Our old house was right where the road leveled after dipping down from the adjoining barrio of Muzon to the north. My father trekked on that road every so often from Cupang to the barrio of Buli in Taal—a distance of eight kilometers—carrying on his shoulder a stout bamboo pole about ten feet long which his father, my mamay or grandpa, had cut down from the grove in their looban or backyard, which used to be luxuriant with this giant grass. Father had buyers in Buli of the heavy bamboo which he sold for the princely sum of P1.20—in those days, five centavos could already buy a person a simple meal.
It must have seemed to him such a grueling way of earning a living, so he tried other farm jobs which turned out to be not much better off, such as helping with the harvest in places as far away as Tiaong, Quezon, bringing home his share of palay seedlings after being away for weeks, bearing the load in two kerosene cans hanging from a bamboo pingga (carrying pole). Back home, my mother who was a dressmaker, accepted orders, laboring day and night, as the young couple prepared to raise a family. A year after Liberation, I was born in a sawali-walled nipa-roofed hut standing lonely on a hillock dominated by a towering mango tree, which continued to bear fruit long after the original occupants of that tiny plot of land had abandoned their hut in 1949, leaving it to crumble, decay and disappear without a trace over the years.
After the war, poverty was rife not only in the bombed-out cities of the country, but also in the rural areas not spared by the conflict. Life had become so precarious in Cupang, a small barrio of mostly farmers, so that my parents and some of our relatives decided to settle down anywhere they would have better chances of survival. News had spread about economic opportunities in a city called Baguio—far up in northern Luzon and high up in the mountains—which was then rebuilding from the ravages of war. I was three years old in 1949 when my parents and I and my six-month-old sister Mina, who was born in Malabon, boarded a bus of the Benguet Auto Line in Manila bound for Baguio.
I would spend my entire childhood, from kindergarten to high school, in Baguio City. Most of my siblings were born there; thus Baguio is their hometown, and they still live there with their families. But despite my deep attachment to the culture of the Cordillera and having imagined myself all these years as an adopted Ilocano and Igorot, I have always been proud of my Batangueño heritage, and I speak Tagalog with the appropriate accent when conversing with folks from the home province.
In summer, I would split my vacation from school between two places. One was Malabon, Rizal, my mother’s hometown, where most of her relatives still live, including her younger sister, Tiya Edy, whom I got to visit last year. I had not been to Malabon for ages, and I was not quite prepared for what this erstwhile quaint fishing town had turned into, which I should write about sometime. The other one was of course Cupang, and my most recent visit was early in June this year, to attend the golden jubilee of Cupang Centro or Cupang Kaliyos, the middle part of the barrio, which came about following a dispute among village elders 50 years ago. (It’s a long story, and I came to know about this underside of my barrio’s history only a few weeks ago.)
I could write volumes about these three places in the heart—Baguio, Malabon and Cupang—but it’s my birthplace I want to reminisce on because of the memories indelibly attached to it: my parents’ stories about their love and courtship; the precious brief times I spent with my grandparents, aunts and cousins; and those glad moments of summer fun and frolic exploring the fallow fields and darkly canopied gullies of the kaparangan or countryside; climbing up the mango, avocado, duhat and sinigwelas trees to enjoy the earth’s bounty (despite close encounters with hantik or fire ants); hitching a ride on the kalmot (soil-breaking harrow fashioned from internodes of thick thorny bamboo lashed together, and pulled by an ox); listening to the trilling of kilyawan (orioles), maryakapra (pied fantail) and other birds at break of day, the chorus of chirring cicadas or yayay at sundown; and the surreal experience of lying down on the newly asphalted highway at nightfall, since vehicular traffic was non-existent in the evening, and we enjoyed the slow cooling of the road on our backs as we lay supine gazing up at the billions of stars, cheering with every single blaze or silent shower of bulalakaw (shooting stars, meteorites) that streaked across the jet-black sky.
We never severed our ties with Cupang, where we still have a few surviving relatives, though all the elderly ones are gone. My paternal grandparents and ancestors are buried in the municipal cemetery of Bauan. Since the 1950s, and until recently, we have taken every opportunity to visit Cupang, especially during its annual fiesta, which falls on June 1. Except for some 20 years when it was not possible for me to visit (imprisonment during martial law, working abroad, poor health or some other reason), I did my best to join the yearly pilgrimage to Cupang, in a joyous reunion with relatives and friends.
