- about the Gabaldon building that certainly had been part of your waking hours when you were still warm bodies directly in front of the Dupax Elementary School.


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