If there is one thing that I wish Dupax to retain for many, many more years to come, it is its ricefields.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want my town to look sleepy and stagnant forever... nor do I wish my townmates to feel backward and -- to use a favorite Tagalog phrase during my student activist years -- "naiiwanan sa kangkungan ng kasaysayan" (left in the kangkong ponds of history).
The fact, however, that wherever you go there are ricefields to your right, ricefields to your left, ricefields in front, and ricefields on your back, is what makes Dupax home and paradise to native sons like me.
Indeed, be it Norte or Sur, Dupax is Dupax because of its ricefields. Take them ricefields away and I assure you the thousands of Isinays and other Dupax-born or Dupax-raised Filipinos would no longer feel their hometown is the same.
Put another way, Dupax would not be Dupax if you take away such staple-food-producing areas and replace them with subdivisions, golf courses, memorial parks, industrial sites, and even mass-housing projects that you now see proliferating in many parts of the Philippines.
Of course, I may be biased. But having traveled to many municipalities in the Philippine archipelago and having seen how they compare or contrast with my birthplace, I think I have earned the right to speak and write glowingly of my hometown. Yes, I can say with fervor that Dupax is beautiful, even if first-time visitors would most probably get the first impression that there's not much to see but ricefields and balding hills.
Not Just Skin-Deep
It may be an overused description, but I'm proud to write "not just skin-deep" here to qualify the aesthetic quality that the ricefields exude and radiate like sunshine to Dupax.
Indeed, there's more to the ricefields of Dupax than sunburnt farmers, slow-moving carabaos, gurgling irrigation canals, rice plants swaying in the breeze, and later paddy fields redolent with newly cut and threshed hay.
There's more to the sights, sounds, scents, and even tastes of the ricefields of Dupax than those you could probably encounter in the ricelands along the highway in Nueva Ecija or Pangasinan. I can even venture to say that they have many special things to offer compared to the well-publicized terraced rice paddies of Banaue and other parts of Ifugao.
To be more specific, let me lay down three of my cards:
1. Fields with history. Called payaw in Isinay (talon in Ilocano), most of the ricefields of Dupax have been there long, long before the town became North and South. I got the following from the manuscript History and Cultural Life of Dupax:
2. Fertilized with blood. Dupax then and up to now, had been equated to headhunting land. Excerpts from the book The Ilongots (1591-1994) by Fr. Pedro V. Salgado, O.P.:
3. Nurtured by hills and rivers. If you look close enough, an integral part of the ricefield ecosystems of Dupax are the hills their sides and the rivers from the blue mountains where they get their nurturance.
In whatever state they may be, the ricefields evoke happy memories of childhood to many sons and daughters of Dupax. A composite of such memories would include any combination or all of the following:
- the wondrous sensation of soft mud on the soles of your feet as you make your way to a point in the paddy where you thought you saw a couple of tadaj (frogs) in tight romantic embrace or when you go searching for such mud-loving edible shells as ambeveyo^, basikul or genga.
- the excitement the child in you would get at discovering that if you concentrated enough you could not only keep your balance but also walk fast or even run on the ricefield's dike no matter how slippery it would be at certain spots and even dare to challenge your playmates to a dike-walking race.
- the happy feeling of accomplishment when you tried your hand at pulling the pulla (rice seedlings) during that stage Ilocanos call sikka (uprooting rice seedlings preparatory to riceplanting), followed by dibbling the seedlings and testing for yourself if the lines of the song "Magtanim Ay Di Biro" really hold water.
- the unforgettable experience of visiting the ricefield a week or so later to check if there are problems with the tamnang (dike) or if the irrigation works, and a few more times thereafter to remove recalcitrant weeds or to gather again edible snails if not edible algae called bahase.
- the great sense of accomplishment you get when the rice plants begin to mandawa (pregnant with grain) and, along with the refreshing breeze on your face, you hear the song of the tukling or the kebkeb as they make their way among the now thick emerald riceplants in search of tadpoles or stranded tuldu^ (juvenile mudfish).
- the hours-long picnic of woodfuel-cooked aromatic rice (and outsmarting your siblings with the ittip) when you keep vigil or stay overnight enjoying camping life in the abung-abung to reinforce the tinahutahu (scarecrow) and the bambanti used to drive away tulin (rice sparrows) when the riceplants begin to ripen.
Making Up for Lost Time
I'm putting my neck on the chopping board here. But believe me the ricefields of Dupax are not only a photographer's delight but also rich prospects for the emerging business of ecotourism. Their prospects are bright for being tapped to fill the increasing need of urban people for clean air and organic food, of OFWs for getting back to their roots or close to nature, of senior citizens for catching up on their deposits of happy memories, of those nearing their expiry dates for retiring in peace and beauty.
This means that the ricefields are a sleeping giant for entrepreneurs of healthful, environmentally benign, culturally appropriate, and local employment-generating ventures related to the travel industry.
Put another way, Dupax is a frog princess awaiting to be kissed by a knight (small entrepreneurs) on the lookout for some damsel (ricefields) in distress (being ignored for other beautiful functions and benefits other than producing rice).
(TO BE CONTINUED)