MAITUM, Sarangani (MindaNews / 2 February)— If not for the lowly bangsi, or flying fish, high school dropout Maribel Reroma would not be flying high and free from the clutches of poverty.
In the 1990s, Reroma worked as a household helper to affluent local families to help augment the income of her husband, a laborer. She even tried to work abroad as a domestic worker to improve their lot; thrice she applied but all for naught.
Fondly called Dadang, her encounter with bangsi started over a decade later after they got married. Her husband was then just earning a meager income of P1,200 a month, not enough for their growing family.
Determined to improve their situation, Reroma decided to quit her work as a household helper and asked her husband to tend their two young children then, to which he obliged.
At the time, this sleepy coastal town was beginning to promote its “One Town, One Product,” and had chosen the half-dried marinated bangsi as its major offering.
Bangsi is abundant in the waters of Maitum and neighboring areas straddled by the Celebes Sea and Sarangani Bay.
Production of half-dried marinated bangsi began in the 1980s in this town that boasts of a colony of giant bats and river tire-tubing adventure. This municipality is also where prehistoric jars were discovered.
As a tribute to the fish that benefits both the local men, who do the catching, and women, who do the processing, the town held in 2008 the first Bangsi Festival to further promote the half-marinated bangsi product and the locality’s tourism potentials.
Since then, many women in this sleepy coastal town have been literally flying high over the years, cashing in on the marinated bangsi that has become a favorite pasalubong (bring home) items of visitors to this town largely dominated by Ilokanos.
Reroma began her journey to rise from poverty as a hawker of marinated bangsi.
“I actually started as a failure. I bought 10 kilos of marinated bangsi but only three kilos were sold. It was the same case for some time but I did not surrender until business began to pick up,” she told MindaNews on January 22.
The town celebrated the week-long 13th Bangsi Festival, which culminated the following day with a street dancing contest inspired by the fish and followed by lunch with free servings of charcoal-grilled fresh and marinated bangsi.
Local officials ordered at least 300 kilograms of marinated bangsi for merrymakers to feast on, besides the several hundred kilos of fresh catches.
The week-long festivities included live bands, motocross, bancarera (fishing boat race), zumba with foam party, acrobatic shows and bangsi cooking contest.
From a vendor, Reroma, due to perseverance and discipline, became a producer of marinated bangsi, which she supplies to wet markets and grocery stores in Region 12 or Soccsksargen.
With four children now, she owns a fishing boat dedicated to catching bangsi. According to her, she can process up to 500 kilos of marinated bangsi, depending on the availability of raw supply.
“Bangsi has been a big blessing to our family,” Reroma said.
The 45-year-old mother is also engaged in the trading of bagoong (fermented fish sauce), vegetables and fruits not just in the town but also in neighboring areas in the region.
During his keynote address for the 13th Bangsi Festival, Mayor Alexander Bryan Reganit noted that around 1,000 families in the town depend on the bangsi industry for livelihood.
“We are promoting this festival to boost the morale of our fisherfolk and the women engaged in marinated bangsi production as well as (to showcase) our diverse culture, tourism and economy,” he said.
This year’s festival theme is “Lipad Maitum Para sa Kasaganaan” (Soar Maitum for Abundance).
In the 1970s, he recalled that owing to the abundant supply of bangsi, the fisherfolk could not demand a higher price for their catch.
Three entrepreneurial women from Barangay Old Poblacion experimented in marinating the bangsi to give them a better taste, and, according to the mayor, the “rest is history.”
Reganit urged his constituents to protect and conserve marine resources in order to sustain the bangsi industry that brought fame to the locality.
“Without a sound coral reef ecosystem, we will not be able to nurture the biodiversity of marine life which give our people food and livelihood,” he stressed.
Municipal government data showed the volume of bangsi unloaded last year at the local fish port reached 324,909 kg.
Reganit lauded the officials before him for staging the Bangsi Festival, considered as one of the major festivals in Soccsksargen by the Department of Tourism.
“We plan to make the Bangsi Festival better, bigger and an exciting one in the coming years,” he said.
The first Bangsi Festival was staged in 2008 during the term of former mayor Elsie Perrett. Then governor Miguel Rene Dominguez staunchly promoted the festival.
The Bangsi Festival has become an occasion for the town’s tri-people, the Christians, Muslim and Lumads (indigenous peoples) to celebrate their cultural and religious diversity, Reganit stressed. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)