Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Farewell to a Great Isinay Teacher

She sang to us the Indian Serenade and Sweet Afton like we were kids that needed pacifying with a lullaby. In her characteristic mellifluous voice she animatedly recited several stanzas of Longfellow's Song of Hiawata. She taught us how to conjugate sentences in English and introduced us to such phrases as apple of one’s eye and emotion recollected in tranquility. And one time that the unmistakable aroma of green tamarind wafted in the classroom, she called our attention to the fact that the correct Isinay word for “sour” was maesom and not mapayit.

t the St. Mary’s High School in Dupax, Nueva Vizcaya, easily the teacher who inspired me the most was Mrs. Ermelinda Castañeda Magalad -- or Madam Magalad for short among us her students. Born December 1st, 1910, she passed away in Quezon City last February 19 at the age of 100 years, 2 months, and 18 days, and got interred at the Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. 

I’m doing a full post about Madam Magalad here not so much because she was the best English teacher I ever had in my 24 years of attending classes (since Kindergarten up to Graduate School) as because it was she who had unwittingly blazed the trail for me to take a second look at the beauty of the written word, including the Isinay language.

A Stickler for Correct Usage

It was Madam Magalad who taught me how to conjugate English sentences. You know the kind -- subject, predicate, object, indirect object, apositive, and all that stuff. (In fact, when  my cousin and St.Mary's classmate Jessie Lopez Castro texted me about our teacher's passing away, that was one of the things that immediately came to my mind. I recalled how one time I was the only one who correctly conjugated a difficult irregular sentence on the blackboard, and my two rivals for the top of the honor rolls looked like they just bit sour tamarind.)

Indeed, aside from introducing us to the concept of idioms, Madam Magalad was also a stickler for correct grammar and correct usage -- be it in English or Isinay. Her pet peeve was "taken cared of" -- it should be "taken care of", she said, as the "care" here is a direct object and not a verb. 

It was from her that I got to learn that the proper Isinay phrase for the English "a while ago" is besan ye and not umommo ya which in itself is wrong grammar. Umommoy, she said, is in the future, meaning "in a little while" or "later."

Today, we lesser mortals would of course refer to umommoy as "by and by."

Inspirational Poem-Songs

I'm not sure now (I too have my "senior moments") but during my time I think it was Madam Magalad who introduced "Laarni a Dream" to us First Year St. Mary's students.  But this I'm sure of: when I was in 4th year, she taught us the tune of "The Indian Serenade":

I arise from dreams of thee 
In the first sweet sleep of night 
When the winds are breathing low 
And the stars are shining bright.

I don't know if it was by design. She also taught us that the very lyrical "Sweet Afton" also had a tune, one that I learned decades later was similar to one of the tunes of the Christmas carol "Away in a Manger."

Anyway, I liked the poem/song's Nature-attuned words:

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream

Thou stock dove whose echo resounds thro' the glen

Ye wild whistly blackbirds in yon thorny den
Thou green crested lapwing, thy screaming forbear
I charge you, disturb not my slumbering fair

How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighboring hills

Far mark'd with the courses of clear winding rills
There daily I wander as noon rises high
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye

How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below

Where, wild in the woodlands, the primroses blow
There oft, as mild evening sweeps over the lea
The sweet-scented birch shades my Mary and me

Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides

And winds by the cot where my Mary resides
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave
As, gathering sweet flowerets, she stems thy clear wave

Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes

Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream
So flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dreams!

Madam Magalad sang these songs (actually poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Robert Burns, respectively) as if we were kids that needed to be pacified or lulled to sleep with a lullaby. But looking back now, I did love not only the way she sang them but also the way the two songs helped me fight bouts of homesickness years later in UP Los Baños.

I loved to sing snippets of the rhythmical lines each time I felt like quitting school and wanting to be just a child again and free to roam the hills and fields and rivers of Dupax. For instance, I would surreptitiously hum them when I did my laundry at the dorm. Or when I crammed for my Trigonometry exams. Or reviewed my bayong-full of leaves and twigs for my tree-identification subject. And when one summer I painted a long-horned carabao amidst the backdrop of a red-orange sunset as a requirement for passing Humanities.

