Monday, October 31, 2011

The Latest Report on Isinay as an Endangered Language

Just when I thought I have digested all the literature on Isinay that is available on the Internet, I got another happy surprise in my work as Isinay lexicographer when I found by accident a paper written by Ms. Celina Marie Cruz of the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Not one to miss the opportunity, I fired this salvo to Ma'am Celina:

Dear Ma’am Celina,

Mawalang galang na po.

While navigating through the internet last night for a free downloadable copy of Otto Scheerer’s  THE PARTICLES OF RELATION OF THE ISINAI LANGUAGE, my serendipity angel showed me your THE REVITALIZATION CHALLENGE FOR SMALL LANGUAGES: THE CASE OF ISINAI.

Well, as a mestizo Isinay from Dupax myself, I feel I should thank you on behalf of my fellow Isinays who still care for the value and preservation – or at least prolonging the existence for many decades more – of our centuries-old language. 
I’m sorry I could not find your paper’s publication date. But based on your mentioning the Bona’ si Isinai Dopaj and mentioning a Department Order No. 74, s. 2009, I get it to mean it came out very recently. You see, I was speaker during the first anniversary of  Bona^ only last December and, indeed, it came out that we really need to do bold steps to save the Isinay language from falling into complete oblivion.

I guess that as a result of the suggestion I made in my rambling Isinay talk, the members of Bona^ teamed up with the Senior Citizens of Dupax in including as “major, major” part of the town’s fiesta last April a live presentation of how the Isinay daluj-daluj and lupeyup are made.

I’m not sure though if there was a complete videotape (or if somebody kept a copy) of the event which included the Isinay “how-to” narration of how such formerly popular glutinous-rice delicacies among us Dupax Isinays were made. Of course, there was also singing by senior and not-yet-senior citizens of the Isinay songs (e.g. “Dattut Ittuam,” “Uar Sipan Uar,” “Osan Lavi”) that young and old alike loved to sing up to the early ‘70s when TV and Tagalog and cellphones were not yet part of our culture in Dupax, Bambang, and Aritao.

Oh yes, one reason I’m sending you this note is to report to you a recent development about our move to revitalize Isinay – in case you are going to write a sequel or an updated version of your “maserot on mampagayjayam poddan sinulat.”  Early this year I included an “Isinay Friends” group in my Facebook account that generated very warm reception from the younger Irupajs (people of Dupax) many of whom now work or live in the USA, Europe, Canada, Hongkong, and the Middle East.

It didn’t take long before our group got linked with another Facebook group called “Isinay Global Association” started by Isinays from Bambang and made more appealing by a lady who translated Bible verses into the Bambang version of Isinay. I had sporadic contributions to both groups by way of photos that generated not only lively Isinay exchanges but also evoked nostalgia among the members now living overseas.

In both FB groups, there is implied enthusiasm for revitalizing the Isinay language, be it Bambang or Dupax. Small steps and small victories, yes. It’s only unfortunate that no matter how I repeatedly included Aritao in my posts in the hope to flush out of the cave, as it were, Isinays of that town, my effort has so far met nakabibinging katahimikan from I-aritaos.

This is why I’m happy you reported that Aritao also has its Uhmu Si Tribun Si Beveoyar Ari-Tau. Would you know somebody in that group I could contact, preferably through e-mail? Would you also know if that group includes the Isinay writer-editor Edgar Daniel and the UP-based(?) indi-film producer/director Mel Guzman?

Pasensiya na po, Madam, sa aking pang-aabala. Patunay lang po iyon kung gaano ninyo pinasigla ang aba naming puso at mundong Isinay sa inyong sinulat. Magtiwala po kayo na gagamitin namin, kung inyo pong mamarapatin, ang mga mungkahing nakapulupot sa mga findings ninyo – tungo sa aming panggagatong at pagpapalagablab muli sa aming wika na kaakibat ng aming kultura.


Osan mangirayaw ira^yun mabves pusonar an tataju sina Diliman,

88 Amistad, Camp 7, Baguio City

From: Celina Marie Cruz <>
To: charlz castro <>
Sent: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 11:08 AM
Subject: Re: Revitalizing Isinay

Dear Mr. Castro,

Thank you so much for your email. It really brightened my day, knowing the people of Isinai are showing so much interest in the preservation and revitalization of the language. And it warms the heart to know that, in my own little way, I could help you in your pursuits.

I wrote my paper on The Revitalization Challenge of Small Languages: The Case of Isinai for a Linguistics Congress held at Cagayan de Oro last February 2010. It's basically a summary of my thesis. I will try to find a copy of my thesis, in hopes of helping you further your initiatives. We (a group of linguistics and anthropology students) also did a paper on the Isinai language and culture around 2009 for field work. We left copies of our study at Aritao, Dupax and Bambang.

Mr. Edgar Daniel III was one of my research sources. You can try and contact him through this number 0906-5748717 or his wife at 09155778368. I'm sorry but I still can't find his email address. I will email you again once I find it.

Thank you again for updating me on the developments of the revitalization of the Isinai language and culture. I am excited for all your efforts! I hope your initiatives will soon bloom into greater things! Please continue updatingf me. And if there is anything I can help you with, please do not hesitate to ask! :)

Celina Cruz

Pinavlen Ma'am Celina,

Maraming salamat po sa inyong reply, at sa mga contact numbers.

It would be great to find out if the III in Mr. Daniel's name means he is the same person or a younger version of the Vizcaya Advocate editor I wrote a letter to and he liked the Isinay line I used ("Ayyu ayyu bebeyoyar Dupaj!" -- Literally: Kawawa naman ang bayang Dupax!). Well, that was in the pre-Martial Law years and I was a scrawny student then in UP Los Baños.

