Friday, February 04, 2011

Laguna, 4

My relatives had many stories of firsthand encounters with wildlife in the forest. It was fascinating to listen to such stories, but I'd never want to be in a similar situation. I love the mountains, not the wildlife, particularly those that can potentially harm humans. I'm okay with non-poisonous spiders, ants and harmless little critters... Mt. Makiling has all of those and more.

Snakes, for instance. As the Filipino saying goes, lahat ng gubat ay may ahas (every jungle has snakes), which I am using literally here. Snakes are supposed to avoid people unless you startled them. That was why I made a lot of noise while walking around the forest. According to an uncle, he and a companion chanced upon a sleeping sawa (boa) coiled as high as his thighs, its head buried in the middle. It was as big as thighs too, he said. They hacked it with a machete.

One time my cousins saw a snake wrapped around the beam of our hut's ceiling. At another time, it was a big one slithering under the house. Yikes!

Then there were wild bees. My mother said that when Lola Pina was pregnant with her last child, she, my mother and their dog were outside when they heard buzzing that increasingly grew louder. Realizing a swarm of wild bees was coming their way, they ran as fast as they could. They were able to take shelter but the dog was not as fortunate. The bees mercilessly killed it. I wonder if the dog deliberately protected its masters. How can a pregnant woman outrun a dog? Or maybe it was tied and there was no time to untie it. Whatever the case may be, it saved my grandmother and mother.

Another one, the baboy damo (wild boar). My grandfather was an expert hunter of baboy damo. They cooked and served it during special occasions. It was served at the baptism of all my siblings. Apparently, this was one animal you had to kill at the first attempt or it could turn on you and injure, if not kill, you. I don't know if there are still wild boars in Mt. Makiling. I think they are protected species now.

This next one isn't wild, but I was told they chased people. Cattle. Before we began our ascent to Mt. Makiling, we had to passed by the farm where cattle grazed. We, especially the children, avoided getting near the wire fence or agitating these seemingly harmless animals. I think a relative had been chased by a cow.

Although I was wary of wildlife, I was not too scared because we always went in a group, and the men carried a bolo or itak (machete) on their waists or a hunting rifle. Kids had tirador (slingshots). I liked holding a stick not only for hiking but for self-defense, just in case... Better than nothing.

The confidence and courage of my kin sort of rubbed off on me in the jungle. I had a sense of adventure as long as I knew they were close by or within screaming distance. 

Thankfully, in all the years I went up the mountain, I never encountered any wildlife. The worst would be red ants.

With my cousins, before entering the forest

To be continued

Laguna, 3

As I said previously, my grandfather had a four-hectare homestead on the slopes of Mt. Makiling just beyond UP Los Banos Animal Husbandry. It was thickly forested and had all sorts of tropical fruit trees. Mango. Guava. Lanzones. Sampaloc (tamarind). Coconut. Langka (jackfruit). Rambutan. Guyabano. Santol. Sintones (oranges). There was a sintonesan section dedicated to oranges. There were coffee and kakaw (cocoa) trees. Then there were the non-fruit bearing trees, like mahogany and narra, that grow in tropical forests. A part was dedicated to ipil-ipil (Santa Elena). There was not a square meter of ground, apart from the area where around our hut, that was not covered with dead leaves, grass, weeds, and other vegetation.

    My cousins and I up a sintones tree. These trees do no grow very high. We could even 
just sit on the ground if the branches were low and pick some fruits.

That was a well tended piece of property. My father contributed a lot in that when he helped out my grandfather during the Japanese occupation. He helped to plant trees and till the soil for rice planting. My mother said it was difficult to plant rice upland but it was a fun time too for young people who found that opportunity to be together. The rice they planted fed many evacuees from town that sought shelter there from the fierce fighting between the Japanese and the joint Filipino and American troops after Gen. Douglas MacArthur had returned to the Philippines.

Growing up, I remember my grandparents spending a great deal of time in the mountains. They had a nipa hut there. Sometimes we had to hike up to see them, after resting for a while at my uncle's house in the town below.

My earliest memory of that place was probably the time my siblings and cousins, already in their youth, decided to spend the night there. My parents let me tag along while they stayed behind in my uncle's house. I was only four years old and still drinking milk from the bottle. Unfortunately--or not--my group forgot to bring my bottle with us. Poor little girl had no milk for the night. That was how I was weaned. Yes, at four years old!

What I remember more from that vacation was that I was really scared at night. My parents were not with me, and I heard different forest sounds that get magnified in the evening. It was also very dark because there was no electricity. I wanted to pee but there was no toilet in the hut. No outhouse either. Up there, when you felt the call of nature, you had to go to nature, if you know what I mean. Being night time, I asked someone to accompany just outside the hut by the front steps. So scary. Whoever it was who accompanied me decided to frighten me even more and pretended to leave me behind even before I was done.  I quickly ran up the bamboo stairs. Mean! There, it's out of my system, haha.

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Laguna, 2

My mother got married at age 20. Her father, Bonifacio, got married at age...


His wife, Manuela, was also 15. That's just the age of my youngest son Markus. Even though that was the turn of the 20th century, when young men were plotting and joining the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish conquistadores, I find it hard to imagine two 15-year-olds settling down like grown ups. It's easier to imagine older married people with the mindset of a 15-year-old because they're all over the place.