In other words, those songs that I learned from Madam Magalad kept me attached to my Dupax roots. Mind you, it had not been easy. This was because it was fashionable then to belt out songs by the Beatles then the Cascades then Bob Dylan then Peter, Paul & Mary -- then the "Internationale" and "Awit ng Mendiola" and other such activist songs before Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972.

Tamarinds Are Sour, Not Bitter

Ah, memories! One time the unmistakable aroma of green tamarind wafted in the classroom, Madam Magalad didn't castigate whoever it was who brought the fruits to be shared among the girls in class.

Instead, this Isinay teacher of several generations (and daughter of the former Nueva Vizcaya Governor Alfonso Castañeda) went into a little lecture that the correct Isinay term for “sour” is not mapayit but maesom. (Sounds almost the same as the Ilocano naalsem and the Tagalog maasim.)

For the sake of this blog's readers, the Isinay mapayit is of course “bitter” in English (napait in Iloco; mapait in Tagalog). Thus, it is correct to say, in Isinay: “Mapayit di tamtam di apalyar” (The ampalaya tastes bitter). But it is wrong to say: “Mapayit di tamtam sompalo war an mata” (Unripe tamarind tastes bitter).

How I wish Madam Magalad was still in Dupax when I was asking around for the correct Isinay word for "smile."

For, indeed, it took a long time for senior citizens, including Bona^ si Isinay (Isinay Culture) Vice President Abraham Reyes who jokingly proposed mantatawa an marin man-awiwit di tamilnar (literally: laugh but not with twisted lips), to submit their respective guesses before somebody (Uwa Sofia Arroyo) came out with the final word mangumimit.

It took sometime, too, before my wedding godmother Francisca Felix viuda de Mayangat remembered her father use the term burarol when I was almost getting desperate asking around for the Isinay term for "kite." Before then, almost everyone I asked who played kites when they were young just said they grew up knowing that that plaything they call ullaw in Ilocano and saranggola in Tagalog was simply referred to as "kite."

I digress, but the prevalent use in Dupax of the English name for kite is similar to the case of the cricket (yes, the black insect made popular by the cartoon character Jimminy Cricket). My father's cousin Ambrosio Mambear and my former neighbor Guillermo "Base" Abijay Calacala Jr. could not recall an Isinay term for it but they do know that the mole cricket (the brown one) is called e-e in Isinay (ararawan in Ilocano, suhong in Tagalog).

A Church Choir Institution

There is a picture or rather a sound that quite often pops out in my mind each time I go to Dupax and visit the St. Vincent Roman Catholic Church (the most famous place in Dupax del Sur whose baroque Spanish-era architecture got it named as a UNESCO world heritage site).

The picture is that of the combined image and voice of Madam Magalad on Christmas dawn masses animatedly leading --

"Christians arise and loud let us sing
To a sweet baby born as our king
Come to a stable where in a manger
Lies a wee stranger bedded in hay."

I'm not sure now if Madam Magalad also sang during Sunday masses. On regular Wednesday afternoons, however, her sweet voice also filled the air when we St. Mary's students went to church for the novena to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (as part of the requirements in Religion) part of which included the singing of the --

"Immaculate Mary, we come at thy call
And lo at thy altar before thee we fall
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!"

Had it not been for Madam Magalad's leadership, many of us then would not have loved to sing with feeling the Wednesday novena finale:

"Mother dearest, Mother fairest help of all who call on thee
Virgin purest, brightest, rarest help us help we cry to thee!"

During Holy Week when we sang Tantum Ergo the hymn would not seem to be complete then if it did not include Madam Magalad's voice. She was not only our lead singer but also conductor and metronome as she set the keys that would enable us adolescent boys to sing the high pitches without going "kiyok-kiyok" (like wild cockerels) with our vocal chords.

