The barangay

The Spanish priests and friars tried to split the islands into an administrative structure based on pueblos, or villages, surrounding their great stone churches. The base unit before colonisation had been the barangay where a few hundred people lived in extended kinship groups under the leadership of a datu, or chieftain. The old barangays mostly prevailed. They had a fairly flexible class system and slaves. But the latter were not immutable. They were often freed and intermarried.

Barangays are still the base admin units grouped into cities and cities into provinces. Some are rural and some, urban. The head man is the barangay captain.

Mary's barangay was rural. It sat on flat terrain which was approached by a small slope up from the beach. This was cut by the main road running West to East along the North of Mindanao. After the village the slope continued steeper to the top of the mountain. From the beach on, up to the top of the mountain, were bananas, lansones, coconut trees and clumps of bamboo. A rain-rutted dirt track meandered from the barangay up and over the


The houses were scattered along the dirt, village streets and there was a primary school and sari-sari shop. This latter is a general store which extends credit and sells cigarettes in ones. Behind it was some sort of cafe/meeting place where an extremely powerful karioke pounded from sunrise to about 8 PM. This was the jackhammer that I woke to each morning. A cloud of acrid, sickening smoke drifted through the village most of the time. It was a mix from wood fires and slowly burning household garbage.

This combination made me very irritated and slightly nauseated. I mostly escaped this by ascending the track until the pounding disappeared and the air was thinner and refreshing. Even up the mountain where it at first appeared people-free, there was always someone materialising round a bend in the path or from among the coconut leaves on high. Several times, when alone, I thought that it was safe to water a tree. But someone always saw me. I need not have worried because, as in France, it was quite unremarkable to see a man peeing on the side of the road.The residents seemed oblivious of it, and the noise, and the smoke. But for thpollution, the area was a mini-paradise. I was reminded of an old travel book's description of Japan. Beautiful on a picture but, in reality, the countryside stank of human excreta because their night soil was assiduously spread round their plants each morning.

Another irritation was the repeated, cheerful "Hi Joe." From each house I passed. Initially, I would shout hello. Later, all that I could manage was a brief wave. Being a Westerner imbued with the industrial world's productivity ethic I was frustrated at all the unnecessary, daily effort of a traditional society. The daily, repeated trips by all members of each family to lug water from the spring running between the rocks on the beach back up that 300 metre climb to their homes.

At 57 I had built an in-ground water tank back home for my hydroponic system. I did it single-handed through digging, shuttering, concreting and sealing. It took me a week and cost four bags of cement mixed with sand lugged from the creek bed. Their abundance was labour. Why could each house not build one and catch the regular roof water. I never consider people to be poor if they consume Coke and smoke cigarettes.

Better still, why could not all the barangay jointly buy a motorised pump with pressure switch to lift the water from the beach spring through a poly-tube to stand pipes in the barangay.? Electricity was actually laid on to the beach! Or construct/buy tanks for roof-water etc.

When I returned home I sent photos of my tank in stages of construction with instructions. I also sent plans and instructions for constructing simple, ferro-cement tanks which were developed by the Intermediate Technology Development Group (IDTG) in London. Thousands of these tanks have been built very cheaply by native labour in Africa. Mary thanked me and said that they would, in future, probably go for the IDTG pattern. I never did hear whether these eventuated. Perhaps manãna!

Herein demonstrates the cultural gap between a traditional and industrial society. What they find normal we find irrational.

Nevertheless, I could appreciate the value of the daily laundry and bathing rituals in the spring. It was a daily meeting of all the women and quite a few men - young and old. All under a majestic spreading tree which gave protection from the sun.

The barangay spring

Each morning they drifted down to the beach to the abundant fresh water flowing from under the mountain and into the sea. Each carried some receptacle full of yesterday's wearings. Several individuals stood in each of the many gaps in the rocks up to their thighs. They washed their clothes with soaps, and scrubbing brushes; sometimes slapping them against the rocks or beating them with a purpose-made paddle. Then they were well rinsed and, after folding, placed in the plastic bowls and buckets. Bodies next! Sliding soaped hands beneath their shirts and shorts they lathered all over before showering themselves with bowls of fresh water. All the time they laughed and talked. Much more humanising than isolation with the automatic washer back home.

Boys were busy fishing with little wire spears in the sea up to their waists. They came ashore with their tiny fishes threaded on a loop of wire. This would form a part of their balanced diet of rice, fish, vegetables and fruit. A little further off shore were more serious fishers in outrigger canoes. These were paddled; but an occasional boat had an small, pop-pop outboard.

I accompanied Mary and her children each morning and, while she laundered, I swam in the calm, clear ocean. In a short while I would return to a rock with a bowl of water and prop up my 2 inch, folding, handbag-type mirror for a shave while listening to BBC World Service on my little, short-wave radio. I had arrived with a neat trimmed beard but it rapidly disappeared under the urging of Mary. I hung on to my moustache. After all: one must not be totally dominated. Then I joined her in the rock-pool to follow the ubiquitous washing ritual. Mary would take my thongs and thoroughly scrub them.

One day stood out. I was swimming slightly out of my depth so, for a rest, I scanned the ocean bed for a rock which would keep my head above water. Seeing a nice rounded one I let my left foot down on to it. But it settled into a pin-cushion of poisonous spines. The pain was sudden and intense so I swam ashore to let Mary inspect it. I had to hop over to her and this attracted a curious crowd. I was informed that I had stepped on a sea urchin and that the spines would have to be removed. Mary rather sheepishly interpreted a suggestion from the crowd. That It should be bathed in urine. She assisted me back up the hill, across the main road and up the short, steep concrete road that traversed the steepest slope. I had not seen this before. Normally, we used a dirt path and stone steps down to the road. I sat in their house with foot on stool while Mary washed the sole of my foot with alcohol before her father used a needle to dig out a couple of dozen spines which were buried beneath the skin surface. But many were not accessible, and for weeks there was a dull pain when I pressed my foot down at a certain angle.

Considering the very rural nature of the barangay and that all were known to each other, I was surprised at their fears and insecurity. Each night the village was patrolled by residents according to rota. The doors were bolted and windows securely shuttered. They were convinced that robbers were ready to pounce should they let their guard down. I thought these fears were not justified. But I have since heard alarming tales concerning robberies and rape. One lister on Mag-Anak lived with his wife in a barangay. Thieves entered their house and he was badly beaten up. They gained a few dollars and he ended up in hospital. I must admit that never, at any time, did I feel any threats and, in fact, never even thought about it.

Copyright © Clive Halliday 2001.

...continued shortly....