Monday, January 14, 2013

Boyhood in Isinay Country (Part 4)

FOR MANY YEARS we thought that the Amorsolo-painting-like nature of my hometown, especially my boyhood barrio I-iyo (aka Palobotan), would never end. But the picture began to change when bulldozers and strangers on board noisy trucks they called “six by” arrived.

At first we were glad to see new faces. We were also happy the strangers improved the muddy road that passed by our barrio and opened up new routes in the hills that avoided ricefields and river crossings. As children, we were excited, too, each time a logging truck stopped on our way home from the upland farms and the driver allowed us to sit atop his load of gigantic logs. We enjoyed how the wind brushed our faces like we were riding a carabao running non-stop up and down the mountain trail.

But it didn’t take long before our appreciation for such logging-induced amenities faded. The bulldozing of riversides to either build or stabilize logging roads appeared to go on forever. The resulting mud and silt did not only make our fishing fruitless but also drove the fish and other river edibles away. With the new roads and the free rides, more and more people also opened up forested areas to kaingin and settlement.

Opportunities for wage labor were available to locals in the timber-cutting areas and in the sawmill, yes. But only for a few able-bodied males.

As if on cue, incidences of beheading (pamutu in Isinay, pammutol in Ilocano, pamumugot in Tagalog) in the forest fringes vanished as the presence of strangers on the hillsides and riverbanks may have proved too big a challenge to the hardy and jungle-savvy Ilongots.

But as if  in exchange, we got problems we didn’t encounter before. Farm huts (abung-abung in Isinay, kalapaw in Ilocano, kubo in Tagalog) where anyone could seek shelter at night or when caught by thunderstorm, started to lose their resident salt, rice kettle, and firewood. Banana groves, corn fields and peanut farms whose produce have yet to be tasted by their owners had significant quantities of their edible parts missing.

Before the loggers came, our rivers never got murky (mailut in Isinay, nalibeg in Ilocano, malabo in Tagalog) nor ferocious (marange in Isinay, narungsot in Ilocano, mabagsik in Tagalog). But a few years after logging started our swimming holes became chocolate-colored and flood waters (datong in Isinay, layus in Ilocano, baha in Tagalog)  from upstream obliterated or washed away bamboo clumps, food-rich thickets, vegetable farms, and ricefields (payaw in Isinay, taltalon in Ilocano, palayan in Tagalog) by the riverside.

I wrote an essay many years ago for the Forestry Digest about such price my town had to pay for allowing its forests to be ransacked by non-natives. Titled “No More Poems for My Children,” it lamented how my would-be kids and other children would be deprived of their forest heritage. Many years later, my sentiments got echoed by Asin with their “Kapaligiran” song:

                                              Ang mga batang ngayon lang isinilang
                                              May mga ilog pa kayang lalanguyan...
                                              May mga puno pa kaya silang aakyatin
                                              May dagat pa kaya silang matitikman?


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