I WROTE somewhere that if I were to choose a place for my final resting place, I want it to be on a hill overlooking a village in Dupax del Sur that has at least four names -- Surong, Daya, I-iyo, and Palobotan.
After having visited and scrutinized up-close that part of Isinay country early this year, however, I think I will have to retract that "will" -- for it is no longer the "everybody knows everybody" community that I used to know and happily lived in as a child. It is no longer that quiet and sylvan sitio/barrio that, as a young man, I looked forward to go to during weekends, during All Souls Day, and during summer vacations.
Be that as it may, before the beautiful images completely fade away, allow me to sing a swan song of sorts about that village that can probably lay claim to molding much of what I am now as a half-breed Ilocano-Isinay, as an on-and-off dreamer and writer, and as a leaf, insect, bird, hill, and river lover.
Let me start by saying that surong means "upstream" or "upriver" in Ilocano, daya means "east" or "where the sun rises" in both Ilocano and Isinay, and panlobotan is old Isinay word for "toilet".
As for I-iyo, I suspect it evolved or is rather a variant of U-uyo, the place allotted for ricefields during the Spanish period, along with Allawan (Isinay for "spinning wheel") and Manggayang (Isinay for "one who uses a spear").
For this essay's purposes, let's just call the place Surong. It was a sitio, then a barrio, and now a barangay that currently has my first cousin Robert Pudiquet for its Barangay Chairman.
As a kid, I came to know Surong as where my maternal grandparents Pedro Pudiquet and Feliza Lacandazo lived. My earliest memories of it include a wooden bridge for a gateway near which a gigantic pakak (breadfruit tree; antipolo in Tagalog) stood. I also remember most the bamboo-fringed banawang (irrigation canal) that my barrio playmates and I dipped in every day, and where we went to in summer to gather tiny freshwater clams that we locally called tukmem (sometimes termed bennek in Ilocano; asisip in Isinay; tulya in Tagalog).
Unlike their "populluted" condition today, the hills surrounding Surong when I was a boy were nice places for outdoor lovers to spend hours on. I loved most the one on the left when you face the Palabotan Elementary School. It had both a commanding view of the village of my youth as well as the pasto (pasture land) that formed part of my life as a hill-loving and "feeling cowboy" young man.
I remember that that was the first hill I ever got to climb as a child when my grandmother would take me with her to dig tiny shrubs for their ginseng-looking roots she mixed with siok-tong and dispensed as panig-an to her women patients who just gave birth. The hill was also beside the lot where my grandfather planted the kasoy seeds he brought from Coron, Palawan, which grew to be small but robust trees that became our source of pride as his grandkids when their fruits turned luscious yellow then red-orange.
The hill was part of my playground with my friends in I-iyo (Arthur, Duardo, Tony, Rilo, Dinong, Cardo) and relatives (the Lacandazo brothers Litok, Milit, Mamer, Junior, Tasio, and Castor, as well as my cousins Melchor, Peter, Robert and Emy/Tems Pudiquet). We went to the hill when we felt like wanting to test how our shouts would echo. We went to that hill to play hide-and-seek among the tanglag or just to try our luck at finding where the kulipattung bird built its nest. Snakes? If ever we heard of such danger, we ignored it.
Surong, of course, was our perpetual “supermarket” when I was young. It was not only because my maternal grandparents lived there and their house was always home to me and my siblings and cousins. It was also where we sourced most if not all the vegetables, fish, rice, banana, corn, peanuts, tugi, shells, ferns, and bamboo shoots that blessed our dining table in Domang. In fact, were we to put a peso sign to all the myriad goods that my family got from the place, the amount would be far, far more than the combined monetary earnings of my teacher father and my dressmaker cum hair-stylist mother.
We went to Surong during the first rains of April and May to catch abal-abal (May beetle; e-ve in Isinay). We went to Surong when Inang Feliza called for an impromptu family reunion over iniruban (daluh-daluh in Isinay; pinipig in Tagalog) which meant everyone had to pitch in from the gathering of the glutinous rice (diket in Ilocano; daya-ot in Isinay; malagkit in Tagalog) to its burning to its pounding then winnowing.
