Monday, May 26, 2008

Tiral ag iba pang terminong Asi para sa panahon

"Pag nasagahay ka tiral sa yadag, nainot-inot ka pasahe payawor sa mahabang biyahe pa-Mindoro."

Kali ay usoy sa ako ni Tatay Meming it kag sida ay buhi pa, ag pag ako narurumruman ay naparada nak pay eksena sa sine ka memorya it kag mga panahong buko kinahangyan, tuyar ngasing, ka diesel ag jet fuel para umandar ag makaraginot ka tawo sa panahon it Space Age.

Ka mga terminong Asi nak pampanahon ay lengguwaheng ka balor sa ato kultura ay indi madinigaran, dahil reli gi lilibor ka adlaw-adlaw nak pagpapangabuhi it ka-tribuhang Asi, ka mga Sibalenhon lalo ey.

Ka pagmasir ag pagkanuynoy sa panahon o klima ay usa sa ato cultural pastimes. Imaw kali it basehan it desisyon kung sauno na pugas, na kopras, na paragat, na biyahe, na pamalaye, napuyor it kuwadan, na lilik, na ganot, ag iba pang kasablagang Asi.

Ka hitsura ag korte it buyan, halimbawa, ay marako ka impluwensiya sa mga desisyong pang-trabaho it Asi. Pag primerong ruyom o pag sayor nak pay baroto ka korte it buyan ay maisra, makuli pag kabilugan. Pag mababa ka rampog ay mayungot ka uyan, mayado pag limpiyo ka kalalawran it karampugan. Pag siniling nak kiwit ka adlaw ay sa kaiinit.

It is these terms for the various seasons that remind me of the current crisis on global climate change. Climate change has become quirky, and so does the Asi’s take on the daily weather. Before, we seemed to be so accurate at forecasting the changing seasons. Today, we are baffled.

Filipinos have since the coming of the Americans dreamed of white Christmases. Which brings me to ask if there is such a thing as a red or blue Christmas or are these just conjured up or perceived by the colonial and colonized mind?

Nio ka kolor it Paskwa? And what exactly is tiral?

White Christmas is the color of snow, which occur in winter and which we do not have in Romblon. We only have the dry and the wet seasons. Rainy and sunny. Hot and cold. We don’t have hail here, so we don’t have freezing weather. Neither have we spring nor fall. What we have are kuwaresma ag mauyanon. El Nino and La Nina are late climate phenomena, courtesy of the abuse by mankind of the environment.

So we have tiral, the sudden gust of wind—call it breeze—coming from the mountains that slowly and gracefully descends upon the sea. Our ancestors had observed—seen—the tiral in the sway of the bamboo and in the dance of the cogon grass. For years, they relied on the tiral to push, push, the single-masted pasaje to distant destinations—distant being Mindoro when motorized travel—air and sea—had not yet given birth to sleek airports and containerized ports. The absence or weakness of tiral forces the pasaje passengers to gaor and bugsay, strenuous manual steering activities that can sap the strength of the uninitiated. If there is strong tiral, travel to Mindoro was a breeze.

My grandfather, Tatay Meming, had traded tobacco, mano-manoso and ali-alikir, and chickens stuffed in a tigad, with Mindorenos. He knew when to launch the pasaje and this was the time when the tiral is strong and aplenty, usually in the months of April through June.
July to September is habagat season. Habagat is Tagalog and its Asi equivalent, though mild, is ma-it.

Ma-it itself has an interesting historical reference. It is also called ma-yi and exists as a place-name in Chinese historical texts. Filipino historians to this day debate what ma-yi is or where ma-yi lies. Some point it to Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro. Some say it refers to the whole country. The debate, or rather, the confusion, lies in ma-yi being referred to by the ancient Chinese as the place where they traded their porcelain and silk for spices and gold.

To me, an Asi, however, ma-yi or ma-it is simply the eastern wind. Chinese vessels during the early 14th to 16th century were, indeed, already trading with the Philippines, long before Magellan came only to die in a honasan—low tide. They sailed only during the monsoon season, when the tiral had progressed into the habagat or ma-it.

They sail back to China when the season of the nordiste commences, usually in November and December. Nordiste is the corrupted Asi for the northeast wind. The ocean waves during this season races north-eastward, gale force strong, and very dangerous. Nagpapamuti ka nordiste is Asi metaphor for the rolling waves of the northeast wind that poses danger to small vessels.

What if you hear an Asi say, "Nagpupusa-pusa ka habagat."? It simply means the waves are breaking in a crazy, unpredictable pattern—sideward, forward or backward—that makes the sea even more difficult to navigate.

My late writer friend, Manuel Festin Martinez, himself a keen observer of the seasons, used to tell me that he didn’t travel by sea pag nagririlam-rilam ka ragat. That’s Asi description for the waves produced by another wind, the solang, which is an extreme wind pattern coming from the south. Its opposite is kanaway, which comes from the northwest and is also very dangerous. The solang and kanaway closely follow each other after the habagat and the nordiste.

