Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Where I Learned Isinay as a Kid

THE MONTH of March, being graduation season in most schools in Pinoy country, reminds me of the particular spot where I learned how to speak fluent Isinay as a kid. Satun lugar ya saru ngarngaranan miyar siren uunga ami an Gabaldon. (This place was what we used to call Gabaldon when we were kids.)

As in most towns that benefited from the construction of public schools program of the Philippine government (courtesy of the law authored by Senator Gabaldon in whose honor the buildings so built were later named), Gabaldon refers to the main edifice and later the whole compound of the Dupax Elementary School. This school was where most Isinays and Ilocanos in Dupax now in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s learned their ABCs. 

The last time I looked, the school’s colorful gate says it now goes by the name Dupax Central School. This,  even as its circa 1980s rival, the Governor Alfonso Castañeda Elementary School (or GACES), is obviously more centrally located.

No, the Gabaldon didn’t exactly teach us children the basics of the Isinay tongue then, the way it did with Pilipino and English. Nor did it require even its Isinay-speaking teachers at the time (such as Uncle Ermin Castro, Auntie Toring Coloma, Auntie Tating Fernandez, Mr. Julian Benter, Mrs. Lydia Vilde, Mrs. Grutas, Mrs. Luisa Soriano, and my father) to use Isinay as language of instruction.

It helped, of course, that I learned conversational Isinay from neighbors and playmates in the Domang part of Dupax, and from listening when during evenings Uncle Ermin and Papa would, in their usual quarrelling tone, animatedly talk about anything under the sun, including how beautiful were their co-teachers from Ilocos and Pangasinan. Yet much of the Isinay vocabulary as well as mode of speaking this indigenous language of Southern Nueva Vizcaya I learned from my Isinay grade school classmates.

How? By what I like to now call "linguistic osmosis".

More to the point, through the games we played (e.g. Prisoner of War). Through the required school chores (e.g., pulling amorseco so that their "grains"  would not cling on the pants of our sirs or ruin the nylon stockings of our ma'ams). Through our school projects (e.g., making brooms out of coconut midribs, weaving small baskets out of bamboos, carving storks out of sawmill slabs). And through the bullying (e.g., sticking a soldier termite in clay and letting the insect bite the ear of an unfriendly pupil) that even during my time seemed to be part of the school culture anywhere.

It was via these mediums that I picked up words that my Ilocano upbringing has before then shielded me from. Examples: ikulkulepot, manluham, mangawas, asaw, unung, talenan, tamuhaha, lurun, duluriyaw, kutalu, palla^, tawas, lutih, wawini, uhaw, tili indong, ulili, maagu^, sing-aw, bunuvun, kengkeng, dumoh, nahugguran, nais-isaw, naguggure^, suput, and hundreds more Isinay words that are now half-forgotten or even moribund.  

I will postpone giving the English translations or equivalents of these Isinay terms for now as I have exciting stories related to or surrounding many of them that I intend to include in this blogsite soon. Mansor ayu lohom (just you wait). 

In the meantime, my reminiscence would like to dwell on one of the very first “new words” I heard in this school. This is the word nakalus (nakarus in Ilocano).

Nakalus, the past tense of the verb scrape, referred then to pupils who were scraped off the list. Take note: this was to prevent congestion in the classroom (meaning that, even in the late1950s when the terms "baby boomers" and "population explosion" were not yet in vogue, the acute need for classrooms was already felt in Dupax). 

This is supposed to be a separate sutsur (story) but let me just tell that I was one of those nakalus pupils at Dupax Central Elementary School in June of 1958.

No, sir, it was not because I could not touch my left ear when I put my right hand over my head (as was the practice then in our part of the Philippines, to determine if a kid can now go to school). I was scratched off the initial list of Grade One pupils in Dupax because I was not yet 7-year-old during the enrolment for school year 1958-1959.

Similar to being kicked out of UP, being nakalus was sort of a big, big shame among us Dupax kids then. You know how kids are. During my time, they would tease you no end the way they often looked down upon and excluded navungis (cleft-lipped) or navu^kung (hunched-backed) children when they played. 

I have yet to ask my mother whose idea it was to try to enrol me in Bambang. But before I knew it, our household help at the time, Uwa Ika^ Laccay, and I were already there. We first stayed in her sister's house in Buag (Caraon family) before she brought me to my mother's spinster aunts (Patricia and Dulia Corrales) who had a house in the Agnar compound near the Bambang cemetery.

First target was St. Catherine's School where Papa taught Grade 4 pupils when I was a baby. Too late for enrolment, we were told. So Uwa Ika^ brought me to the Bambang Central Elementary School instead.

By coincidence, just like on my first two days at Dupax Elementary School before I got nakalus, my classroom as a Grade One in Bambang was similarly on the right when you face the also-Gabaldon main building of Bambang Central Elementary School. The latter did not however have the duluriyaw (cicadas) the choruses of which I earlier enjoyed in Dupax when Mrs. Suzon, my very first teacher (before I got weeded out), was telling us congested pupils about a man named Jose Rizal who was shot in the head in a place that was strange to us Isinay kids but which we surmised then to be far, far away from Dupax.