Just like its independence, which the Philippines won then quickly lost to the Americans, Bonifacio's marriage was lost to another man. Manuela left him taking along their two children.

My mother can't say for sure how long (or short) the marriage lasted. Or how long it took Bonifacio to find another love, which he found in Crispina. 

Crispina, about 24 years younger than Bonifacio, came from a broken marriage too. Like Bonifacio, she got married in her teens. I'm not sure if the man she married was also young, but it seems he was immature. My mother describes him as a mama's boy. The short marriage did not produce any children.

Bonifacio and Crispina lived together and in 1925, when Crispina was 20, they had their first of five children, my mother.

Fast forward...

When I was born, my grandfather, Bonifacio a.k.a. Lolo Pasyo, must have been in his 80s already. I remember him as short (less than 5'), fair, and skinny, but he was still active and strong enough to continue going up Mt. Makiling to oversee his land with its various tropical trees, fruit trees, coffee, etc. .that they sold to traders or used for consumption. In his younger years, he was a kainginero (slash-and-burn farmer) and a hunter who knew the forests of Mt. Makiling well. He always had fighting cocks that he brought to the cockpit arena on weekends.

Lolo may be short but he was domineering. I think he was like a taskmaster. In his old age, he seemed to give his children and wife a hard time because of stubbornness. But he was respected by the clan both from Manuela's and Crispina's lines. He may be stern, but he was very nice and gentle to me, like most grandfathers perhaps. I could get my way with him.

Lolo Pasyo carrying my nephew Glenn, his first great grandson in our side of the family

My grandmother, a.k.a. Lola Pina, was in her mid-50s when I was born. She was dark, tall (taller than Lolo), slender, with mellow eyes and long hair she often put up in a bun. She was a good cook, and loved gardening and card games. During the Japanese occupation, she earned some income from doing laundry for Japanese soldiers at the camp. Apparently she was a good laundrywoman and ironed clothes very well. My mother learned from her. I learned from my mother but I hardly put it to practice now unlike before in the Philippines. My grandmother might be appalled if she knew I don't iron my clothes if I could get away with it, and that I don't do it anymore for my husband nor sons who I'm "training" to be iron men. I'm passing the iron. If you want pressed clothes, do it yourselves. And they do.

Lola Pina in the late 50s or early 60s

Going back to my grandparents, together they were known as Ginatang Duhat, with reference to their skin colours. There was no such thing as Ginatang Duhat in real life. It's more like name-calling. The root word of ginatan is gata, meaning coconut milk or cream, referring to my grandfather. Duhat is black plum, referring to my grandmother. If one mentioned Ginatang Duhat in their town, everyone knew who it was or where they lived. Houses those days had no addresses. But people had labels.

My grandparents both loved to tell stories. I think chatting was everyone's favourite thing to in their family. Do you know my mother and her siblings? It was the same with their clan. People loved to chat anywhere and everywhere... They go unannounced to each other' houses at any time of the day or night and talk away. It seemed they were always animated and had a built-in mic, full blast! They laughed really loud and have a distinct Tagalog accent. Their language is very, uhm, colourful. It would make you blush even if you were from the more modern Manila.

Growing up, I heard some great stories of their exploits in the mountains and the lowland. My relatives liked to repeat stories so I remembered them. I have a few of my own memorable stories, too. I'm going to share some.

To be continued...

Monday, January 24, 2011


If there’s any place in the Philippines where I felt most at home next to UP Diliman, it would be Laguna, a province southeast of Manila. My mother's side came from a town there called Los BaƱos, famous for hot springs, buko pie and other things. Even if I was the only one among my siblings who wasn't born there, I felt an attachment to Laguna just the same. We have so much family history in that province going back generations, at least as far as my mother can remember.

Mt. Makiling, partly in Los Banos, was a big part of our family history. (pic from

My parents' love story began there. I have blogged about this in the past, but a condensed version may be worth repeating here. My father, an Ilocano from the province in Isabela, moved to Manila to live with relatives, and joined the USAFFE during WWII. After the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese, he found a job in Los Banos. Every afternoon, he walked home from work, and passed by my grandfather's house. He would then hear someone singing inside but did not see her or know who she was. Intrigued, he asked a co-worker about the girl behind the beautiful voice. Fortunately, this co-worker knew her. Thus began nights of harana (serenade), which was how young men those days got to know and befriend young women under the watchful eye of her parents.

When thieves started stealing the produce of my grandfather's homestead in nearby Mt. Makiling, my father offered to stay there and guard the property while also tending it. There was no formal courtship between my father and mother, but this was his way of making his intent known. He served her family in the tradition of paninilbihan, a prolonged period of service to win his ladylove, or rather, her parents. My father endeared himself to my grandparents because he was very hardworking and was such a nice guy. Napakasipag at mabait talaga, in the words of my mother. The end, obviously, was that they got married after a year of separation without any communication or certainty of getting back together. More on this in my Love Letters series. Beautiful story that lasted 59 years.

The story of my grandparents was more complicated. I learned about it not too long ago when I started digging more into my family history for a course I attended at our church. The module on generational blessings and curses required me to look into our family's past because this can shed some light into how I did or do life and why. It was also to embrace my generational blessings--which are many--and pass them on to my children, while renouncing what needed to be cleansed from my spiritual line by the blood of Jesus Christ. (Sorry, this sounds a little heavy, and indeed it was.)

So who were my grandparents? What was their story?

To be continued...