ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 09 October) – Ipinanganak ako noon October 7, 1942. Eighty years old na ako.
First time sa buhay ko, ngayon lang nangyari na matagal ko na pinag-iisipan ano ang sasabihin ko… siguro old age na yata. Naghalungkay ako sa files ko. Heto, self-explanatory ito, sinulat ko 24 years ago, March 1998…Iingles pa. Ito ang daigdig na kinamulatan ko.
My own hometown, Upi, Maguindanao used to be known as a Little Baguio. It was a barrio of a very large municipality called Dinaig. My school was known as Dinaig Central Elementary School, located at Nuro, the town center. Nuro is nestled on a plateau surrounded by deep green forest.
During the first 12 years of my life, count from 1942, mountain breeze prevailed throughout the 24 hours, temperature was really exhilarating during the day and relatively cold in the evening. Needless to say, the air was pure. We had industrial arts in school and our projects ranged from mat making to basket making. Local materials were never a problem and within easy reach in the forest nearby.
Bamboo for the school buildings was in great abundance at the healthy fresh looking Meteber river that flows confidently along the town center’s border. There was another river some three kilometers away, Darugao river, not as big but equally healthy. Cogon grass grew everywhere to serve as roofing materials for practically all homes.
The tiny population of the town, including nearby sitios, was made up of a handful of Ilocano settlers towards the south, and another handful of Ilonggos towards the west. Tedurays, the indigenous inhabitants of the place were scattered all around outside the town center, as far as the forest areas in small clusters. They provided the kulintang music that could be heard for miles around.
Within the center lived another handful of Maguindanawon. There were a total of four Tagalog families, three from Cavite and one from Bulacan. All others were less than a handful. What is strange is that while people learned to speak as many as five languages as a result of this happy mix — no inter-ethnic fights, Tagalog evolved to be the lingua franca.
“Big” stores, mostly all purpose, were owned by four Chinese families, if I remember it right, and about four or five Ilonggo families. There was no doctor, only a male nurse who acted in his private capacity. The only professionals were teachers, in the Upi Agricultural High School and in the Dinaig Central Elementary School. Most of the teachers were Ilocanos, some husband and wife teams. Medium of instruction was English.
Life was slow, peaceful and serene. There was very little cash. People were contented.
Upi in my boyhood days was virginal. Aside from the cool climate, along with lush flora also came a rich variety of animal life. Our house was located on top of a hill west of the town of Nuro and to get there one had to cross the two rivers of Meteber and Darugao.
We usually slept early, maybe six o’clock. I do not know for sure because the only person I knew who had a time piece was my music teacher and I never knew how to tell time until I was first year in high school in Cotabato City.
Crickets and sounds from the hornbills (kalaw in our language) and the monkeys beautifully blended with the quiet evenings.
On Sundays I would join my two elder brothers fishing at Darugao river with the use of home-made spear guns and goggles. Starting from where Meteber intersected with Darugao east of Nuro, we would spend the whole day traversing the length of Darugao river up to the headwaters. We brought rice with us, some salt, tomatoes and spring onions. We would cook our rice and viand in fresh bamboo tubes. Viand depended on the catch: shrimps, mud fish, hito or papait. The rest we brought home.
I learned how to behave as part of the team, not really swimming in water in Darugao river. My job really was to carry my brothers’ clothes and the other things. It was fresh, clear and clean then, except during the rainy season when it turned earth brown.
Upi was a day’s travel on horseback from the coasts and smoked fish from the sea came only once a week, brought by Maguindanawon traders who always traveled on horseback. My mother usually bought a week’s supply from them. She would boil the fish (tulingan-tinapa nakasilid sa sako, isinakay sa kabayo mula sa Pinansaran) with salt in a big pot, every day for about an hour to keep it from spoiling. And it got tastier every day, too, tender as sardines as we thought. At other times, my mother would buy dried fish in the market, market day in Nuro was every Saturday, again enough to last the whole week. She did all sorts of things with the fish, by itself, with vegetables, mostly without the benefit of lard, which came in blocks. Purico was the only brand. There was no vegetable oil at that time. Meals were always simple, they were also fun.
Staple food was rice and corn, supplemented with banana, camote, cassava, avocado, everything we grew in the farm. Vegetables were not limited to what we planted. There was plenty from the forests and rivers and creeks nearby. Survival was never a problem. That was how I learned the value of self-reliance.
We had no radio, no news from the outside, except those brought in by word of mouth.
Contact with the Cotabato City, 39 kilometers away was by the one and only bus –later there would be three — that took an hour to get to the city in the morning, and another hour to get back in the afternoon. It was in this city where my mother bought me my first ice drop when I was about five or six years old. I instinctively threw it away because it was “hot.” Of course, my mother said “tanga” (stupid). She paid a hard-earned five centavos for it.
Life was moving slowly, it was simple and uncomplicated until the days of commercial logging came in the early 60s.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Rudy Buhay Rodil posted these notes on his 80thbirthday on his Facebook wall. MindaNews was granted permission to share these notes)