Saturday, February 25, 2012

Blogging Tips from Isinay Bird

AFTER ONE YEAR, your Isinay Bird has learned a few lessons about blogging.

They are the same lessons (or rules or tips or pieces of advice, as the case may be) that I would love to share to anyone willing to avoid the pitfalls I used to be trapped in as an enthusiast of the written word -- and which I got caught in again as a neophyte blogger.

Indeed, I shared them years ago to friends and colleagues in the environment and natural resources sector -- particularly the DENR, the UPLB, and the environmental NGO sector -- that tolerated my boring ways as a resource person.

First lesson -- "Keep It Short and Simple."

Yes, correct. The acronym for it is KISS.

My attention has not been called to it yet, but one reason why not so many would-be readers get turned off from this blog is that they either get intimidated or tired (or both intimidated and bored) when they see how long many of the pieces in this blog are.

I do plead guilty, your honor, to kilometric writing. Most of the time, that is.

And so, this time, I'll do my best to KISS by giving shorter sutsur (story) and fewer alimbawa (example).

If some items would necessitate more pangiam-amta (introduction) or  pangibotaw (elucidation), I'll try to write separate blogs for them.

KISS also means "Keep Information Sweet and Scintillating."

And that would be Lesson No. 2 that I would try my senior citizen best to remember if I can't adhere to Lesson No. 1.

Both rules would, of course, be easier to violate than to follow, especially the one on how to be sweet and scintillating.

Thus, from time to time (but with much lesser frequency now), when I can't say yes to the two tips above, allow this humble bird to use:

Lesson No. 3 -- "Be KISSABLE."

Again, that's a memory aid for "Keep Information Stimulating, Satisfying, Accurate, Believable, Likeable, and Enlightening."

A possible example of a KISSABLE item is this one introduced to senior citizens of Dupax by Uwa Alipong Magalad (of Melbourne, Australia) during the first death anniversary of his mother (the great Isinay teacher Ermelinda Castañeda-Magalad). It is about the application of the Isinay word kalangakang to refer to a senior citizen.

Mr. Alfonso Castañeda Magalad (man in red) caused hilarious laughter among those who participated in the observance of the first death anniversary of his mother when he introduced the idea of using "kalangakang" to refer to senior citizens and "marasaba" to not-yet seniors.

Kalangakang of course refers originally to a fully ripe tamarind fruit. It is that stage of the sompalo (tamarind) when it is at its sweetest best but -- just like a senior citizen -- already in the pre-departure area, as it were, and on the verge of saying goodbye.

Finally, our last lesson. This one I heard many, many years ago while I was still a student at the foot of Mount Makiling:  

"Write like a bikini."

The red-blooded among you would know what this tip means.

Yes -- "short enough to arouse and sustain interest, big enough to cover the vital parts!"

Your "Isinay Bird" Is One-Year-Old

I JUST REALIZED that this blog site has turned one year last January.

And this is the reason why I changed our design to a green one from the former beige format.

If it were a real bird (mantetteyav in Dupax Isinay, mantaytayab in Bambang Isinay, tumatayab in Ilocano), it would have become full-fledged by now.

"Full-fledged" means having more feathers, stronger wings, and sharper instincts.

It may not exactly mean full maturity but, yes, it does connote more power, greater ability, and better judgment.

Power to fly far or to soar high.

Ability to know which trees, forests, mountains, islands, ponds, rivers, etc. to perch on.

Judgment to choose the correct fruits to peck, nutritious insects to chase, and other birds to make friends with.

Isinay Bird in a cornfield near the Marian Bridge in Palobotan, Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya (photo taken by Bonnie Calacala at 6:48AM of Feb 16, 2012)

AS WE CELEBRATE this blog's first birthday, maybe it would help to tell why I used "Isinay Bird" as blog name.

The "Isinay" part was intentional. The first time I Googled the word, there was practically nothing much you could find in the Internet written about it.

And so, as an act of loyalty to my being an Isinay (even if only a mestizo), I thought that including Isinay as name for this blog would at least contribute to the number of "hits" searchers would get.

Indeed, it came out to be a good move. For pretty soon it developed that a number of the blog's readers discovered this site when they typed Isinay in their computer. 

