Thursday, January 19, 2012

How the Goby Fish 'Bukto' or 'Guggur' Used to be Caught in Isinay Rivers

THE WHITE GOBY FISH (bukto in Ilocano, guggur in Isinay, biya in Tagalog) was always a prized catch among us boys of Dupax in the 1960s who loved to comb our then fish-rich river with our spearfishing guns.

For instance, my fishing friends, the brothers Arthur and Duardo Guillermo, and I used to envy one another as barrio kids if one of us was able to nail one or more of such fish, particularly if the only catch we had were the small and relatively easier to get stone goby (bunog in Ilocano, sappilan in Isinay, biyang-bato in Tagalog). In fact, it was sort of a badge of honor for boys as river fishers then if the whiter and much, much bigger bukto was hanging either on top or at the bottom of their string (called ubun in Ilocano, turu^ Isinay) of small-goby catches.

Normally we went after the bunog that preferred the stony shallow parts of the river in I-iyo (officially named Palabotan) or in Mammayang further upstream on the road to Carolotan. But when either our bare backs started to feel the heat of the sun or we got tired of bending over and lifting every stone to spear the bunog, we moved on to the deeper and more placid part of the stream.

There, among the sparse rocks or camouflaging with bamboo leaves, tanubong stems, and other such river debris, we would keep our goggled eyes sharp and the tip of our pana (speargun) ready for the bukto. Almost always the bukto would lead us to parts where there are juvenile mudfish (buntiek in Ilocano, tuldu^ in Isinay) or a school of tilapia and gurami.

If at first we are not able to get the bukto or its associate mudfish, we would follow the fish when it swam to the next accumulation of algae and river debris, and failing to get it for the nth time, we would call it quits and spent the rest of the time swimming, competing on who could stay longest under water, or diving (with bathing carabaos as diving board).

I may divert, but quite often we would pry blood-fattened leeches (alinta in Ilocano, linta in Tagalog, bilavil in Isinay) that took advantage of the generosity plus docility of the carabaos enjoying the refreshing coolness of the river. And what did we do with the blood suckers? We tested our bravery at handling the wriggling and slimy worm on our palms. Then we would punish them either by throwing them in the hot sand to roast in the sun, or we placed them on top of a rock then pounded them to smithereens with another stone.

While we're at it, I remember another form of punishment that we meted on leeches that sucked too much of the blood of our farm animals. I'm not sure if it is done in other parts of the Philippines, but our method involved inverting the blood-ballooned leech inside out by pushing a stick on one end then letting it pass through the other end. The leech would not die in the process, of course, because after it has spilled all the blood it sucked, we next set it free to swim in the water with its body now inverted and its formerly fat and full size now emaciated.

Yes, both catching fish and playing with leeches could have potentials to add more bones and muscles to the tourism call "It's more fun in the Philippines!"

But back to our fish.

The bukto was also a favorite of river fishers who used the hook-and-line at the tip of a long bamboo pole as fishing method. The gear is called liwliw in Ilocano and siwattan in Isinay. My recollection on this includes that of cigar-smoking women patiently sitting by the riverside for the fish to bite, and armed with starch-bag (pagalmiduran in Ilocano, panotsotan in Isinay) to put their fish catch in.

Oh yes, except for a few precious times on a tilapia pond near the Yeso part of Benay River with my (reportedly missing for many years now) Isinay neighbor-friend Oret Calacala, I didn’t fall much for angling as a fishing method. For one thing, I preferred the more active and exciting spearfishing method that made me enjoy swimming and brought me to an entirely different world under water.

I also didn’t engage much in angling because when you carried a bamboo pole for the purpose on the way to the river or a pond/small lake(ban-aw in Ilocano; banaw with no hyphen in Isinay; lawa in Tagalog), it made you so obvious such that Ilocanos would greet you with “Sinno ti kaduam a mapan agliwliw?” and in Isinay “Siran si aruam an omoy maniwattan?” (literally: Who is your companion in going angling?) Equally annoying, on your way back home some istambays or other such meddlers would see you with your pole and ask how many fish you caught and to please share them some.

When I was in first year high school, my Apong Pedro acquired an electronic fishing gear (simply called koriente then). And each time he felt like going on a fishing expedition, he made it a point to let my grandmother go to town to break the news to me. My role included diving for stupefied fish under some boulder that would be difficult for the scoop of his electronic fisher to reach. I also enjoyed being a cook for both of us, a task that invariably involved setting up a three-stone stove, gathering firewood, boiling the rice, gathering edible fern, picking ariwat (duu in Isinay) fruits or young leaves to flavor the fish if wild tomatoes are not in season.

Our favorite fishing place was the Nabetangan River, on the left when you are in Mammayang and you face Carolotan. Not only were there plenty of bukto/guggur there as not so many people go to that former Ilongot territory.

