Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dupax Medicine for Skin Allergies

(NOTE: This piece was inspired by an allergy I acquired while vacationing in my hometown Dupax del Sur last April 27-May 2, 2011.The allergy was caused by my having eggs and nymphs (see photos) of the tailor ant (abu-os in Iluko, eja in Isinay, karakara in Tagalog) for dinner on April 30. Even if the itch lasted only for the whole night -- and even if it made me panic quite a bit and led me to send frantic text messages to a cousin in the neighborhood, my daughter Leia who was at Cagayan de Oro at the time, and two of my sisters who also happened to be away in Manila at the time -- at least the event brought back memories of how life was when I was growing up in the hills, fields, rivers, forests, and meadows of Dupax.)

Top photo: Uncooked tailor ant eggs and nymphs being sold at the Dupax del Sur market in Domang at 25 pesos per atado (in this case about 1/4 kilogram by my estimate). Lower photo: The cooked variety (Mama used little oil, garlic, tomato, and salt for this one) -- I ate with gusto the one on the right, including the ones with wings (probably the worker ants or soldier ants) that I first separated on the rim of the saucer. A couple of hours later, while everybody was asleep, my fingers and the back of my ears started to itch like they were stung by dozens of mosquitoes. To "stay alive" I drank around six glasses of water and stayed calm by watching replays of the wedding of William and Kate on TV.

Pity boys and girls of today who have not experienced climbing trees for their fruits or even only for the sheer joy of being above ground, looking at the surrounding from a new vantage point, and swaying up there on a shaky branch with the breeze.

I was fond of climbing trees as a boy – guava, tamarind, mango, staraple, santol, sarisay, duhat, anonas, guyabano, siniguelas, langka, sarena, alukon, kapok, bitnong, akasya, avocado, bugnay, ar-arusip, tebbeg, mabolo, banaba, katuray, daldaligan. Also coconut, bamboo, buri, anahaw, bua, papaya, sapang, banana, and tangan-tangan (jatropha).

I climbed these trees/bamboos/palms for all reasons – to taste their ripe fruits as the case may be... to inspect bird nests... to test my Tarzan skills... or just for the fun of it. As a result I often got exposed to itchy objects, like the budo (trycombs?) of the atattaru, bangbangawan, and other such butterfly larvae or worms. 

Apart from falling along with a branch of a fruit-laden bignay tree (the branch I was enjoying purple fruits on broke off from the trunk and went down with me riding like on it as on an airplane) once, on a few occasions I also also got stung by the trees' natural security guards – tailor ant, wasps (alaksiyot,alumpipinig), stinging big ants (abubbulij), honeybees. Lucky for me, I was never victimized by tree-dwelling snakes and the deadliest larva of them all -- the sambrid (tu^bu in Isinay; mamaso in Tagalog) -- of which I heard stories about healthy carabaos dying after ingesting the green and hot-stinging larva usually attached on the grass.

If I had not been forewarned, I would have also climbed taboo trees like the ones Ilocanos call lupaw (lipang kalabaw in Tagalog; also called tu^bu in Isinay), the leaves of which are said to cause burning pain when they come into contact with the skin. I was also careful not to touch the leaves of the kamiring tree whose peanut-sized fruits looked like miniature kasoys and looked irresistible and indeed tasted sweet when they turned yellow then orange when ripe.

Of course, I never did get brave enough to climb the strangler fig (balite in Ilocano; balitiyon in Isinay; balete in Tagalog). As I mentioned in a previous essay here in this blogsite, the balete is believed to be a haunted tree. Where I lived, I remember that even the most foolhardy among Ilocanos and Isinays in Dupax then did not dare push their luck too far insofar as this tree was concerned.
Aside from tree-dwelling agents, however, I was also exposed to some more sources of itch. For instance, the green juice coming out of the mouth of grasshoppers was itchy if it got in contact with your skin. I personally discovered this not so well known fact because aside from climbing trees in the neighborhood, I was also fond of taking care of martines birdlings (donated by my Calacala neighbors and Pudiquet uncles).