Actually, my interest at helping revitalize one of my dual native languages started as a game between me and my sisters in 2007 when, each time we meet, we would talk in Isinay and tried to outdo one another in using what we thought was the deepest Isinay word or phrase we could use -- and even imitated the sing-song way my father and uncle (natoy ra mot) talked. We started with the names of vegetables, insects, household utensils, and parts of the body. Since then our little game continued and included even my Dupax-based nieces and cousins, such that it became an unwritten rule to use Isinay when we talked with one another.

Interestingly, in cases of disputes involving wrong pronunciation or Ilocanized/Tagalized terms, we used our mother (a pure Ilocana who was forced to learn Isinay so she could get along with her pure Isinay mother-in-law and my father's Isinay relatives) as arbiter. Quite often, too, we consulted some of her senior citizen Isinay friends. I kept arbitrary listings here and there of the words that I myself have already forgotten, and pretty soon the few dozens of quaint or even moribund Isinay terms on my list became hundreds.

The hundreds soon became thousands and, before I knew it, I was already compiling and alphabetizing enough words in my computer to make an Isinay-English dictionary. The cellphone had been very useful as now and then my sisters would send in new words they remembered or came across with while conversing with fellow Isinays. In my little place in Baguio, I would also be alert for Isinay-sounding words each time my Bontoc-Barlig wife talked with her siblings.

And that was how I got invited to speak before the Bona^ si Isinai Dupaj. Somehow news got around that this prodigal son of Dupax was trying to make an Isinay dictionary, and the officers thought it would be best to encourage their members to help. To make the story short, napasubo na po ako. In fact, each time I go to Dupax to visit my mother, several members of the Bona^ (we use the circumflex here) who are also members of her senior citizens' association would come to the house and would ask me if I already had in my compilation this word, this song, this prayer, this saying, this lojlojmo^ (riddle), etc.

For the younger Isinays, mabuti na lang may Facebook na kung saan di lang kami nagkakakilanlan at nagpapalitan ng Isinay jokes at nag-re-react sa photos using Isinay. Believe me, enthusiastic din sila sa paggamit ng Isinay! In the process, marami akong napupulot na Isinay Bambang at Isinay Dupaj na di ko pa narinig sa tanang buhay ko.

Hulog ng langit din itong Internet na kung saan nadiskubre ko ang napakagandang sinulat ninyo.

Pasensya na po kung makuwento ako (ganyan daw yata ang medyo tumatanda na!) pero nakalimutan ko palang ireport din na napakalaking tulong sa revitalization ng Isinay language ang paggamit sa mga kanta at dasal na Isinay sa mga misa tuwing Linggo sa St. Vincent Catholic Church ng Dupax.

Mavves an ejao ira^yu, Madam Celina!

I shall tell you some of the findings of Ms. Cruz on Isinay in a future post. But those of you who may wish to read the paper may please Google Revitalization of Isinai. Alternatively, you can type at the top of your computer screen's search line.

A Surprise E-mail from a US-based Bambang Isinay

Got a surprise email recently from a kind-hearted fellow who I never met but, as our ensuing interchange would show, seemed an old friend.


Iva an Charlz,

Taon ya Isinaya^ an nai-ana^ siri Bambang.  Diyoya^ situ California manlaput sirien 1968.  Uria^ mot pojdan amtan mamba^ba^ si Isinay toy nayid an at-atup an tajun domonan kasabayat u si ba^ba^ tauwad.  (Isinay Bambang)  

Misalamata^ isi-a toy mabet ri ap-appiomad si ba^ba^  ta-uawararin Isinay.  Taon naila' ri website muad ot amma-i ri gayhaya-uad toy diyoy si tajun Isinay an mansulsulat si bilaynad sirien poto^ siri Dupax.  Diyoy ra pelat bona^mi sina Dupax. 

Attached is a Spanish-Isinay Grammar study printed in 1889. The Isinay language is preserved in this book.  I'm certain it would be of great help to you in your endeavor to put out an Isinay-English dictionary.  May the language be preserved through your love for the language.  God bless you.

Jimmie Scott Genoves

PS.     There another book in Isinay available in the internet, "Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana en la Lengua de Isinay o Inmeas".  


Dear Uwa Jimmie,

Adday, maserot, magayjaya, on masing-aw poddan sorpresa ri email muar isaon!

Si atuttuwanar, Uwa, it came just when I was feeling a little "low-battery" with the Isinay-English dictionary project that I'm trying to put up. Ampaylamo pirayawa^ otia tien libru mu mabus, masait on malingot attoj ri mangappiar si attu, lalo toy bea (first time ever) an dioy si attun sinajung u.

Medio mabayina^ bayao isia toy marri^ ensigidan naka-reply. You must have heard of the twin typhoons Pedring and Quiel that hit northern Luzon a few days before you sent the copy of Fr. Joaquin Lazaro's Estudio de la Lengua Castellana en Isinay. Yes, it didn't only cause us on-and-off power outages here in Baguio (and days-long blackouts in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino); it also disturbed our internet connection in the house. Marri^ pay makabuttat beyoy miar ta man-internet otia siri downtown Baguio, toy dotdot an man-uran si masde ya tungnin podda.

Anyway, I hope I would be able to make up for my late reply. You know what, when you said "Diyoy ra pelat bona^mi sina Dupax", I immediately thought of the Scotts in Dupax who had been our neighbors (in fact, two of the Scott houses are around 100 meters away from our house in Domang and some of the Scott boys were my playmates siren unga^ tay).

It's good I have the cellphone number of Joseph, son of Uwa David Scott who I only talked with last May when I went to attend my mother's 78th birthday. Mansutsura isia (I'll tell you a story), Uwa, toy insulat ut notebook uwar di naapiar.

