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.
Samporadas Spring -
N. coast, Mindanao.
This is the wash/laundry/drinking
water spring. Mary is center - picture
standing with washing under R. arm.
Bottom R. is the first of the quite-
steep tracks up which all the
daily drinking water had to
be carried to the barangay - some
to the top of the mountain!
A variety of water bottles
can be observed. The men
have already ,earlier, collected
the main supply in old 5 gallon
oil etc drums.
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
Copyright © Clive Halliday 2001.