But there was one time we followed the stream/creek (waig in Ilocano; wayil in Isinay) that led to the waterfall-cum-flatrocks part we locals called Payasapas (probably an Ilocanized word or a variant of the Isinay term peyasapas for waterfall). In that expedition, we found the mountain stream up there didn't have plenty of bukto nor even bunog/sappilan, but we were able to electric shock big mudfish as well as a number of the biggest edible frogs I ever saw in Dupax.

If at all there was a better catch than bukto, however, it was a palm-sized tilapia, a dalag (mudfish, snakehead fish) with diameter no smaller than the size of a boy’s wrist, or a paltat (catfish) longer than one dangan (about a half-foot).

Then what did we do next to our fish catch?

Be they goby, mudfish, catfish,
tilapia, or gurami, along with shrimps and occasional small eels, we cooked them in a delicacy that Isinays call inlangeyan. It's not actually a purely Isinay cooking as Ilocanos call it inlingta. The basic ingredients are simply salt, lots of ginger, lots of tomatoes, little or no water, and (if available) long pepper as topping.

A Fish Whose Isinay Name Also Refers to a Skin Disease

AMONG THE THINGS that make the writer’s heart in me beat faster is the sight, encounter, or re-introduction of objects that resurrect people, places, and events the imprints of which have laid dormant – nay, almost forgotten – in the far corners of my mind.

Among such re-introductions came this morning while I was having coffee. Here’s the photo I took of the triggering item or items:

Yes, it’s a bowlful of fish that my super tolerant wife has asked if I wanted her to buy from the itinerant vendors who come to our part of Baguio now and then and shout “Isdaaa! Isda kayo diyan!”

Both my wife and the vendor called the fish bunog. When I asked the seller where they came from, he said Naguilian. And when I asked “Pupokan?” (grown in a fishpond), he replied “Karayan” (river).

My beloved household manager’s normally astute bargaining talk wasn’t effective in bringing down the P150 per kilo price of the fish. Nor was she successful at asking the P30 per bundle of four boiled mais be brought down to the prevailing P20 in the Baguio central market.

It’s not every day that such type of freshwater fish is sold in Baguio. This rationalization, plus the myriad memories that the fish – and the corn – brought back to life, nevertheless made the price sulit (well worth it).

I shall leave the boiled corn for a separate vignette some day and instead focus on the fish.

Indeed, as I was anticipating another mouth-watering lunch while cleaning the fish preparatory for my wife’s cooking it – ikkam ti laya ken kamatis lang (add ginger and tomato only), she said – several recollections connected with the fish raced in my mind.

I shall post separate essays on the images – and tastes – evoked by the fish after this.

Suffice it to offer for now that in the prevalently Ilocano and river-blessed part of upstream Dupax del Sur where I grew up, we called this fish bukto. Among the Tagalog, it is called biya. In Caraga Region, particularly the communities around Lake Mainit where it abounds, it is called pidyangga. In English, it is called white goby.

I have yet to ask knowledgeable Isinays of Bambang and Aritao, but among the Isinays in Dupax, particularly the farm-tilling ones who are familiar with river fish, it is called guggur.

Interestingly, guggur is also an Isinay term for psoriasis or other such skin diseases. (The Ilocano for this word is gudgod.) Thus, a person afflicted with it is described either as naguggur or nahugguran. (In Ilocano, nagudgod and ginudgod.)

To go back to our stream, yes, in Dupax, we didn’t and still don’t call the white goby bunog. For the bunog as we knew it in my hometown referred to a bluish, quite slippery, very much smaller, and riverstone dwelling fish that Isinays call sappilan (biyang bato in Tagalog; river goby in English).

To pause for now, I learned how to clean bukto/guggur/biya from my grandmother Feliza Lacandazo Pudiquet:

No need to remove its gills (asang in both Ilocano and Isinay, hasang in Tagalog), no need also to open its stomach and remove its intestines (bagis in Ilocano, bitu-a in Isinay, bituka in Tagalog, tina’i in Visayan) and its bile (apdo in both Ilocano and Tagalog, bisit in Isinay). Just press your right thumb on the stomach of the fish then squeeze out the blackish thing inside.

The black thing is the fish excreta (takki in Ilocano, ta-e in Tagalog, ta-i in Visayan, attay in Isinay). It’s actually all right to leave it as is – it’s not poisonous. Besides, not all fish in a bunch have such thing. But in case you find one and want to press it out, be very extra careful not to squeeze out the golden yellow round particles – they are the bukto’s eggs (roe in English, bugi in Ilocano, buoh in Isinay, bihud in both Tagalog and Visayan).

The fish eggs make the taste of the fish itself more exquisite!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Merry Christmas in Isinay

SORRY FOR THIS, but I would not like to let Christmas be buried by the New Year without posting this item.