We went to Surong to hold family picnics by the river and enjoy the akasit, ahdaw, sappilan, dalah, tilapia, pattat, and alalu that almost always were provided by the then very rich river via the rama (lahma in Isinay; a fish-aggregating device made of stones and bamboo branches) often a half dozen of which my Apong Pedro built and maintained in the upper parts of the river.
Mama and I went to Surong when it was mushroom or kudet (edible tiny fungi called urapping in Isinay and tengang-daga in Tagalog) season or when the wild ampalaya in the uma (swidden farm) were big enough to uproot for their nutritious leaves.
Almost everybody in our part of town looked up to Surong during All Saints/All Souls Day for the kankanen (native rice cakes). Even when I was already a college student in faraway UP Los Banos, I longed to go to Surong that particular time of the year to renew my bonds, as it were, with the tupig (a delicacy made of glutinous rice, mixed with young coconut meat) roasted on flattened kerosene tin cans by my grandmother.
Surong to me meant freedom, friends and relatives, lots of fun and sunshine, immense joy when at play in the ricefields, the hills, or by the river, and when dealing with the things of Mother Nature. Surong meant unfettered hours catching fish with pana (fishing gun) or by sarep (damming part of the river)... playing cowboys with our carabaos... testing our bravery with the bambannagaw (chameleon), ampipit (a painful-stinging large ant), uyukan (honeybee), and balete and other such haunted places... or proving one’s capacity with the bites of the abuos (tailor ant), the itch of the budo-budo (butterfly larva whose hair causes skin allergy), the stings of the alumpipinig (a tiny hornet), or the scary antics of the alinta (freshwater leech).
Surong meant feasts each time somebody there got married. Nobody minded then if you are not related to any of the couples being wed. For as long as the cooks then were somebody’s relations, you would get generous shares of the ittip (rice tip in English; tutong in Tagalog, na^gov in Isinay) fresh from the giant cauldrons. We kids then were called to partake of the first food items laid on the long bamboo table even before the newlyweds arrived from church, after which we went to the nearby banawang for a dip and more play, then an hour or so later (depending on the thrill of playing in the water) we squeezed our way back again to the now more thickly populated dining table for another dig at the lauya, igado, dinardaraan and whatever delicacy it was that the Ilocano cooks often prepared during wedding in those neighborly times.
Surong was where I got circumcised at age 11 or so. This was in April, a Maundy Thursday if my memory is correct, when there was no school. The surgeon was the late Apong Berto Lacandazo, a younger brother of my Inang Feliza. The blood-letting rite was at the river across the then big kallautit (Tagalog kalumpit) tree where once, when I was still supot (uncircumcized) my friend Duardo Guillermo hit my bird with the fruit of the kallautit while we were all enjoying its sweetish sour fallen purple fruits. I remember it was normal for us barrio boys to go stark naked then and we would take time off from enjoying our diving and swimming in the nearby pual (deep part of the river caused by a fallen tree or bamboo clump).
Surong, many years earlier, was also where I first learned to sketch my name CHARLIE. My teacher was Uncle Atong (Liberato Pudiquet), younger brother of my mother. No, sir, there was no pencil nor pad paper. What we had was only a ruting (bamboo twig) over the rain-soaked ground. Uncle Atong wrote my name on the soil and told me to imitate what he sketched. I loved the challenge then even as it took me a precious hour or so away from playing with my equally curious playmates.
Surong was where I had experiences that my children nor any children even in the village will most likely never get to experience in their lifetime. One was sugarcane milling time using the dadapilan (carabao-drawn sugarcane crusher). Another was watching how the lapnit (bast fiber made out of the bitnong tree bark) was made into ropes with the use of a wheeled and Y-shaped contraption that twisted three long strands of the lapnit until became one sturdy rope. And another was when masked strangers came to the village with metallic cylinders on their backs and went from house to house to spray their insides with a smelly white liquid they called DDT.