First, I sent Joseph this text message: "Si lavi, joseph. Santuwom man i amam mu dioy si pangivan yu an JIMMIE SCOTT GENOVES. Nan-email ampay isaon toy nabalitanan mangap-appia^ si isinay dictionary. Amtanan man-isinay toy dati anun taga-bambang nanung an nan-otan USA. Dioy ra anut relatives na sina dupax."

Joseph's reply was this: "O, uwa, pinsan buo ni amang."

Wanting more details, I texted him this: "Andere, lei o mu bavayi? Mari^ ampay segurado mu ande tawaj uwar, mu sir o mu madam. Adday, manggayjaya re mu subveta^ di email nar. Si^nu mot ni tinaw-on nar?"

Joseph Scott: "Mari' cgurado edad nar, beyaw ot unga mu si ancle totoy, dauway poda nu isi'a re.. isinay bambang takallo... Uwa mot lohom ayah mwar isiya. Ana' lola diana scott an ivan lolo condrado scott an aman amang un david."

My text message again: "Suspetsa ar iman ya dauway mu saon toy 1968 la anun immoy siri california. Ande sostowar ngaron uncle mun yoles? Marawum santuwo na mu ibalita^ an nantext ta."

Joseph again (answering my "panantu" about the full name of Uwa Yoles and my earlier query what your probable age is): "Eulises salgado scott. Dauway ana' lei da papa ado on mama dora'. Halos kaedad na."

My parting text to Joseph: "Ay atdi... sige man emaila mu bijat. Ibalita^ tu isia mu ande ri subvet nar. Thank you, joseph. Musta mot lojom i amam. Nxt an umuli ya^ ya mampasyala^ abuwew."

Back to you, Uwa Jimmie. Misalsalamata^ podda toy impawit mu ri libru war. I should say you didn't only make my day (and week!) fruitful but also gave a major, major boost to my writing on Isinay, especially the dictionary I am trying to complete.

You know what happened? For the past few days that I could not reply to your email, I spent many exciting hours going over the pages of Lengua Castellana en Isinay. In the process, I got to learn that, except for a few words (such as ela, eman, lea-i, babayi, and manuara), Bambang Isinay and Dupax Isinay were very much the same when the book was printed (1889) or during the Spanish period. Yes, if Fr. Joaquin Lazaro fully based his book on Isinay Bambang, I was curious to discover that he even used the word "mebbes" instead of the "mabbet" currently used in Isinay Bambang.

I shall write about my findings and reactions to the book in my Isinay-Bird blogsite, so you are please welcome to visit the site again one of these days. But, before that, I have to buy a copy of Spanish dictionary so that I would be able to supplement whatever is left of my 60-year-old brain's man-oj o mu uritti^ poddan naadal ut Spanish siren nan-escuela^ St. Mary's Dupax on siren nangeya^ si Spanish 1 on Spanish 2 subjects siri UP Los Baños.

Atdi tay lojom, Uwa Jimmie. Again, pasencia amot toy marri^ naka-reply ensigida. I hope an mabbet dotdot on matde tay ri batang muad!

Iva mar an Irupaj,

From: Jimmie Genoves <>
To: Charlz Castro <>
Sent: Monday, October 10, 2011 11:22 AM
Subject: Re: Estudio de la Lengua Castellana en Isinay

Hi, Charlz,

Mabet an ejaw isi-a, Iva.

About myself:  I met Joseph Scott a couple of times when I visited in Dupax over 50 years ago.  I remember him as an amicable, lively and very likeable fellow.  He would not remember me well as he was probably seven years of age when I met him.
My mother, Melviney Esnaola Scott, was Conrado Scott's sister.  Their other siblings: Elizabeth (Diana), Leana (resides in Florida) , Randolph, and Jeremiah (resides in California).     Totoy (Benito Jr) is my elder brother. 

In parting, here's something very interesting: About 10 years ago while I was in Florida, I visited  with Bella (Magalad ?) Lamb, a cousin of mine from Dupax.   While I was in her home, she contacted a cousin who lived in England.   I think she's a daughter of David Scott.  Charlz, have you ever imagined listening to one from Dupax speaking Dupax Isinay with another from Dupax.  Well, when Bella and Cousin (I forgot her name. I met her when she was very young.) were conversing, I heard the melodious "sing-song" accent of Isinay Dupax between the two.  The Dupax accent was so pronounced that it instantly made me homesick.   The musical accent of spoken Dupax Isinay is quaintly unique as the language is.   The interesting thing is when Cousin spoke in English with me, she spoke in purely English accent without any trace of another national origin.  It's interesting how one can switch from a heavy accent to a totally different and unrelated one.

I'm very glad that the book will be of help to you.  Check out also "Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana en la Lengua de Isinay o Inmeas".  The book was written in the 1830's.  I find written Isinay in that era to be difficult to understand.  It would be a challenge to any Isinay language researcher as it was with the writer when he wrote the book. 

Please pass on my regards and love to my relatives in Dupax.
I wish you the best. 
The Lord be in your spirit.


PS.  Charlz, what's your mailing address?

Dear Uwa Jimmie,

That was quick! I thought I'd never hear from you again but here you are.

Your description of the melodious "sing-song" accent of IsinayDupax made me laugh, Uwa. All along, I thought Bambang Isinay was more musical compared to the staccato and argumentative sound of Isinay Dupaj. You see, I stayed in Buag when I was Grade 1 for some months at the Bambang Central Elementary School (near the mountain road connecting downtown Bambang and the Junction near San Antonio) and I liked the tone of the Isinay spoken there.

You mentioned your cousin Bella. If she is 61 or 63 now, I think she was the one who lived with Ina Dora^ Scott and her maiden name is Guiab, not Magalad. If I'm not also mistaken, your cousin in England is named Elsa. I guess I'll have to ask Joseph though.