There are of course other choir singers in Dupax then (like Apu Ane Bastero and Juan Dinu). But somehow Madam Magalad's soprano(?) voice would rise distinctly over the other church cantores as immediately after the officiating priest exclaimed “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" they rendered the truly glorious and heavenly
Gloria… in Excelsis Deo!
Gloria… in Excelsis Deo!

If there would be any semblance of competition then, it could only be the brightly twinkling star of Bethlehem "walking" (manlaar) towards the manger... while in the choir loft above the two gigantic columns at the entrance of the church, the Spanish national anthem is being played in deafening pitch by the combined forces of the rivals St. Vincent Orchestra and Eagle Swing Orchestra... and high above them all the unbroken bells in the kampanario (belfry) went tang-tang-tang!

Part of those bygone sounds and images inside the church, of course, were us kids attending the misa de gallo suddenly going awake, particularly the boys who immediately followed to church -- with unwashed faces, uncombed hair, still sleepy eyes and all -- any of the two orchestras as they went around the almost 8-shaped main road that looped around central Dupax playing Joy to the World or Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit in a recently done-away-with tradition in Dupax del Sur we called diana.

We would stay awake and would stay so until the mass is over or at least until the joyful pe-re-re-re... perep-perep-perep-perep... pe-re-re-re... perep-perep-pere! has stopped as the brightly shining bittuwon has reached the altar and Joseph and Mary and their entourage of shepherds complete with goats plus the three kings have reached the manger.

I hasten to add here that the apart from the huge "star" our eyes would be trasfixed on the belen that almost always had as backdrop a panoramic view of Bethlehem painted (on glued sheets of Manila paper or cement bags) by the Isinay artist Andres Bombongan who is now also gone.

Madam Magalad's Advice

In the late 1960s, it was still fashionable then for students to have slum books where one was asked by an owner to put in his/her hobbies, favorite motto, favorite actor and actress, ambition, etc. Some of them had Susan Roces, Amalia Fuentes, or just photos of red roses on the cover.

Not one to pass the opportunity of having mementos from friendly classmates, I bought this less riotous and definitely not of the artista-fanatic kind of booklet for one peso and fifty centavos. This one contained the same template asking autographs from people, including their photos (which in Dupax was next to impossible for students to have then, so the normal answer one would get was "see me in person"). And it had space at the bottom for remarks.

Towards graduation time (I think it was a break from Mrs. Magalad's rehearsing us with our graduation song "This is the long awaited day, this is the day we prayed to come..."), I suddenly thought it would be nice to have her sign my slum book. You know what she wrote in her characteristic long-hand?

"Remember journalism? You can do it!"

That single liner, along with memories of her maesom and besan ye reminders, became one of my guiding lights for a long, long time when I had to engage in some "emotions recollected in tranquility" even long, long after I left the portals of St. Mary's! -- charlz castro

1 comment:

  1. Got this emailed comment from Pamela Magalad, one of the grandchildren of the subject of this blogpost. I thought it would be nice to include it here as feedback to our tribute to the Great Isinay Teacher:

    From: pamela@magalad.com
    Subject: Farewell to a Great Isinay Teacher
    To: charlz1951@yahoo.com
    Date: Sunday, 15 May, 2011, 6:39 AM

    Hi Charlz

    Thank you for the lovely tribute to our grandmother, Lola Meling. We do miss her dearly, but we also take comfort with the thought that in her 100 years of existence, she will live on through everyone's stories. She was definitely a tough cookie and that's what we love about her the most; no compromise, particularly with learning and setting standards.

    My Dad, Alfonso, found your blog by googling Isinay. He's rather proud of being an Isinay. Anyway, we've sent your blog to Lola's children and the rest of the family across the globe. It's somewhat difficult to post a comment on your blog; hence this email.

    Once again, thank you.

    Pamela Magalad
    Melb, Au


    Dear Pamela,

    Many thanks for your feedback on what I blogged about your Lola.

    The last time I saw her was in 2008 or so, in front of the church in Dupax. Although she was hard of hearing then, I was delighted that when I mentioned my full name she still recognized me.

    Incidentally, up until now it is still a mystery to me which school Madam Meling went to in Manila and what degree she took. Can you please ask your dad about it?