To feed my bird pets, I would scour the grazing grounds in Pitang all day to run after grasshoppers with a swatter. There were no plastic bags then, dear reader, so I put my insect collection in one of my shortpants’ pockets (another is always reserved for marble-sized pebbles for my slingshot), and pretty soon I would feel my leg (where my grasshopper pocket was) become itchy as the insect saliva seeped through the cloth.

Even carabaos and dogs were sources of itch. In the case of carabaos, more than twice my love for riding the friendly farm animal made me so stubborn I ignored the warning not to ride on a newly bathed carabao with no jute sack (langgotse) mantle between my raw legs and its hide, particularly if the beast was newly barbered. Called rarasa by my Ilocano grandmother, the allergy on my legs and buttocks would soon turn into ugly scabies when not treated. (Now it can be told: this was how I got to acquire the ugly scars on my buttocks, scars that make me ashamed to try on skimpy swim trunks or to try the G-string in public.)

As for the dogs, the itch one gets from them is through contact with the grass where they chewed blades to cleanse their innards of toxic matter. "Nakapayatka iti nagaraban ti aso" (You stepped on a grass grazed by a dog), Mama would say when I complained of ultra itchy toes at night.

So what did we do when we acquired skin itch from the flora and fauna we got exposed to when we played outdoors?

Home Remedies for Skin Itches
If at home, first to the rescue would be powder. Mama always had Johnson's Baby Powder for my sisters while Papa had Talcum powder that he used after having a haircut. As if to attest to its efficacy, my sisters also always sought the soothing comfort of the powder each time they had bagas ti ling-et (literally "fruit of perspiration") on their backs, especially during the hot summer months.

For more malignant rashes or hives, Mama’s Vicks Vaporub always came in handy. She always had the ointment around for my sisters’ colds. She would rub their backs and necks with Vicks and all night the blankets and all of the house would smell of the medicine. I found the ointment very effective not only for minor itches caused by contact with larvae but also to cure scratches I got on my arms and legs for climbing trees or playing in the grassy outdoors too much.

Also handy was the kerosene used to keep our Hasag or Petromax and kingke (gas lamp) burning. In my case, I would dip the tin bomba used to pump gaas from the Rizal kerosene can into a brown gallon jar; then I would hold the oiled part with one palm, then wipe the kerosene thus acquired on the affected part of my skin, toes, fingers, etc..

Other Antidotes
Also useful as remedies for skin allergies when there was yet no doctor in Dupax were the following:
  • denatured alcohol -- We always had a bottle the contents of which I loved to pour on a small container with reed-thin tube that I used to light the Hasag.
  • coconut oil -- Called lana in Ilocano; laro in Isinay; langis-niyog in Tagalog, we believed that the most effective ones for medicine are those produced during Good Friday.When in I-iyo, this was my first aid whenever I would acquire skin rashes or allergies.
  • vinegar -- We often had the Rose brand of artificial vinegar sold by the roving Chinese grocer Ko Peng; but we found the suka ti basi (sugarcane vinegar; sukang Iloko) more effective.
Aunti Tibang’s Muma
I don't know how many of my fellow Irupaj (Dupax natives) especially those living in Domang have tried this, but the most effective remedy when you get skin allergies due to contact with itchy worms is saliva mixed with muma, especially the one from Anti Tibang (Primitiva Benitez Castro). 

The muma is of course what you call the product when you chew gawed ken bua (betel leaf and betel nut), often with a pinch of lime (apog in Ilocano and Tagalog; epu in Isinay). The resulting "ointment" would be what we call in Isinay mampaavij (kadiri in Manila Tagalog lingo). But I swear to the efficacy of the treatment.

I would run to Auntie Tibang each time I would be mabangbangawan while climbing sarisay (aratiles tree, scientific name: Muntingia calabura) for its saccharine ripe fruits or, alternatively, for its green fruits that I used as "bullets" for my toy gun. I would go to her when I would be makamiring after gathering sapang in Pitang when I passed through there from the Gabaldon school.