In between these seasons is the subasko, an anomalous weather that develops in short notice as a result of a thunderstorm and could occur even during summer. A subasko can give birth to a hurricane, similar but smaller in magnitude to the ones that perennially pay destructive visits to the US Midwest. Only a year ago, Sibale was devastated unbelievably by a hurricane and its effects are still felt today. The seasons are quick to destroy while we are slow to rebuild.

After a subasko is a perfect calm. The sea returns to normal as if nothing happened. The only proof that it occurred is the destruction that it may wrought upon its victims, perhaps a wayward boat sunk, a boya or bouy uprooted, or a bobo (bamboo fish trap) lost.

Underwater current, the suyog, is severely affected by any of these weather patterns. The drift and strength of the suyog follows the direction of the wind. This is why Asi fishermen always watch for tell-tale signs of the weather before they launch their boats or even before they cast their fishing nets. Any miscalculation or rash forecast of the weather could have a dire impact on their livelihood.

One cannot go fishing or enjoy swimming in a harsh weather. It is wise to wait for calm, or better still, wait for honas—low tide—to pick shells or to sikop it palata sa tubog.

So the next time you travel to Sibale, observe the weather. You may discover in the wind some hidden aspect of the Asi culture, wafting in the fresh air, or floating sa bayor nak tuwasan.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kusog goes team building

On 25 May 2007, Kusog Sibalenhon Inc. (KSI) went to Asi Ville Resort, a private hot spring pool in Bucal, Calamba, Laguna for its much-delayed teambuilding program. Over 50 members of KSI, including their children and other family members, joined the overnight relaxation bonding. A special board meeting of the Association was held during the occasion.

KSI is the non-government organization I helped establish in December 2007 to provide Sibalenhons an institutional vehicle for their cultural expression and promote unity, as well as to harness their skills and strength for socio-economic improvement. KSI was started out as a basketball team—two teams, actually, the Batlaw sa Lim-aw and the Ragipon—which I both manage during the celebration of Sibale’s town fiesta in Lipa.

Batlaw sa Lim-aw emerged as champion at the fiesta tournament, while Ragipon was at the bottom, highlighting the contrasting fortunes that could be achieved in any sport, be it in street basketball or in professional boxing. The point is that the victory came not without a price: my players needed to exhibit unity, discipline, self-confidence, and perseverance.

These values gave birth to KSI, conceived as it was with the underlying philosophy that if we can harness these values to claim victory in a sport, there is no reason why it can’t be done in the socio-economic and cultural sphere.

Sibalenhons everywhere will attest that one reason why they leave Sibale and migrate elsewhere is to find remunerative employment and to seek a better life. Jobs are hard to come by in Sibale because of its small and limited economy and without jobs, parents are hard up in putting food on the table and sending children to school. In short, better economic opportunity is the single, most-important determinant of the Sibalenhon’s attitude to leave his or her island home.

Sibalenhons in Lipa City and elsewhere in Luzon are much better off than most of their counterparts in Sibale simply because they have access to economic opportunities. However, their economic situation still has a lot to be desired, in terms, for example, of owning a home, having a stable, well-paying job, and getting access to better economic prospects. The reason is obvious. Many of them have not obtained technical vocational or college education which could qualify them in the labor market.

In Lipa City, for example, many of them hold temporary wage jobs in construction, farm work, or in the retail sector which pay low rates and do not provide social insurance benefits or protection. Some others engage in small occupation or businesses which also do not guarantee sufficient income.

As one of the founders of the KSI, I recognized this cyclical economic situation of the Sibalenhons, particularly most of the KSI’s members. Therefore, I resolved that KSI would do something about helping our kasimanwas overcome their present dire economic situation.

Getting this done is easier said than done. As a community development specialist and communicator, I only knew too well that any attempt at a successful socio-economic intervention will only succeed if the objects—meaning the people themselves—of the intervention are active participants and not mere bystanders in the process; are imbued with a sense of vision-mission; and imbibe the cultural and social values that are the hallmarks of success.

This is the difference of the KSI which I again emphasized among the KSI members during the teambuilding activity. I said that KSI, however slow at first, should develop a keen sense of purpose as to what it would like to become as a group. It is the members principally who should internalize this vision-mission process. We agreed, to be very determined and to work very hard to achieve our mission and realize our mission.

Vice President Ludy Fabrero himself was very emphatic when he challenged the members to remain strongly united. He said we already have come this far—getting the KSI registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission as an NGO—that there is no reason to falter, get disheartened and fail.

In February, the KSI had a successful Valentine’s party fund-raiser as its initial business activity. For the remaining part of 2008, the KSI has lined up a series of other fund-raising activities that will strengthen the capability of the association to implement its core programs. Towards the end of June, we plan to hold a bingo bonanza, with school supplies for children as major prizes. KSI also continues to attract new members. Membership in the KSI is a little bit stringent, for we require prospective joiners to undergo a one-day membership orientation and value formation session. All the original KSI members had undergone this training in December.

The overnight teambuilding and socializing activity in Calamba was a spectacular success. I think all the members enjoyed the food and the swimming. Most of them did not even sleep until the wee hours of the morning. As Sibalenhons go, there was much gin drinking and singing.