And so off to Cupang we did go on the eve of this year’s barrio fiesta—my cousins and their families and I, some of us Manila-based and the rest coming all the way down from Baguio. We were just a small contingent of the huge Angkan nina Anong at Rosa (the official title of our clan named in honor of our grandparents, Valeriano Maranan and Rosa Ylagan) that made it to Cupang for the golden jubilee of our part of the barrio. Here’s a brief background to an intriguing tale: 50 years ago, a misunderstanding arose among the leading citizens of Cupang, and our barrio broke up into three parts -- Ilaya, Ibaba and Centro (the last being our place of origin). In time, our part of the barrio also came to be known as Cupang Kaliyos. I asked a number of locals where the added word came from, and only one could venture a guess that I thought was credible enough: It refers to a tree that used to grow abundantly in the barrio. And it came to pass that 50 years ago and henceforth Cupang would have three fiestas: on the first, second and third of June, and to Kaliyos was given the privilege of the initial celebration.
What a feast for the senses, as well as the spirit, this jubilee turned out to be. The day began with a mass at the kapilya—a concrete structure and virtually a regular church which used to be called a tuklong when it was no bigger than an elongated nipa hut made of bamboo, from altar to wall and pew. The obligatory marching band—the St. Mary Magdalene group imported from Kawit, Cavite—roused the village from end to end, led by the familiar phalanx of good-looking mini-skirted majorettes wearing knee-high leather boots, twirling batons, and performing perky dances in designated stop-overs. Every house was redolent with the scent of fiesta food, all strangers were welcome to partake of the repast, and in our grandparents’ old and rundown house my cousin Mario Jasa had had a long table built with bamboo slats on which were laid a variety of delicacies from breakfast till dinnertime.
The hot afternoon featured a parade of lavishly decorated tricycles on top of which rode royally costumed girls and boys dispensing candies to the jostling crowd. We even had a contingent of lion dancers from Quezon City performing in selected houses, thanks to the Wushu team headed by nephew-in-law Artemio Montes and niece Mary Ann Jasa. While all this was going on, cousin Ruben Maranan led in decorating the simple but elegant arches on wheels for the evening’s much-awaited procession of the regal sagalas—lovely ladies in long gowns, wearing crowns and sashes, their arches emblazoned with biblical and mythological icons of the Filipino religious faith. Our clan had two queens participating in the procession that evening, nieces Patricia and Sofia Maranan-San Diego as Reyna de las Propetas (Queen of the Prophets) and Diwata ng Kagandahan (Muse of Beauty), respectively. Their konsortes or escorts were their cousins Pedro Fernando and Lorenzo Maranan. Not even the sudden downpour at mid-procession could dampen the enthusiasm of the huge crowd that lined both sides of the road.
At the end of a long day, we all gathered at the house of nephew Bonifacio de la Peña and his wife, Karina, for a late dinner of fiesta favorites, beer and refreshments. This had been a happy mini-reunion coinciding with a golden jubilee celebration. Things may not be as grand next year, but many of Cupang’s traditions will go on. At least one hopes so. The nostalgia I feel for the Cupang I used to know gets deeper by the day. The fields and forests of my barrio on both sides of the highway are being bought up by subdivision developers, companies and factories. This once narrow asphalt road on which we used to lie down at nightfall to gaze at the stars has widened into several lanes reaching up to our doors. And the rush of buses, trucks, cars, as well as ten-wheelers and tankers going down to the ports of Batangas from metropolitan Manila goes on the whole day and throughout the night.
The old countryside and other fondly remembered places of our childhood are fast receding and will eventually fade away, our memories of them kindled and rekindled by black-and-white or sepia photographs, and by sentimental stories handed down through generations.
Ed Maranan has won major literary awards for his poetry, fiction, essays, plays, and children's stories. He writes a column for The Philippine Star, contributes to other publications, and is a member of the Baguio Writers Group, PEN Philippines, and Umpil (Writers Union of the Philippines). He was a political detainee for more than two years during martial law.
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