By some good twist of fate also, the house where I stayed in Buag happened to have a boarder, an Igorot student of nearby NVSAT named Gavino, who patiently tutored me on how to read the contents (example: "Ti baka aguga. Aguga ti baka") of the then prescribed Ilocano textbook, including how to distinguish ab, eb, ib, ob, ub from ba, be, bi, bo, bu and ang, eng, ing, ong, ung from nga, nge, ngi, ngo, ngu.

As fate would have it, however, I got sick after almost two months in Bambang. Probably because I enjoyed getting soaked in the heavy afternoon rains of July when I would hike from school to my grandaunts' house in Buag. Or probably too because I was too young to be weaned away from home and, while watching other boys climbing the makopa tree that used to be a prominent spot near the then Bambang Hospital, I also longed for my siniguelas, starapple, guava, and tamarind tree-friends in Dupax, and missed quarreling with my sisters and gallivanting in the river with my friends in the barrio. 

And so back to Dupax Elementary School I was. 

Luck must have been on my side because, by some twist of fate again, when I returned home from the then seemingly very far away takallo (Bambang Isinay for corn) country, the school administrators of Dupax Central probably realized that there were too many nakalus pupils. And so they decided to use a bamboo-and-cogon shed (a little bigger than the kamarin that my grandparents used as tobacco-drying shed) for classroom to accommodate not-yet-seven-year-olds like me. 

To use an off-worn phrase, the rest is history.

In that kamarin-like shed, before dilapidated desks were reparied and brought in, my classmates and I first made do with sitting on the ledges of the tinahete (tinidtid in Ilocano; wall made of bamboo poles chopped in such a way that the pole flattens out when split on one side). 

It was in that shed that one time before other pupils arrived for the afternoon classes, I saw a brown, long and slithering creature that soon made me shout "iraw! iraw!" (snake! snake!). But no one among the boys paid attention then, because they were busy playing dayusdus (slide) on the roadside slope close to the shed. I realize now that what I saw was an immanuy (cobra) whose very lethal sting would have brought me to kingdom come had I been so stupid as to get closer to it than I should have.

There was a huge akasya (rain tree; Albizzia saman aka Samanea saman) immediately beside that makeshift school building, and when its black pods started to fall we picked them up and played giyegiyera (war game) with them. Across the road was Abannatan where we would go to mansahov (fetch water) to keep our garden plots moist. There used to be a deep part of that creek that we called Bunyeng and where we boys would go man-iyat (swim) when on some hot afternoons Mr. Benter or the school principal Mr. Andres Imperial would kengkeng (repeatedly strike) the school bell to call the teachers to a meeting.

Our Grade One class garden was located behind the classroom shed. It was a maro-ot (grassy, weedy) spot mostly of a flowering vine we called Zamboangita, that we cleared and made into tiny plots that we tinubuhan (watered) every afternoon before class dismissal and which we surrounded with lurun (spikes made of sharpened bamboo sticks) to deter pupils of other grade levels from manggatin (stepping) on our camote plants.

Oh yes, it was also in that one-classroom building that two of my classmates were ni-attayan (involuntarily defecated) in the classroom and on their undies. I guess they were too shy to say "May I go out" then. (Oh well, should my classmates read this and try to remember, one was a girl now married to an American; the other was a boy now gone but not before reportedly joining the NPA and, when caught and made an asset under the custody of the military, shot a policeman of Dupax with an Armalite.)

It was in that same makeshift classroom where the pupils lucky to be in the real school building called Gabaldon would now and then come make "usi" to us as if (to use modern parlance) we were tourist attractions and refer to us, well, in an almost derisive way, as being nakalus

However, that pangal-ali (pangungutya in Tagalog; despising in English) made on us literally and figuratively squatter pupils is now water under the bridge. Aboleyam mot (never mind). Why? 

Because in that makeshift bamboo-walled and cogon-roofed classroom, I made very good use of the reading skill ("Ni Lino lalaki. Lalaki ni Lino") that I learned from my Igorot tutor in Buag. I must have also capitalized on my prior knowledge of the Ilocano songs I learned from that flimsy Grade One book I had in Bambang ("Igalutyo nga igalut, ti baboy ni  Nana Itang, kaasi ti maperdian, mula nga inna nagsubsuban!"). 

And most probably, too, I must have also exhibited to our teacher, Auntie Toring (Victoria Guiab Coloma) my being antigo (skilled) on the use of crayons -- an "expertise" I thought I have after I happened to bring home to Dupax and proudly showed Mama my drowing of a multi-colored bird that I did under my then teacher Mrs. de Vera when I was one-and-a-half-months Grade One pupil in Bambang Central.

In other words, the prior learning experience that I got in the also-Isinay part of Bambang probably gave me the edge over my classmates (including Honey Castillo who was the first to correctly read the “Here we are” that our ma'am wrote on the blackboard), such that when the klosing (end of classes) came, I was “fers onor” in our section of Grade 1 pupils.