On the other hand, the "Bird" part of the name came after I mulled over such candidates as Forester, Firefly, Writer, Chronicler, Tweeter, and Sylvan Stroller.

I thought Bird would aptly represent the other trajectory of this blogsite -- that of the bird-rich Dupax that I used to know as a child. I thought the name would be a good umbrella for the bird-related or, for that matter, nature-flavored memoirs and ruminations I would be depositing in this blog.

Not only that. Late last year I got to realize that the Bird part of the name also applies to some of my personal traits that I may not have articulated until now.

One is love for the great sunny outdoors. Another is love for life close to Nature or Mother Earth. And still another is love of freedom.

Yes, like a real bird.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Isinay Units of Measuring Rice

THE PLASTIC RICE dispenser that is increasingly becoming a common “appliance” in Filipino kitchens today may one day soon render obsolete the use of certain units of measuring rice. 

One such unit of measure is the leche. It is simply the tin can of condensed milk  -- hence the name leche, which  is Spanish for milk -- the rough edges of which had been smoothed to prevent fingers from being hurt.

Leche, ready-to-cook rice, and cat on a winnowing basket.
Based on the tin can’s label (the brand of the one in the photo is Alaska), one leche (sinletse in Isinay, sangalitsi in Ilocano) is equivalent to 300 ml. (As a side note, I recall the condensed-milk  brands we had when I was young were Milkmaid, Liberty, Darigold, and Carnation.) 

I’m not sure if the leche has the same carrying capacity as the salmon (also a tin can but instead of milk it originally contained canned salmon or sardines). But I remember hearing such Isinay term as sinsalmon (one salmon) when Isinay folks would come to the house to either buy or borrow rice.

In the Ilocano village where I grew up, salmon was also used by my grandmother as term when she measured glutinous rice (diket in Ilocano, dayaot in Isinay, malagkit in Tagalog) to be soaked then pounded with al-o (pestle; e-u in Isinay) in the alsong (mortar; lusung in Isinay) when she made my favorite tupig

When we still had prolific fruiting Coffea arabica trees in our backyard, I also heard salmon being used quite often as indicative measure for how much coffee beans my Auntie Tibang (Primitiva Benitez Castro) would isange (roast) then bo^bo-on (grind) in preparation to serving brewed coffee each time there is a social gathering such as parasal (prayer for a departed one) in the house.

I recall salmon was also used to quantify how much goby fish (bunog in Ilocano, sappilan in Isinay) a fisher has caught from the river, how much black snail (ambeveyo^ in Isinay, leddeg in Ilocano) a shellfish gatherer has collected from the payaw (ricefield), how much iniruban (daluj-daluj in Isinay, pinipig in Tagalog) resulted from the tedious burning then pounding of newly harvested glutinous rice, how ripe duhat (lumboy in both Isinay and Ilocano) or boiled peanuts is measured and sold by a vendor.

I have yet to find out if the Ifugaos, Ibalois, Ifontocs, Ibanags, Gaddangs, Tagalogs, Bicolanos, Warays, Cebuanos, Maguindanaos, Maranaos, et al. are using the same tin cans for measuring rice, but at least in Dupax both the Ilocanos and Isinays used the leche and the salmon when I was young to takal (measure) or determine the amount of rice to be cooked, to be lent to a neighbor in need, or to be fed to chickens.   

Of course, I recall my grandparents also used black coconut shells (ungut in Isinay, sabsabut in Ilocano, bao in Tagalog) to scoop out rice from their Ilocos-made burnay that used to be a container of my Apong Lakay's basi, but that's another story.

Also another story is that I have yet to ascertain if the Tagalog gatang as well as the chupa are the same or rather yield the same quantities as the leche, and how many such leches, gatangs, and chupas would make one ganta, another unit of measure that was the market standard for rice, beans, sugar, salt, etc. before it became displaced by kilos. I’m not sure now in which grade we were taught this term in our elementary school Arithmetic, but I do recall one lesson went something like “4 chupas equals 1 ganta” along with “25 gantas equals 1 cavan” and “3 liters equals 1 gallon.”

Back to our milk can.

