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.

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