Surong was where I had farm work not undergone by other kids. In my memory stands out tobacco growing and harvesting. I was once given my row of tobacco plants and after being couched by my grandmother on how to detect the green worms among the very green leaves, I did enjoy the newly acquired skill and power of hunting and squeezing them pests with my tiny fingers. But soon the call of the mountain clock birds became frequent and the sun on my uncovered head caused sweat to drop and the soil which a few moments earlier was soft and kind to my bare soles became hot like river sand on a summer day, I had to beg off and asked to go make a bubon (shallow well; tuvu in Isinay) by the river which took longer than usual as I was at the same time hunting for ripe kitkitiwit (Passiflora foetida) or ariwat (du-u in Isinay) that abound on the river banks in the area of Mammayang and Langka then.
Surong was witness to the many creatures I harmed or annihilated as part of my nature-rich childhood and business of growing up. Fish and snails were normal. The birrurukong (Japanese snail; kukkuluway in Isinay) were often targets of our slingshots if not used as projectiles themselves. For birds, our common targets were the pirruka, billit-tuleng, pagaw, sitsitik, tukling, pirpiriw, tiktikrubong, kinkin-od, garakgak, and kulipattung. There were also occasionally tukling, kali, kebkeb, tariktik, alimuken, puwek, kiyaw, and the nemesis of uncircumcised boys, the sakuk.
Surong to me meant a lot of insects. One could find there all colors of the dragonflies and damsel flies. During the first rains in April the bangkag and riverbanks would teem with abal-abal, arus-arus, sammi-sammi, simmawa, and barrairong. Other times there would be riyari, kundidit, ararawan, dudon, kuriat, and ansisilud. In summer, we boys would join our aunts to go durudor (poke with a bamboo pole) the nests of the abu-os (tailor ant; eha in isinay; karakara in Tagalog) in nearby trees and caught their falling white nymphs and eggs on mats or wide cloths then later cooked them for dinner.
Surong was where I encountered wildlife that were no longer common in the ili (central Dupaj) nor even in more rural Domang. Apart from box turtles (pag-ung in Ilocano; bau-u in Isinay), my grandfather often brought home river birds like tukling, tangad and kebkeb for me to play with and later, when I tired force-feeding them with shrimps, grasshoppers and alumbayad (earthworm; kolang in Isinay), I would let my grandmother roast them. It was also in Surong that I had my first sights of the reticulated python (beklat in Ilocano; sawa in Tagalog; ine^eyaddang in Isinay). The other wild creatures I got to see in the area were the bambannagaw (chameleon; banbanyahaw in Isinay), banias (monitor lizard; baniyas in Isinay), and mutit (civet cat; musang in Tagalog; amunin in Isinay).
Surong calls to mind those times when my grandparents were hosting the Ilongots who came down the hills either to barter their pindang (dried meat) and camote (sweet potato) with our salt and tobacco – or (this I realized later) to escape from being persecuted by the military sent to go after members of the tribe that cut the heads off the bodies of some Isinay kaingineros, including the reputedly muscular Turo^ Maejan and on a separate occasion the Fragata family who lived in a house beside the Lacanal’s house a block away from our house in Dupax and one member of which, Bobot Fragata, was once caught and furiously scolded by Papa while gathering the tumpup or bamboo shoots in our solar. (I’ll have a separate post later on the Ilongots and their headhunting practice.)
Surong once upon a time also played host to a platoon or more of fatigue-uniformed soldiers. I’m not sure if the names and numbers are correct but they sounded like 7th Infantry BCT, Tabak Division or something. They got a few of the younger and idle men to cut bamboos, gather pan-aw (cogon; giyun in Isinay), make bamban (split green bamboo used for tying) and pretty soon there was a kamarin (open-sided bamboo-cum-cogon hut) at the entrance of the village near the Jovinal and Raza farms, near where we got the tebbeg (lavay in Isinay; scientific name: Ficus nota) fruits for our trumpo (spinning top) and daldalig (wheel) toys. Almost daily, while the solddiers were camped there, there was a fiesta of sort as a dog, a pig or lots of dalag (mudfish) would be cooked. And since the area was one of our playgrounds and as it was normal for strangers to be objects of curiosity and attention by barrio kids then, we were almost always invited to join in their sumptuous meals. I have no recollection, however, of the soldiers having caught even one Ilongot brave. In fact, I don’t remember seeing them leave their camp at all.