And what, you might ask, does the rice dispenser have to do with the banishment of the leche?
Well, as the photo shows, rice dispensers are equipped with levers marked 1, 2 and 3 to indicate the number of cups they are able to spew out into the collecting box at the bottom.

Which means that you only need to press the measurement of your choice or do some simple arithmetic depending on the number of people who are supposed to partake of the rice when cooked (for example, 2 cups for 3 people, 2 cups plus 3 cups for 7 people, etc.) and, presto, down pours the exact amount of rice you need to cook.

Before the memory of it gets sidetracked, I hasten to add here that when I was a kid commonly used as rice storage containers (pampurutan in Isinay, pagbagasan in Ilocano, palabigasan in Tagalog) were the rectangular biscuit cans equipped with round lids to keep the house rats and cockroaches away. Others had large burnay (mawaga in Isinay, tapayan in Tagalog).  

Alas, these containers are now being replaced by manufactured rice dispensers, in much the same manner that the kaldero (kettle) is now being replaced by electric-powered rice cookers.

Incidentally, I’m not sure if cooking rice is still part of the household chores of Dupax kids of today, be they Ilocano, Isinay or what not. But when I was old enough to carry the kaldero, be trusted with my arithmetic, became familiar with the middle-finger system of estimating the water to go with the rice after washing it, and already able to kindle the firewood on the stove, such chore was among the assignments I liked most.

Well, one reason I welcomed the rice-cooking assignment was because I enjoyed the fire-tending part of it as I loved to watch the dancing flames of the firewood and the flickering later of the resulting red embers. Besides, cooking rice saved me from washing the dishes.   

To end this sharing for now, I guess that not many kids of Dupax and even in other rural areas of the Philippines are still doing what my sisters and I used to compete for when we were small -- eating the deliciously burnt rice (na^gov in Isinay, ittip in Ilocano, tutong in Tagalog) at the bottom of the kaldero

Yes, aside from being a good Boy Scout, that was one more reason I didn't say no to cooking rice at the time -- because it gave me grand privilege or first-priority right, as it were, to scour the kettle for the aromatic and delicious rice tip.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life Sans Electricity (Or When Kids Enjoyed the Moon and the Stars)

THE FOLLOWING photograph of the 236-year-old St. Vincent Catholic Church of Dupax shot by an Isinay friend near midnight last December and recently shared on Facebook brought me back to that time when Dupax did not yet have the convenience of electricity.

Photo of the St. Vincent Church of Dupax taken around 10:00PM sometime before the end of 2011 by Nardo Laccay. If there were no electricity to enable the use of "rope lights" on the facade of the church and to create the "star with bright rays" on top of the bellfry, this beautiful picture (probably the first such taken at night) would not have been possible.

Yes, children, once upon a time… Dupax was very dark at night.

I remember each time I would go to I-iyo and come home late in Domang when I was a kid, I often made the sign of the cross each time I would pass by the Spanish-era Dampol bridge. Making the sign of the cross then made me feel braver and I believed then that it would ward off ghosts.

If I were a kid today, I can now walk alone at Dampol Bridge without fearing that there is a banij (ghost), lampong (elf) or a kapre (huge cigar-smoking ghost) or something in the mango tree at the Abannatan side of Ama Quito Guzman's house, or calling with the familiar "ssst... ssst" behind the huge trunks of the gigantic acacia trees on both sides of the road in front of the St. Mary's High School.

In other words, pinavlen abeveyoyan (dear townmate), if you had been out of Dupax for decades now and compare what you knew then with the Dupax of today, you better brace yourself for a culture shock.

Today, because of the presence of electricity, the streets are fully lighted. No need to bring your flashlight at night when you need to go anywhere in Domang or Dupaj, or in Santa Maria, Tannibung, and Manggayang in the northwestern part of Dupax del Sur, or in Ongkay and Palobotan in the southeastern part.

Today, because there are more lights and the main roads are concreted, the risks of meeting such mishaps  as mirungpil si batu (hitting your toe on a stone) and makagatin si attay si asu bon ila ya nuwwang (stepping on dog feces or carabao manure) that were common when I was a kid are much, much lesser now when you make pasyal (tour, visit) in much of Dupax del Sur.