I already have a copy of the Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana that I downloaded from the internet last year yet. Published in 1876, it is supposed to be the oldest book in Isinay.You're correct -- its Isinay is very difficult to understand, particularly that the spellings are using the now obsolete orthography for Philippine languages. 

What I'm raring to get hold of is the book Isinay Texts and Translations by Ernesto Constantino. I tried downloading it but I only managed to get a few paragraphs. Printed only in 1982, I think its Japanese publishers have not released it yet for free reading in the internet.

By the way, Uwa Jimmie, may I publish our email exchanges in my isinay-bird blogsite? I want your letter to serve as prelude to my "book review" of the Spanish-Isinay grammar book you so kindly sent. 

Your fellow Isinay advocate,


Oh yes, my mailing and home address is:
88 Amistad Road, Camp 7
Baguio City 2600, Philippines

When Halloween Was Somewhat Merrier Than Christmas

It was a time when the whole village went abuzz with the womenfolk pounding, winnowing and sieving glutinous rice, a time when men climbed coconuts and brought down the mature ones to be grated for their creamy milk, a time when the neighborhood became redolent with banana leaves roasting on flat tin sheets and when every kitchen had some native cakes being cooked, a time when we kids stopped going outdoors and stayed home so we would be the first to taste the tupig, baduya, linapet, pinais, and busi that made the season more exciting than Christmas.

If there is one thing that I wish could be restored to the place of my childhood -- aside from the sylvan hills, the fish-rich river, and the Eagle Swing Orchestra and St. Vincent Orchestra playing martial music around the main roads of Dupax days before Christmas to wake up people to go to the misa de gallo (dawn mass) at the centuries-old Roman Catholic church -- it was the way Halloween was celebrated in the barrio that cradled my formative years.

Halloween was of course an English term we learned in grade school. And it referred to the two-day event -- that is, Nov. 1 or All Saints Day and Nov. 2 or All Souls Day -- that we preferred to call "kararua" in both Ilocano and Isinay.

The Tagalog, Ilocano or even Isinay call it Undas now.

And, yes, Virginia... it is no longer observed the way it used to be.

When I was a boy, the observance of  Kararua took several days, a large part of which was, admittedly, not spent in the cemetery. Where I lived, its celebration went to such an extent that, instead of grieving for "the faithful departed," we faced no rebuke whenever we greeted friends and  relatives we would meet in the narrow village lanes a sort of "Happy All Souls' Day" with the Ilocano "Kararuayo, apo!"

I am connecting the dots of the past now, and I find that much of the kararua season's merriment and festivities during my boyhood revolved around or were mostly caused by native rice delicacies, particularly tupig -- a popular almost foot-long or sangadangan (isang dangkal in Tagalog) Northern Philippines delicacy made of pounded glutinous rice mixed with brown sugar, creamy coconut milk, and young coconut meat, then roasted along with its banana leaf wrapper on top of flattened tin sheets heated by wood charcoal.

There was of course more to Kararua than the tupig. Consider, for instance, the following composite kararua recollections:

  • It was a time that we kids of Sitio I-iyo then looked forward to with the eagerness that kids of today await the coming of Santa Claus.
  • It was a time when the whole village went abuzz with the womenfolk pounding, winnowing and sieving glutinous rice.
  • It was a time when men climbed coconuts and brought down the mature ones to be grated for their creamy milk.
  • It was a time when the neighborhood became redolent with banana leaves roasting on flat tin sheets and when every kitchen had some native cakes being cooked.
  • It was a time when we kids stopped going outdoors and stayed home so we would be the first to taste the tupig, baduya, linapet, pinais, and busi that made the season more exciting than Christmas.
  • It was a time when households would better think twice of not handing over a couple or so of tupig or linapet when someone would come on your door or rather ladder, otherwise you would wake up in the morning and see one of your chickens is missing or your bamboo ladder is nowhere to be found.

The reason Kararua is not so exciting now in I-iyo is that the people there have become too many. In this particular case, the pro-life advocates (or rather the anti-Reproductive Health Bill people) would probably have to think twice.

It would have been no problem if a sizeable part of the number grow diket rice or have their own cassava plants to make into linapet.

But you could just imagine how many would come ogle at you as you waited for the delicacy to be cooked.

(NOTE: Sorry, this piece is still a stub... I'll enrich it very soon.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

It’s Time to Pass the Forest-Care Baton (Part 3)

     As children, we were super excited each time the trucks that hauled the logs from the mountains upstream stopped on our way home from work in the paddy fields or the upland farms, especially when the driver allowed us to sit atop his load of huge logs. We enjoyed how the wind brushed our faces like we were on the back of a carabao running non-stop up and down the mountain trail.

THE FORESTS OF DUPAX may not have been discovered to be habitat to charismatic wildlife such as the Philippine eagle, the tamaraw, the tarsier, and the mouse deer. But such lack might as well have been filled by the presence, as mentioned, of the Ilongots whose daring and jungle skills could put them at par with the Apache Indians.

Not only that. While our forests may not have been as photogenic as those of the pine stands of the Cordillera, at least one could say that if he happens to be a survivor of a plane crash in our wilderness, there’s plenty of wild food items he could stay alive with.

For example, bush meat from the deer (ugsa in Ilocano; la-man in Isinay), wild pig (alingo in Ilocano; bavuy si eyas in Isinay; baboy-damo in Tagalog), civet cat (mutit in Ilocano; amunin in Isinay; musang in Tagalog), fruit bat (paniki in Ilocano and Tagalog; pani-i in Isinay), and monitor lizard (banyas in Ilocano; baniyas in Isinay; bayawak in Tagalog) were common table fare when I was little.

Each time I developed scabies on my legs (acquired from eating too much igat  or eel), my grandmother would ask one of my uncles to go hunt for a monkey (sunggo in Ilocano; araw in Isinay; unggoy in Tagalog) the meat of which proved to be good antidote for skin allergies when cooked as adobo.

