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?

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