Today the formerly dark and muddy road connecting the Galapon part of Dupaj to the Laccay area of Domang is no longer so scary to pass through at night. This is very much unlike during my childhood years when there was yet no bridge and if one passed through it at night to summon Nana Nieves Galapon (the only nurse cum medical officer at the time), or if one visited the house of the Boada family in the Uruddu part of Dupaj, there was fear that an immanuy (spitting cobra) or ine^eyaddang (python) may be on the way.

Today, because of electricity, in almost every home you can hear the blare of the television all day long. Kids are now also seen playing with electronic gadgets such as Play Station and cellphones.

Today, instead of picnics by the Yeso part of the wangwang (river), the "can afford" birthday celebrators now rent videokes and over cases of ice-cold beer and microwaved pulutan, they make your eardrums undergo extreme challenge with videoke-aided singing from evening till morning.

Today, the same videoke has changed the way Dupax people, be they Isinay, Ilocano, Igorot, or Tagalog, mourn their newly departed relatives. Thus, one could safely conclude that because of electricity, the tradition of getting the services of the St. Vincent Orchestra and the Eagle Swing Orchestra to play all night has practically been lost. Today, the musicians are now only occasionally summoned to play funeral music on the hour of the burial when the body would be taken from the house to the church and then to the cemetery.

It was, indeed, a different life altogether when I was young.

For night light, we normally used the kingke (kerosene lamp either made of aluminum or improvised from bottles). To go out at night, we used flashlight if available, or a Siok Tong bottle half-filled with gas and equipped with a strip of kamiseta (shirt) cloth for pabelo (wick). Alternatively, we made do with the moonlight.

On special occasions, again such as when there is a vigil for a departed, we made do with the hasag usually lent by friendly and relatively well-off neighbors or relatives. This equipment was a pump-and-gas-powered lamp that we pump-primed with the use of alcohol and while later became known as Petromax. We used to own one in the house that Papa and I lighted when he needed to do his lesson plans, and the shiny metal base of which my sisters enjoyed as it showed distorted and monster-like faces when they looked into it.

We cooked and had supper before it got too dark so as to save on the kerosene of our lamps and so that we could have more time to enjoy the evening before the church bell rang at 8 o’clock. Most often in my case, however, I preferred early supper for the simple reason that I was often the night dishwasher and it would be very challenging to do the task particularly during stormy days where the wind would blow and put off the light of the kingke and my sister Arlyne would make the radio program "Gabi ng Lagim" and "Katotohanan o Guniguni" sound of a howling dog awwwuuu!

With no TV or even street lamps then to divert our eyes, we watched the full moon rise. Some other nights we had fun running after fireflies.

If there is no moon, we competed counting or identifying the stars. My favorite when I was in Grade 3 was Cassioppea as I didn't know what "dipper" then meant.

We played hide-and-seek on the street. In my Domang part of Dupax, our favorite place was the area near the big Mejia house, first because there were a lot of boys and girls in that neighborhood, and second, because of the presence then of a conical stone and cement structure that our elders said used to be the base of a wooden cross, thus its name kudus (cross).

And we sang Isinay and Ilocano songs related to the bright moonlight. Thus, every kid in Dupax at the time learned by osmosis the lyrics and tune of the Isinay love song "Osan Lavi Masne Ri Buwenar" and the Ilocano folk song "O Naraniag A Bulan.)

And because there was nothing else to listen to aside from the night cicadas and the eerie sound of the katydid (tugtug-gayang), the klung-klung-klung of the kalluung (boat-like wooden structure used for pounding rice)was our lullaby.


On the night of January 3 this year one of the buildings of the Governor Alfonso Castañeda Elementary School (GACES for short) near the Municipal Hall of Dupax del Sur got damaged by fire. News broadcast on local radio (I guess it was DWRV Bayombong) the following morning reported that firetrucks from neighboring Aritao and Bambang came to the rescue.

In praying that such a rare third-day-of-the-new-year “entertainment” will no longer have a repeat performance in the near future, I hoped that it would serve as big shot in the arm of my hometown’s local government unit. I hoped, too, that the impression (mentioned in Facebook by a concerned Isinay lady) would not become etched forever that many of the people who were there on the fire scene only went there to watch without doing anything even as perfunctory as helping a lone guy carrying a pail.