Because the streams and rivers seldom got murky nor dry, spearfishing mudfish (dalag in Ilocano and Tagalog; dalaj in Isinay), white goby (bukto in Ilocano; guggur in Isinay; biya in Tagalog), native perch (ar-aro in Ilocano; alalu in Isinay; martiniko in Tagalog), stone goby (bunog in Ilocano; sappilan in Isinay; biyang-bato in Tagalog)catfish (paltat in Ilocano; pattat in Isinay; hito in Tagalog), and tilapia was always a delight. With bare hands or with small nets one could get enough freshwater shrimps (lagdaw in Ilocano; ajdaw in Isinay) to make into “jumping salad” seasoned with bagoong and green mango or wild button tomatoes (butinggan in Ilocano and Isinay). 

Farmers were not yet using chemical fertilizers and pesticides then, so it was very safe to collect the fresh-water shells (particularly the bisukol, leddeg and birabid in Ilocano; respectively basikul, ambeveyo^ and genga in Isinay; kuhol in Tagalog ) and edible algae (tabtaba and bulbulintik in Ilocano; bajase in Isinay) that were at the time part (not pests) of the coupled forest-and-ricefield ecosystems. 

During heavy rains when meat, fish and shells were difficult to have, there were other organic food items free for the taking be it in the forest wild or along tree-covered riverbanks. 

Depending on the season, ubog (pith of the fishtail palm), barit (rattan shoot), and tabahat (edible jungle fern) were common then. Most other days, we stuck to pako

In summer, many of us became entomophagous (insect-eaters) as it was season for gathering the white eggs and nymphs of the abuos (tailor ant). The months of April-June, was fiesta for us in the barrio as we trooped to the riverside to catch abal-abal (May beetle; salagubang in Tagalog). 

When rats, locusts, and mayas (billit-tuleng in Ilocano) diminished our rice harvest, there was always the wild yam (karut in Ilocano and Isinay; nami in Tagalog; kalot in Bisaya) as alternative staple food.

You might think that we had gizzards of stone then but, yes, part of my happy memories of childhood was my having been nourished by food from the wilderness that most children or even adults of today will probably not be able to taste anymore or would only be able to sniff as “exotic food” in specialty  restaurants.

FOR MANY YEARS we thought that the Amorsolo-painting-like nature of my boyhood barrio would never end. But the picture started to change when huge bulldozers and strangers on board 10-wheeled trucks came to our barrio.

At first we were delighted to see new faces. We were also happy with the way the strangers improved the muddy road that passed by our barrio and opened up new routes in the hills that allowed us to bypass ricefields and avoid several river crossings. 

As children, we were super excited, too, each time the trucks that hauled the logs from the mountains upstream stopped on our way home from work in the paddy fields or the upland farms, especially when the driver allowed us to sit atop his load of huge logs. We enjoyed how the wind brushed our faces like we were on the back of a carabao running non-stop up and down the mountain trail.

But pretty soon our love for such free rides aboard the isahan, dalawahan, or tatluhan logs faded when, apart from muddying the river (where we swam and fished) when the trucks made their frequent trips, they also brought in a lot of people whose language we could barely understand. 

With the improved roads and the free rides on logging trucks, more and more forested areas were opened up to kaingin and settlement. There were opportunities for employment in the timber-cutting areas and in the sawmills for local people, yes. But only for the able-bodied males.

As if on cue, incidences of beheading in the forest fringes have also vanished as the presence of less-than-friendly people who started to populate the hillsides and riverbanks further upstream of town may have proved too big a challenge to the Ilongots. 

It didn’t take long, however, when we got problems we had not encountered before.

For instance, our abung-abung (farm huts) where earlier anyone was welcome to seek shelter when caught by darkness or thunderstorms, started to lose their resident salt, rice kettle, and even firewood. Cornfields and peanut farms whose produce have yet to be tasted by their owners suddenly had significant quantities of their edible parts missing.

Where during the pre-logging years our rivers never got murky, a few years after logging started our favorite fishing spots got totally obliterated when chocolate-colored water spilled out of the erstwhile placid rivers and either covered its path with silt or washed away bamboo clumps and nibbled at vegetable farms and ricefields by the riverside.

I wrote an essay many years ago for Focus Philippines and the Forestry Digest about such price we people of Dupax had to pay for allowing our once thick and verdant forests to be ransacked by non-natives. I was still looking for a wife at the time, but I already felt a sense of big lose then for my would-be kids and other children who stood to be deprived of their forest heritage, so I titled my essay “No More Poems for My Children.” 

Mind you, many years later, my sentiments got echoed by the group Asin with their “Kapaligiran” song the lines of which include:

Ang mga batang ngayon lang isinilang
May mga ilog pa kayang lalanguyan...
May mga puno pa kaya silang aakyatin
May dagat pa kaya silang matitikman.

LOOKING BACK NOW, I feel sad  that even those who could in all candor say “Me too... our house was near the forest” (or words to that effect) are not aggressively tapping their forest experience to help improve life in the  Philippines. 

There was once a movie that expounded on the wonders of  “paying forward” or passing on to others whatever good things another person did for you. How I wish people whose childhood lives had been happily entwined to forests could apply that beautiful concept to the conservation of our natural ecosystems.

As it is, however, things are not yet the way we would like them to be. Henry David Thoreau, my favorite nature writer and himself a forest dweller (when Walden Pond was still sylvan and biodiversity-rich), had a similar lament: “Each more melodious note I hear brings this reproach to me, that I alone afford the ear what would the music be.”

Short of using as mantra another pertinent quotation (this time attributed to an American Indian chief), “We didn’t inherit the world from our parents, we borrowed them from our children,” what I’m really trying to say is that we adults have a moral duty to teach children on how to keep our forests well.