Surong was where I first came to doubts about the benefits of logging. Even as occasionally we would be allowed to ride atop the huge logs fastened by cables on noisy logging trucks during late afternoons when we would go home to I-iyo from a day’s work weeding rice in Langka or Mammayang, I detested the way the crystal-clear rivers were often muddied by their road-building activities and a few years later their causing floods. Even as in the ili, the sawmill at least made firewood bountiful via the slabs and trimmings and barks they allowed us scavengers to get before being hauled off for burning, still I hated the way the logging industry brought strangers in Dupax.
Surong was where I saw how kariton, pako, tali, garong, dalaydayan, pattuki, tabukol, pagabelan (hand loom), inabel, tanggal, asar, and other such farm contraptions were made. It was also where I saw how cows and carabaos got branded, how worms (that caused foot and mouth disease) are taken out of the hoofs of carabaos, how a young carabao gets its nostril brutally punctured with bamboo stick to allow entry of its taldeng (small rope with knot or a piece of coconut shell on one end to make the beast easy to command). Related to this, it was also in Surong where we got warned to stay indoors each time a simaron or alsa a nuang (feral carabao) was in the vicinity.
Surong was where I witnessed how the landscape changed over the years… for instance, there used to be plenty of remnant trees called kadir in areas being cleared for bangkag (vegetable farm). There are no such black-and-white large trees now. Nor are there giant pungdol (tree stump; longor in Isinay) dotting the farms now. In fact, when I was in high school there were still patches of remnant forests on the banks of my boyhood river. The last time I looked, I hated the emptiness I saw. No more bamboos, no more kallautits, no more bitnongs, no more ariwat vines, no more fern "farms"!
Gone too was that pond-like portion in the farm of the Dotimas family where we used to go liwliw (angle) susay and tilapia when Gabriel “Buisit” Dotimas or his boys were not around. In fact, the last time I made a hesitant glimpse of the village on my way to my farm in Sinagat, I saw that the banawang that also formed much of my reasons for liking the place was also nowhere to see -- the river became mad sometime back and swept away all the vegetation, including the land of Lakay Pilis “Lawa” Raza that served as divider between the river and the banawang, and in the process erasing many traces of my boyhood playground, circumcision spot, and foraging ground.
Surong was where only the lazy could not survive. My grandfather had no titled land of his own but there were hills you could make kaingins in and grow upland rice, squash, tugi, and ube. There were flood plains you could plow and grow corn, camote, eggplants, cassava, tomato, mustasa. And the rivers were teeming with crabs, shrimps, and fish. The ricefields have leddeg, bisukol, birabid, and buntiek. Some creeks have suso or gusipeng and if you’re lucky they have giant frogs. The banks of the rivers as well as the sides of the irrigation ditches have ferns, button/cherry tomatoes, and gabi.
Surong was where the remnant forests had ratipan for ubog, rattan for barit, honeycombs for diro or at least allid. Almost anywhere there were bamboos underneath which you could go hunt mushrooms or bamboo shoots when they were in season. There were wild bananas whose blossoms (sabunganay in Ilocano; pusun si mahanila in Isinay) tasted more delicious when boiled along with bagoong into salad than the domestic banana varieties. There were abandoned uma (kaingin in Tagalog; sopeng in Isinay) areas where the decaying tree trunks and branches play host to edible and dryable fungi called kudet. At the time, one could build a hut of bamboo and cogon and grow camote and raise ducks by the river or on some idle lands and rest assured no one would question you for squatting.
Surong was where I heard stories of how life was in the early days, during the Japanese period…. The stories somehow set standards to follow, particularly as regards survival. For instance, what to eat, where to stay, when to do this and that. (More on this in a future post.)
Surong was where everyone knew everyone. It was also where, as a sort of recreation, many people were called funny names and were better known for their “birngas” than their true names. Examples: Karansiwa, Pagalmiduran, Manmanaas, Dippig, Sallukob, Nakset, Aradas, Dugang, Sisiaw, Buntiek, Purpuraw, Arikumkom, Lawa, Arikakkak, Buisit, Pangkis, Bangabanga.
Today, however, Surong is no longer mine. As they say in Isinay: "Ayyu-ayyu, beveyoy uwar siren mari^ tay amtan mangarug -- nawayir mot!" (Oh what a pity, my village when I still didn't know how to court ladies -- it's now gone!) -- charlz castro