When I visited Auntie Tibang last March, I jogged her memory about it and she said even Papa and Uncle Ermin (now both deceased) didn't believe her at first but later got converted to her muma medicine. She said it was effective only to those who have faith and added that before chewing the betel nut and the duwew (also called pepper leaf; gawed in Ilocano; ikmo in Tagalog), she would pray the "I Believe" -- in Isinay, of course.

Grandmother's Remedies
Over in I-iyo, the farming village where I grew up as an Ilocano, my Inang Baket (Feliza Lacandazo Pudiquet) also had her own remedies for skin ailments that made her a doctor in the barrio of sort by young women who were conscious of their beauty and attractiveness to barrio suitors.

If the suspect causal material was the kamiring, Inang would ask her patient to go gather a twig with the leaves. She would hang the twig above the dalikan (earthen stove) and said the itch would go away as soon as the leaves would turn dry. Of course, she would caution the curious cat in me never to touch it.

If it was a case of barkes (ring worm; eczema), my grandmother would pull a blade of the cogon grass she always grew among her ornamental plants on a discarded kerosene can. She would trace the periphery of the affected skin, as in measuring the width of the damage, mumble something which up to her death she never revealed, then knot the cogon leaf she used and hang it above the dalikan. She would send the patient home and advise her to come back after one week.

As far as I can recall, my Inang Baket's patients never came back, so I guess the kamiring and the cogon remedies were effective.

Burning the Suspect Food
This advice was given to me only by Manong Tirso Agbanlog when I mentioned that I failed to watch the orchestra competition part of the fiesta the night before because I developed itchy rashes on my fingers, the back of my knees, and behind my ears. I said I have taken a platito-ful of abuos eggs and nymphs for dinner and later I thought I was being bitten by mosquitoes, but when I looked – hives! 

He said he also had dinner of the said tailor ant nymphs, also bought (like Mama) from Nacia Lacandazo. What I should have done, he said -- and this was seconded by another Ilocano, Manong Cario Guillermo -- was to burn the ants with wings, mix the charred remains with water, then drink the concoction.

Remedy from a Bird
The items above bring to mind what I witnessed in San Roque, Northern Samar, in 2004 or so when I was working with the World Bank-funded Community-Based Resource Management (CBRM) Project. While showing us the durian and cacao saplings he has planted for his upland agroforestry, a Waray farmer got bitten by a spider and pretty soon his affected arm started to swell and he was twisting in pain and said he had to go home. His companion tied a sort of tourniquet on the man’s arm then accompanied him back to the village downhill fully an hour’s hike away.

When we assembled to discuss our evaluation findings later in the afternoon, the spider-sting victim was already there, looking as if nothing happened. He showed me the tiny red puncture of the spider bite and, indeed, it looked like just a pin prick. 

When I asked what he did, he said he had this bird feathers he kept for such purposes. He burned some of the feathers as medicine. I’m not sure now whether he applied it as ointment on the bite or swallowed some of it, or both. What I recall was that he refused to tell what kind of bird he took the medicinal feathers from. -- charlz castro

1 comment:

  1. From: Aira Kathrine Cureg
    Subject: An avid reader
    Date: Tuesday, 31 May, 2011, 4:58 PM

    Hi Uwa Charles!

    I love your articles about Isinay culture. I may not be an isinay by blood but I was born and raised in an Isinay way and your
    blog is very informative because I discovered a lot about Isinays and Isinay culture that I've never learned before. I just hope that young
    ones like me would appreciate our culture.

    Best Regards!


    Dear Aira,

    Salamat podda, eteng! No matter how small, my blog is one of the little things that I can do to pay back my having been raised in Isinay country myself. When I say Isinay country, I mean not only Dupax but also Bambang (my father used taught at St. Catherine; I lived in Buag and had Isinay playmates there; I went to Bambang South when I was in Grade 1).