There is no discounting how little steps of early child exposure to things of nature such as trees and hills and rivers and forests, including the flora and fauna and culture that dwell in or are associated with them, can work wonders to young people’s attitude towards nature and behavior vis-a-vis the environment later in life, especially when it’s their time to take over from where we have left off.

For my part, even as I miss the taste of venison and the meat of wild boar... even as I long for the night music of the kulluong (boat-like wooden vessel) being pounded as upland rice stalks are separated from the fat grains... even as I miss the hourly kraw-kraw-kraw of the kalaw and the crowing of the labuyo... I wish I could do more for the forests that nurtured me to become what I am today. 

I may have already gone first base, as it were, along this path by teaching my three “forest products” to be nature lovers when they were small. In fact, they are all grown-ups now, and I recently got into the habit of nudging them with this reminder: “When you have kids of your own,  please give me and your mom the freedom to bring them outdoors rain or shine, to chase dragonflies, catch tadpoles, soak in the river, play hide and seek under the trees, pitch tent on grassy ground, watch the moon and the stars at night, build bonfires on which to roast corn and camote, etc. etc. etc. – like what we used to do when you yourselves were kids.”

I may have done my little part, too, as a forester since much of my professional life has been devoted to the information, extension and communication aspects of forestry, using my boyhood exposure to forests and nature as framework, leverage, inspiration, and wind beneath my wings

I have served as writer/editor for the outreach publications of the UPLB College of Forestry that included the Conservation Circular, the Forestry Digest, the Makiling News, and later the Ilocano forest magazine Anaraar.

I have been part of the UP Los Baños team of foresters that shared forest conservation knowledge to science teachers in Manila, Quezon City, Pasay City, Caloocan, Rizal, Nueva Ecija, Mindoro, Lubang Island, Iloilo, and Sultan Kudarat in the 1976-77 Forest Conservation Education Program for Elementary Schools.

I was one of the water boys, so to speak, when we were yet winning to the fold fellow foresters who found it hard to balance their timber-focused mindsets with concern for marginalized forest-based communities.

But I really wish I could do more.

As a full-fledged senior citizen now, I feel I no longer have the physical wherewithal and academic fortitude to do forestry IEC work like I aggressively used to as a young forester. Well, then, perhaps teaching forest appreciation (plus love for birds, beetles, hills, cicadas, fireflies, rivers, dragonflies, fish, and the great outdoors) to my grandchildren yet to come may compensate for this shortcoming.

I just hope that doing so will result in the kids’ becoming better stewards of the Philippines -- and, for that matter, Planet Earth -- than I have ever been.

It’s Time to Pass the Forest-Care Baton (Part 2)


Our grandmothers in particular were strict when and where we went to play. For instance, they told us to stay close to our huts and to never climb trees nor go for a dip in the river during agmatuon (when the sun is directly overhead), a time when evil spirits are said to go after noisy and hard-headed kids.

IF THERE REALLY are guardian angels that shield children from sin and harm, then the one assigned to me must have worked non-stop 24/7 for many years. This was because, aside from minor bruises, spiny-amaranth thorns lodged on my soles, and skin allergies caused by contact with the babies of butterflies, I never met major, major accidents as a frequent forest visitor.
Not one of my playmates, too, ever had cases of getting stung by the spitting cobra, getting chased by a crazed wild pig, or getting embraced by a lovesick monkey.
Even as we were eager for adventure, perhaps we didn’t encounter life-threatening situations because we listened well to the counsels of our elders, for example: not to use our bolos this way or that way, especially when you are in the water.
Our grandmothers in particular were strict when and where we went to play. For instance, they told us to stay close to our huts and to never climb trees or go for a dip in the river at that time of day when the sun is directly overhead (agmatuon in Ilocano; namalintur in Isinay; tanghaling-tapat in Tagalog), a time when evil spirits are said to go after noisy and hard-headed kids.
They also cautioned us to avoid trees where a farmer has died after drinking too much basi, or ones known to have been hit by lightning. It was also a no-no for us to salivate for the fruits of a tree where a sinampade or ghost in priestly garb was once seen leaning, in much the same manner that it was taboo to go within striking distance of remnant forests that have a grotesque-looking balete.
As is natural for kids, however, we were not always saints. When someone warned us not to go near this part of the woods because of the presence of uyukan (honeybees), we only half listened for the mere mention of that word alone awakened our curiosity and tempted us to try our Olympian slingshot skills at the beehive and then run to the river when the thousands of bees thus provoked came looking for the culprits with their suicidal instincts and stings on the ready.
We committed venial sins, too, in summer when the song of the cicadas and the call of the birds and the scent of the ripe fruits in the wilderness were at their most irresistible pitch.
 And so, if we were not looking for bird’s nests or catching cicadas and dragonflies with long sticks the tips of which we coated with jackfruit latex, you would find us climbing guava, mango, tamarind, anonas, bignay, avocado, starapple, mabolo, santol, kasoy, jackfruit, pomelo, and duhat trees.
Not even the rumors of kumaw (sipay in Tagalog) said to kidnap gallivanting kids, put them in jute sacks, and extract their blood to fortify bridges under construction in downstream Magat or Cagayan River, could keep us from enjoying life and educating ourselves among the trees.
Let’s put it this way: Once revved up, it would already be difficult to wean kids from Mother Nature.
For the record, however, one thing was more scary for us than the balete-dwelling white ladies and the blood-using kidnappers mentioned above. This was when the bagbag tree (Erythrina species) started to shoot forth its blazing red flowers, signaling the season when Ilongot braves practiced their dreaded custom of collecting heads and went downhill to search for prey, usually Ilocano and Isinay kaingineros, be they boys or old people.
While the kumaw and the lampong may have been fiction fostered by mothers to keep their children from escaping their household chores, the Ilongots were real, warm-blooded people. We were afraid of them then because we did see their bloody handiwork displayed in front of the Presidencia (town hall) for identification, minus their heads.
To those who are hearing the name for the first time, the Ilongots are an indigenous people, now called Bugkalot, whose headhunting tradition as a forest-dwelling tribe has kept virgin forests in Nueva Vizcaya and neighboring parts of the Sierra Madre off-limits to big-time loggers, miners, ranchers, hunters, swidden farmers, rattan gatherers, and yes, even bird-hunting and fuelwood-gathering kids.
The aviator-naturalist Charles Lindbergh and the anthropologist Renato Rozaldo started to befriend them in the 1960s, and soon they stopped chopping off the heads of landgrabbers and other exploiters who dared to intrude in their forest-rich ancestral territory.