After all, it was one of a number of items that I intended (but failed) to publish here as soon as last month's chilly nights started to make me wear my "ukay-ukay" sweaters.

It's my try at answering the question WHAT'S "MERRY CHRISTMAS" IN ISINAY? -- a query that was in fact posted in Facebook by one whose account is named something like "LGU Dupax."

Well, thanks to the tip of one of my Facebook friends who recalled that the Isinay term for CHRISTMAS is DUVIRAL, I went on a "1 plus 1 equals 2" mode and came out with this: "MAGAYHAYAN DUVIRAL."

Thus, if you wish to greet someone FELIZ NAVIDAD or MALIGAYANG PASKO in Isinay, you can use -- at your own risk -- the also two-word sentence MAGAYHAYAN DUVIRAL.

I inserted "at your own risk" simply because that greeting is rarely -- put that very, very rarely -- used among Isinays anymore.

In fact, if you use that greeting in Dupax (and I guess even among die-hard Isinays in Bambang and Aritao), you will certainly encounter quizzical looks similar to those directed to warty creatures from outer space.

A possible alternative, if you insist on using Isinay (and if my peso-worth of advice would count), is: MAGAYJAYAN PASKU.

[Note how I use MAGAYJAYA and MAGAYHAYA interchangeably. The first spelling is a carry-over from the Spanish tongue that pronounces J as H. The latter spelling is a more contemporary or modern one and takes after the current orthography of the Iloko and Tagalog languages.]

Anyway, the greeting with the least resistance would be MERI KRISMAS. It is the same whachamacallit used in any language and in any corner in the country's 7,100 islands each time Christmas comes around in the Philippines nowadays.

OH YES, while we're at it, please accept your Isinay Bird's apologies for having acted like Ebenezer Scrooge (in Charles Dickens' 1843 novel A CHRISTMAS CAROL) insofar as posting items in this blogsite last month was concerned.

There were meteor showers of ideas for this blogsite that came within my reach in the cold nights of December. Here are examples:

"Goodbye to the Diana"
"Sop As Da Boys and Other Carols"
"Maguey for Christmas Trees,Soapsuds for Snow"

How come I wasn't able to write and post them?

Well, as they say in Tagalog, tao lamang po ang inyong Isinay Bird.

Somehow something got in the way... and before I knew it, Christmas was gone and it is already January.

2012 as Isinay Year?


Christmas in the Philippines officially ends January 6 (Three Kings Day) so I'm not yet so late as I write this greeting here.

The United Nations has made several years quite memorable by declaring them as "International Year of" so and so. For instance, last year was International Year of Forests and this year 2012 is International Year of Cooperatives.

One wishes the guys who call the shots for such concerns in the international body would also give attention soon to the world's endangered languages -- and one of these days designate an International Year of Vanishing Languages.

I'm pretty sure a lot of Isinays will be happy should such a dream come true. And your Isinay Bird will surely be one of them.

It may be far-fetched for now but, indeed, if the rivulets of concern for the increasing loss of languages such as Isinay (also spelled Isinai and also occasionally referred to as Inmeas and Insinay) will be canalized to form a bigger river, then probably the world will listen.

Meantime, it may be enough for now to feel and act as if this new year 2012 is a special year for the Isinay language and, for that matter, Isinay culture and people.

This corner will go a little further: 2012 is the target year for the coming out of the final draft of the Isinay-English Dictionary that your Isinay Bird has been happily working on, though in spurts, for the past four years now.

Right now I'm visualizing the manuscript to be between 200 and 300 pages of letter-size bond paper, a number of which shall carry illustrations, photographs, boxed vignettes, lists, historical bits, etc. -- all of which pertain to Isinay both as a language and as a culture.

For instance, the book shall list the Isinay names for certain food items, trees, birds, vegetables, fruits, insects, fish, shells, toys, kitchen utensils, farm implements, carpentry tools, etc. It will also name parts of the body, parts of the house, parts of the human face, the five fingers, etc.

To protect non-Isinays from "being sold" in case they go to Aritao, Bambang, Dupax or anywhere else in the company of Isinay-speakers, there will also be items such as "four-letter words" in Isinay, directions in Isinay, curse words in Isinay, as well as tastes, sounds, numbers, and actions.

As lexicographer, I shall also try to name the generous individuals who helped me come out with the list of words used in the dictionary. I shall also acknowledge those who, without their knowing it, have contributed to enriching the list through their emails and postings in Facebook, YouTube, and e-groups.

As far as I know, the dictionary may not be the first (as certain Spanish priests assigned in Bambang and Dupax in the 1800s have already broken ground on this), but it will certainly be the most comprehensive so far as it will not only include Dupax and Bambang Isinay but also "Ilocanized" and "Tagalized" Isinay.

So all of you fellow Isinay/Isinai advocates, lovers, protectors out there in Nueva Vizcaya and the world over, please watch this corner for further news.