Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Isinay Names of the Fish and Other Edibles We Used to Catch in the River

THE ONSET OF the dry season (also known as summer) in my part of the Philippines reminds me of my favorite pastime when I was still wearing short-pants as a youngster: river fishing.

Indeed, I was so fond of staying in the river when I was growing up that it didn't matter if I caught fish or not. It didn't also matter if my already brown skin became even more sunburned. And I didn't care, too, when my peers in town didn't go near the water and instead went on to be good basketball players, guitarists, and dancers and were already attracting the pretty girls of Dupax.

Apart from seyup, I engaged in spearfishing, angling, and baited hooks as methods of catching fish. If not with friends and cousins in the barrio, I was out fishing with my elders.

My grandfather used a wide circular net (called tabukol in Ilocano, tabuu in Isinay) to go after schools of tilapia on hot summer days when he is done tending to his cows or weaving rattan pasiking. When his stone-cum-bamboo-branch fish-aggregating devices (called rama in Ilocano, lajma in Isinay) are already a couple of months old, he would summon for me and we would use the same net to trap mudfish (dalaj in Isinay, dalag in Ilocano and Tagalog) and eel (dalit in Isinay and Bontoc, igat in Ilocano, palos in Tagalog) that nested in them.

Not to be outdone, each time I was around, my grandmother used a small triangular net (called batbateng in Ilocano, batong in Isinay) to catch small fish and shrimps. She would gather edible fern by the river on the way home and cook these along with her catch. If she or my grandfather and I had caught at least a bowlful of shrimps (ajdaw in Isinay, lagdaw in Ilocano), we would squeeze native lemon (lojos in Isinay, dalayap in Ilocano) over them and salt to taste, and -- presto -- we have fresh-from-the-river jumping salad for lunch!

My mother was also a river fisher. In summer, she and her also Isinay-speaking Bicolana friend Lita Dicen-Calacala (RIP) would go to the river and would compete on who would bring home to their respective many kids the most fish, usually sappilan (bunog in Ilocano), caught through the lipit method (which involves bending low or sitting on the river for hours and using bare fingers to trap fish dwelling under the stones).

Woman catching stone-dwelling fish and shrimps in the river near Palobotan using the method called lipit which involves agility with the fingers and physical endurance under the burning sun. (March 20, 2012 photo by charlz castro)

IN MY OTHER post about the seyup, I enumerated the river creatures we were able to lay our hands on through the river-damming method. Let me be more specific about such river catches.

For the fish part, our catch mostly consisted of stone goby (sappilan in Isinay, bunog in Ilocano, biyang-bato in Tagalog) with a sprinkling of juvenile mudfish (tuldu^ in Isinay, buntiek in Ilocano), native carp (alalu in Isinay, ar-aro in Ilocano, martiniko in Tagalog), gurami, and tilapia.

Very rarely, we would find the swordfish-like river species we call baruy in Isinay and susay in Ilocano. Very rarely, I say, because unlike the sappilan that hides under stones and stays there for as long as there is water, the baruy is always a surface swimmer and is thus the first one to scamper for safety ones it sees an intruder or when the water level starts to go down.

In fact, the baruy is such a game fish that I don't recall ever having nailed one with my pana (fishing speargun). But ah, I soon discovered the bigger ones are easy to catch with a fishing rod (siwattan in Isinay, liwliw in Ilocano) using the tiniest hook and a wriggling earthworm (kolang in Isinay, alumbayad in Isinay, bulate in Tagalog) for bait (papan in Isinay, appan in Ilocano).

Via seyup, the other edibles we paid attention to were mostly river crabs (ajasit in Isinay, akasit or agatol in Ilocano, talangka in Tagalog) and shrimps (ajdaw in Isinay, lagdaw in Ilocano). If there is not much of these two, a good alternative would be the lance-tipped shellfish (ajurung in Isinay, agurong in Ilocano).

On occasions when fish and green leafy vegetables were hard to come by, we went to the river not exactly for the fish nor for the fern but to look for certain edible algae. The most popular then was a fat algae called bajase in Isinay and barbaradiong in Ilocano, usually found growing alongside the lumot (normal river algae). There was a round-shaped version of the bajase that Ilocanos call bulbulintik (because it looked like a marble) that we usually collected in the stagnant waters of the ricefields.

Oh well, that was about fifty summers ago. At that time the ricefields and the rivers (note: waters from the fields flow down to the rivers) of Dupax were not yet poisoned with pesticides, molluscide, and inorganic fertilizer.

For several times now, I tried to look for such bajase and bulbulintik when I go to Dupax. They are no more to be found. Unless somebody tried to re-introduce them from existing mother algae somewhere, I bet not even a picture of them, let alone recollections of their tastes and appearances, would be available someday.

WHILE FISHING in the river, we would occasionally find small clams (asisip in Isinay, tukmem or bennek in Ilocano, tulya in Tagalog), but we didn't collect them then as they were too small and didn't speak well of a fishing expedition if you focused attention on them.

In much the same manner, we ignored the apple snails (basikul in Isinay, bisukol in Ilocano, kuhol in Tagalog), the black snails (ambeveyo^ in Isinay, leddeg in Ilocano), and the soft-shelled snails (genga in Isinay, birabid in Ilocano) when we encountered them while fishing in the river. It seemed then that there was a proper place and a proper time for these edibles.

Speaking of shells, no, sir, we didn't collect "golden kuhol" then. All right, they say it's called escargot in France and is edible elsewhere. But we didn't include this shell in our dining table then. This was simply because, when I was little, we didn't have this alien then.

Today the golden kuhol has become a hard-to-eradicate riceplant-eating pest that has practically replaced our edible snails in Dupax. The distinctly pink eggs of this introduced and poison-resistant exotic species are now common sights not only in ricefields but also on stones and debris in ponds and rivers.

HOW ABOUT frogs (tadaj in Isinay, tukak in Ilocano, palaka in Tagalog)? 

Big frogs were a prized catch later when my grandfather and I combed mountain springs (wayil in Isinay, waig in Ilocano, weg in Ibanag, sapa in Tagalog) with our electronic fishing gadget. But when I was younger, my grandfather used a lampara (carbide-powered lamp) to catch plenty of them noisy creatures at night in the ricefields during the rainy season, but not in the river.

I think I also mentioned tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, and leeches in my Vanishing Fishing Method post. Well, unlike in my wife's hometown Barlig, Mountain Province, where tadpoles are a delicacy, very few people in Dupax eat tadpoles (tojong in Isinay, bayyek in Ilocano, butete in Tagalog, fiayyak in Finallig).

I digress, but I do remember seeing my Auntie Tibang once catch tadpoles in a carabao pond in Pitang. Of course, decades before I had them for breakfast in the house of my wife's uncle in Barlig, I found it strange then for people to eat the wriggling creatures long, long before they became full-grown frogs.

In like manner, I have yet to hear of Isinays and Ilocanos collecting dragonfly nymphs for food but, yes, one time my wife and I joined a river-fishing picnic with her cousins in Barlig, I did discover the exquisite taste of that creature that they call chayyap.

The blood-sucking leech -- dreaded as it is by juvenile Ilocanos, Igorots, Tagalogs, and Isinays alike -- is, of course, not edible.

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