FOR THE RECORD, my early exposure to forests has its roots in the fact that as a child I had the fortune to commute between two homes both of which gave me opportunity to explore the outdoors. One was my parents’ house in the shadow of the hills in the western part of town where my playmates were mostly Isinays. The other was my grandparents’ place in the barrio nestled between the river and the cattle-grazing hills, and where the people were all Ilocanos.
In both Isinay and Ilocano worlds, almost all boys in my time wore slingshots on their necks. Called baris in Isinay and palsiit in Ilocano, we used the slingshot not only to hunt jungle fowl (abuyo in Ilocano; kalatan in Isinay) and monitor lizards (banias in Ilocano; baniyas in Isinay; bayawak in Tagalog) but more often to drive away field rats and rice sparrows (that’s maya for you) that attacked our rice crops.
Yes, the slingshot was a toy. But when no one was looking, we also used it to bring down an irresistible yellow guava or mango. The slingshot also boosted one’s bravery when sent for an errand that required passing by a house with unfriendly dogs or a balete or other such geriatric tree that is believed to house  sinampade, santilmo, kaibaan, kapre, enkantada, ansisit, and other malevolent spirits.
Lest you get the impression that playing outdoors was an everyday thing for me, no sir. As the eldest and only boy of eight children, I had to squeeze in time for my school books and class projects while doing such household chores as sweeping the yard, feeding the household pets, watering the coffee and ornamental plants, running errands for my mother, and taking care of baby sisters.
Saturdays were not all slingshot time either. I had to be around my father when we needed to mend fences, tend the backyard garden, or split firewood. We also had chickens, goats and pigs to look after. It was my duty, too, to bring a cavan of palay to the rice mill when the rice bin is running empty.
But you will note that even such chores, including the ones I had in the barrio -- such as taking the carabaos to pasture or helping weed the upland rice plants in the swidden (uma in Ilocano; soppeng in Isinay; kaingin in Tagalog), were not completely divorced from the forests.
For instance, if a hen has hatched its eggs, I would search the bushy meadows and bamboo groves for termite nest-balls to feed the chicks. To make the rice-bran feed more palatable to the pigs, I would comb wooded stream banks for the Amorphophallus campanulatus herb (tigi in Ilocano; imbayang in Isinay; pongapong in Tagalog).
In the barrio, while the carabaos grazed, my friends and I would play hide and seek among the arosip and wild guava trees or, if in the ricefields, chased the gallinule (tukling in Ilocano; siboj in Isinay) or the wild ducks (papa in Ilocano; engaj in Isinay) that searched the mudholes for stranded shells, frogs and fish.
Whether in town or in the barrio, we gorged on the fruits of kallautit and bugnay trees, painted our faces ala-Indian with appatut (achuete) seeds, or searched for whatever edibles or firewood to take home.


It’s Time to Pass the Forest-Care Baton (Part 1)

I no longer have the wherewithal and fortitude to do IEC work in forest conservation like I used to as a young forester. But teaching forest appreciation (plus love for birds, beetles, hills, cicadas, fireflies, rivers, dragonflies, fish, and the great outdoors) to my grandchildren may yet compensate for this shortcoming. I just hope that, by doing so, the kids would become better stewards of the Philippines than I have ever been.


BY WAY OF chipping in to the celebration of 2011 as the International Year of Forests, please allow this corner to share secrets on why I care so much for sylvan lands that I don’t resent it and in fact even welcome it when other guys refer to me as Taong Gubat (tajun si eyas in Isinay).
Along the way, I shall give you a ringside though not blow-by-blow account, as it were, on how it was to live in a place and at a time where and when there were plenty of forests. Here and there, I shall also be sharing tips on how parents and senior citizens like me could plant the seeds of forest- or, for that matter, nature-appreciation among our kids.
Well, the idea is not so much because I want kids to become forest scientists, forest managers, or even forest dwellers. It is rather because I just wish to contribute to their arsenal of options for coping with the impacts of climate change, fast declining resources, and increasingly frequent natural disasters.
My first bone as a “man of the forests” is this: I happened to be born with the proverbial silver spoon. This spoon was, however, of the kind that fed me not with the material things in life, but with things associated with forests, including wild food, pets, tools, toys, music, medicine, folklore, and joys from the forests.
Put another way, and using a quite poetic line in Filipino: Katas ng kagubatan ang dugong nananalaytay sa aking katauhan. (The blood that flows through my being contains juice from the forests.)
It may have helped that by some twist of fate I got enrolled in the forestry course at UP Los Baños. However, I still owe a larger part of my love for forests, birds, rivers, and oh well, Mother Nature as a whole to my childhood upbringing with things that had to do with forests and their linked hilly-land, river, agricultural, and rural ecosystems in Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, in the northeastern part of Luzon, the Philippines.