I shall not anymore add salt to the injury that Dupax del Sur does not yet have a fire truck or even firefighters of its own. For sure Mayor Romeo Magaway is wise enough to know what fire-safety moves need to be done, as well as who to approach for help in softening the damage to GACES.

This was how the 3-room GACES building that got burned in the night of January 3, 2012 looked like when I passed by it in the afternoon of January 4. The far background is the town hall of Dupax del Sur.
Incidentally, I recall the burned school building sat almost on the same spot where there was a huge acacia tree. I remember that decades, nay, more than half a century ago, under the tree was a toilet-sized structure that my mother once told the “nauntun” (Ilocano word for someone always asking endless questions) child in me was a generator or something.

I didn’t pursue my line of questions then but years later I connected the dots and linked that generator under the acacia tree to the coil of black and frayed electric wire with bulb socket that used to gather rice-dust and cobwebs in one of the compartments of our now gone eyang (rice granary).

Now, to go back to our GACES building, the report that the cause of the fire was traced by investigators to faulty electrical wiring made the remnant child inside me wonder a little bit: Could the fire have happened if Dupax still had no electricity?

Talking to Dogs in Isinay

STRANGE how the memory works. I had just finished giving our three dogs their lunch of rice plus pork rejects that I cooked with papaya, and was watching them do their toilet in the camote patch near our house – when suddenly the word ara-ara popped in my mind.

The word is an Isinay command for a dog to do what they do best – bark and chase and/or bite someone such as a quail, rat, lizard, or chicken hiding in the cogon grass.

I wonder if dog owners in Dupax still use that term. But decades – nay, almost a half century – ago, I used it to mobilize my dog Dargo each time he would accompany me in my Vitamin C-foraging nature walks in the guava and sapang bushes in Pitang and I wanted him to go after something moving in the thickets.

We would say ara-ara to kid someone being barked at by a dog that we of course knew was all sound and no bite.

We would say ara-ara, too, to jumpstart a dog to fight or drive away a neighbor’s dog that strayed in the yard and is chasing our chickens.

And we would use the command to push our dog to fight other dogs.

Stopping a Dog

The opposite or rather the antidote for ara-ara is isa-isa, also uttered quickly and in a commanding tone.

This latter dog command is used at least three ways.

First, you shout isa! isa! when you pass by or go to a neighbor’s house and you want someone inside to hold or pacify their barking dog.

Second is when you use it as a warning of sort to a dog or its master when you wanted the dog to stop barking at you.

Third is to stop or drive away a dog from eating food in the kitchen (mangkallung in Isinay, magdungkal in Tagalog, agkallong in Ilocano).

We also used isa! isa! to stop a dog from running after a chicken particularly if it is addicted to biting and devouring dead or alive chickens (mammanu^ in Isinay).

And we used the command to stop a dog from howling (man-ayuwong in Isinay, umalulong in Tagalog, agtaguob in Ilocano) like the one you normally hear on Filipino horror movies.

A side note on this howling. Dog experts say that dogs that make such irritating sound at night are either feeling cold or are not feeling well. There is, however, this belief among many Filipinos, not only in Dupax, that when a dog repeatedly howls in the middle of the night, someone in the neighborhood is going to die.

If, after repeated isa! isa!, the dog still doesn't stop howling, a normal Isinay in my time would go to the dog and shout "Naveyandah an asu!" (You pesky dog!) and often accompany the scolding with a couple or more of whipping the poor animal with a bamboo stick.

Calling a Dog

And how do Isinays call a dog to go to them?

The normal way is to call the dog by its name (example: Potot, Balbon, Kulut, Bantay, Blacky, Whitey, Brownie, Spot).

Another method is to whistle "whi-weeeep!" or "wheeet-whit-whit-whit!"

Still another is to gently shout titit! Or tuuuu! Or both titit… tuuuu!

And when any of these methods fail to call the dog, you may try banging on the kaldero (rice kettle) or the palanggana (basin) used as dog feeder.