TURNING POINT: Walo-walo and Stone Soup

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/13 January) — “It’s the weather,” says a sustenance fisher in an interview. “A bad weather is our worst problem. It forbids us from fishing. If we cannot fish for three days all of us will go hungry.”

Walo-walo is such inclement weather that is dreaded by small fishers. Walo-walo brings about eight days to as much as two weeks of non-stop gusty winds and heavy rains that churn the seas, creating huge and virulent waves that make small craft navigation and fishing hazardous, if not impossible.

Most fisherfolk are solely dependent on the bounty of the sea for their livelihood. In recent years, overfishing, pollution, and the increasing siltation of the fishing grounds have precariously reduced the catch and income of small fishers.

“On regular days, we catch from two to three kilograms of fish/day,” reported a seasoned fisher. “This would earn us from P200 to P450, depending on the quality of our catch. During the seasons particularly for tamban (sardine) our catch would be aplenty; but some 40 percent of the catch though would often go to people in the shore who help us disentangle the fish from the nets. Our income on occasions like this may rise from P600 to as much as P800/day.”

“But there are also days that we catch nothing and return to shore empty-handed after five to six hours of fishing effort, “chimed another fisher during a focus group discussion in a fishing village in Gingoog Bay. Walo-walo would further depress our hand-to-mouth existence; what meager resources we have would be exhausted in three days or less without a chance of immediate replenishment.”

In fine weather, when a fisher runs out of basic household supplies like corn grits, salted fish and kerosene, it is easy for him to borrow some items from his neighbors, returnable at the end of the next fishing day. But on walo-walo there is no one to run to in the neighborhood; all are equally in dire need. The only way out is to advance some amount from the middleman or the suki. This is done on an honor arrangement that the future catch of the borrower will be delivered to and often on prices dictated by the source of fund.

Fishers, however, who operate non-motorized bancas do not have a bankable future to compromise. They therefore run the risk of hunger and starvation when walo-walo strikes. How some cope and survive with their families is revealing. One fisher with five kids in Panguil Bay amazed me with his story.

“When I was still young, there was this terrible weather that lasted for more than two weeks. Ours was a large family with 11 members, to include an old and weak grandmother. We easily ran out of anything to eat before the end of the first week. Braving the wind and the rain, my father would scan the shores and scout for drifted coconuts. On his return, we would have coco meat to eat which greatly relieved our hunger. My mother would also prepare “stone soup” out of live hard corals that father would chance upon to collect during low tides. With just tanglad (lemon grass) and luy-a (ginger), the hot stone soup was as tasty as any fish soup I had tried. It kept us warm during the cold punishing weather.

Now that I have a family of my own I have improved on the stone soup of my mother to cushion us from hard times. I now have kalamungay (moringa oleifera) to add to the soup ingredients to make it more real and nutritious.”

In my last visits to some fishing villages along Panguil Bay, old discarded banca hulls were no longer chopped into firewood but were converted into a veritable garden planted with ginger, tomatoes, onions, hot pepper and sweet potato. Other fishers filled cement sacks with garden soil and grew the same plants in their small yards. The sturdy kalamungay has also become a fixture in the immediate surroundings of small fishers.

The foul weather returns just after a day of reprieve since day one of 2015. It’s getting cold again.

Care for a hot stone soup? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., was a research and extension worker, professor and the first chancellor of the Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental. He was a British Council fellow and trained in 1994 at Sheffield University, United Kingdom, on Participatory Planning and Environmentally Responsible Development. Upon retirement, he served as national consultant to the ADB-DENR project on integrated coastal resource management. He is the immediate past president of the MSU Alumni Association.)