AS SUGGESTED in the illustration here made by my nature-loving artist friend Dante N. Pecson of Agno, Pangasinan, when I was little, my playmates and I made do with games and toys reflective of the objects and creatures common in forest-endowed areas.
Thus, unlike over-accessorized yet nature-malnourished kids of today, we were very much at home then with birds, beetles, dragonflies, spiders, fireflies, cicadas, butterflies, bugs, grasshoppers, snakes, lizards, crickets, earthworms, bees, tadpoles, frogs, rats, and monkeys.
Yes, sir, no electronic nor even plastic toys for most of us then. Aside from the flat sardine cans that we converted into toy jeeps with the fruits of the tibig (Ficus nota; tebbeg in Ilocano; lavay in Isinay) for wheels, the closest to non-living “imported” or “high-tech” item that most of us got to touch was the elastic rubber of our slingshots.
From getting attracted with butterflies among the gumamela hedges during the day to catching fireflies that cavorted among the starapple trees at night, we soon graduated to the less mobile elements of nature. It wasn’t long before we became familiar with the shapes, colors, tastes, and scents of trees, bamboos, palms, herbs, vines, orchids, including their leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, nuts, and associated creatures.
You must have sensed the drift by now: To get kids to bond with the things of nature, one has to start with what they like to do best play.
That was how I got to learn the names, appearances and uses of certain trees, birds, vines, insects, grasses, and water organisms going outdoors with my fellow children to play and to exchange notes on what we individually learned from our respective elders.
That was also how many of us learned how to climb trees emboldened and teased as we were at seeing smaller guys being able to make their way up a tamarind tree and enjoy the sweetish-sour marasaba or kalangakang fruits while lesser mortals (like the shelled character in Jose Rizal’s tale about the monkey and the tortoise) just make do with what those up there would be generous enough to throw.
This is not to belittle my grade school science teachers but, looking back, it was also through playing with my fellow outdoor-loving barrio friends and grade-school classmates that I learned what wild fruits were edible, and what vines and trees produced the quaint nuts we loved to collect by the stream.
My friends and I also shared stories on what trees (such as the angang) not to cut for fuel because, apart from being smoky, it also caused the banga (cooking pot) to break. I also got tips on what vegetation was host to edible mushrooms and which ones harbored our favorite rhinoceros beetle (barrairong in Ilocano; dumoj in Isinay) .
Pretty soon, I was a little expert on which ferns and mushrooms were safe to eat, which trees and shrubs were to be avoided for their itchy leaves, which larvae or “baby butterflies” you could touch, and what snakes were venomous and which ones you can sleep with.
From my friends I also learned which herbs could be used to cure Tinea flava (kamanaw in Ilocano; isaw in Isinay; an-an in Tagalog) and other such skin diseases, what leaves you could apply to stop the bleeding of minor wounds, and the Apocynaceae shrub (kuribetbet in Ilocano; pandakaki in Tagalog) the milky sap of which you could use to prepare the male organ for circumcision.
We also traded secrets on which trees had leaves and bark you could use to stupefy river fish, where best to go for a swim, how to ward off leeches, and which ponds offered the best prospects for hooking tilapia.
Rarely shared, however, is the live tree from where one got his martin or mynah pets. Also best kept as secret was where the wild ducks and the jungle fowl (abuyo in Ilocano; kalatan in Isinay) were mostly roosting.
Going back to toys, among our favorite in the barrio was the miniature version of the H-shaped dalaydayan used by our elders to haul logs, bamboo or rattan from the forests using carabao power. Instead of real logs, however, we hauled banana trunks from the nagtebbaan (an Ilocano term that literally means "banana cutting area") to the garbage pit; in place of carabaos, we hitched the sled to our docile dogs.
My Isinay friends in the town proper were more advanced. They had mini replicas of 6-wheeled logging trucks, complete with tansan (softdrink bottle caps) for headlights. My father once crafted one for me and the mini truck made hauling of half-meter slabs or a sack of sawdust from the sawmill a kilometer away from our house quite fun, until its wooden axle and wooden wheels gave up.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Dupax Flood of 2011

For a town that rarely experiences floods, this second big one in recent memory is again a big hit, not because of casualties but because this time it generated interest among Dupax natives living or working overseas and making use of Facebook. 

Got a number of texted accounts of the flood triggered by Typhoon Pedring the past few days. In my comfortable house in Baguio, I should not give a damn. But since the contents of the messages fortuitously have something to do with me or with people I care about, as I shall later tell, I had to pay attention.

Fortunately, too, somebody with a camera happened to record some memorable scenes of the flood, all the more lending weight to its significance in the history of Dupax. I have included my selection of such photos along with an elaboration why I chose them for this post, mainly because they might as well the same shots I would have taken had I been there.

The texted messages started quite simply with me asking my correspondent, as it were, how Typhoon Pedring was going. Excerpts:


Almost immdiately, I relayed the sad news to Judith and to Opring this way:

The lights in Baguio went out or rather were turned off by falling bamboo poles or pine branches. Thus, I had no way to verify on TV what was happening in Nueva Vizcaya.

Then I got this message, again through texting, from my sister Judith:


Then my daughter mentioned something about my sister Nenette telling about photos of the flood in Dupax posted on Facebook. And almost immediately when the electricity came back, I turned on my laptop and logged on to my Facebook account.

None of the said flood photos appeared in my inbox. Instead, there was a color photo of the Dupax Catholic Church in its resplendent beauty, under which was a prayer by the Facebook account owner Fr. Romulo Felix that went this way:

I could not resist dipping my finger into the Dupax flood pie, as it were. And so I also sent in this comment:

Then a little later, I opted to open my own Facebook account. And lo and behold, the candid photos of the flood.
A big event. (Photo by Hazel Basconcillo Arreo)

The Church tower in the background. (Photo by Hazel Basconcillo Arreo)