All the officers of the KSI were in attendance, led by President Chito Fabellon, Vice President Ludy Fabrero, Treasurer Ma. Lisa Federico and Secretary Aileen de Mesa. I thank the other members of the Board of Trustees, namely Geoffrey Senorin, Nilo Fojas and Randy Senorin for their huge presence.

My sincere thanks also go to Leodegario Fojas, chairman of the committee on membership; Ricardo de Mesa, chairman of the committee on business development; Enrico Fadera, chairman of the committee on training and education; Gerardo Fabellon, chairman of the committee on finance; and Noel Fabellon, chairman of the committee on social affairs. It was Noel who cooked the sumptuous adobo, while Gerardo, as KSI resident singer, regaled us with his songs. Incorporator John Patrick Faigmani and member James Aquino were also present and very helpful. I would make special mention of Benjamin Fadera for his excellent coordination of the transportation and for his all-around errand jobs, as well as the wife of VP Ludy Fabrero, Evelinda, my aunt, whose kapeng barako drove away the drunkenness of some of the members.

A surprise guest was Amelyn Labora and her daughter Anna Pilar who also brought her two sons. Amelyn was the team manager of the Ragipon team and her presence at the teambuilding was a big boost to the KSI members.

I quipped, when it was time to go home, that next year we should hold our teambuilding in Baguio City, when Kusog Sibalenhon Inc. will already have sufficient resources.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sa yumot man ay de yaman

How do you dramatize the global crisis on food? On environment destruction? On climate change?

This question lingered in the mind like a hangover from drinking too much tuba after I passed by the Coastal Road recently on my way to visit a relative in Las Pinas. What I saw at the Manila Bay coastline had me truly alarmed. Underneath the lush mangrove forest that had miraculously repopulated the once barren coast and which now act as protective cover from the harsh wind and the raging waves are trash—plastic trash—that threaten to suffocate whatever marine life that thrives beneath.

From afar, it is invisible to the naked eye. But the greenery is deceptive. Come close and you will see how garbage—tons of it—float idly by and cover the water surface, in effect barring any sunshine through.

This reminds me, once again, of the trash that undisciplined ship passengers and even more undisciplined port residents heap—ging babalibang in Asi--upon the once pristine waters of our ports in Romblon, Magdiwang, Odiongan, Cajidiocan, Looc, and in fact, in almost all coastal places in the country.

Hapak is the Asi adjective for someone who seems to throw just anything around, someone who can’t keep order, particularly of personal things. The Tagalog term is burara, but I prefer because it captures best what many Filipinos—and, sorry, some Romblomanons—are: hapak.

Throwing just anything around off as thrash without regard for its dire consequences is the culprit in the degradation of the environment, certainly in the accumulation of garbage in the waters of Manila Bay. And since the trash—broken bottles, Styrofoam food containers, plastic wrappers, etc. are not quickly noticeable under the Coastal Road vegetation, there is no effort whatsoever to clean them up. They remain there as I write, invariably contributing to the pollution of the environment.

This is not all. Side by side with the trash along the coastline exists another reality: extreme poverty. Thousands of families, certainly small fisherfolk whose livelihoods are tied up to the generosity of the sea, have built and live in makeshift hovels along the coastline.

I don’t worry much about these huts of very light materials being an eyesore. I worry more about the inhabitants living in them. A light rain, or a mild storm, can decimate these houses, exposing the occupants to the elements, but no one, not the government, seemed to care. The government, with its priorities tied up with some other matters, certainly does not seem to worry what or if they eat either. And given the sky high prices of food, one can assume that these poor citizens can’t afford to buy sufficient or nutritious meals to survive.

The Asi term for poor is kubos. There are also many kubos in Romblon, but because of the size of the population and the rural make-up of the provincial economy, the kubos in our province could be described as relatively well off than their counterparts along the Coastal Road or elsewhere.

The kubos in Romblon are not so desperately poor that they would build huts along the coast. At least they own small patches of land on which their houses stand and which they could cultivate to some crops and vegetables. They are poor, though, in the social and technical definition of the phenomenon for they don’t have safe water and enough food, no access to affordable healthcare, and cannot send their children to school.

This brings to mind the suggestion of Malaya publisher Amado Macasaet who wrote that in these times of surging food prices, Filipinos must be creatively industrious to be able to survive. He was suggesting that we plant more to be able to eat.

He has a point. Really, we have so many jobless people sitting idly by on idle lands. We are not really working, contrary to the prevalent notion that we are very industrious as a people. In Taiwan, where I had the privilege of studying as a scholar of the Taiwan government a few years ago, not so much land lay idle and uncultivated or not planted to something edible or used for something productive. Idle lands in many countries are taxed higher, whereas in the Philippines, idle lands are used as garbage dumps or even dumping grounds of victims of vendetta killings.

Katamhoy is the Asi adjective for lazy. In these times when oil prices are bursting through the roof, our leaders are demonstrating extreme katamhoyan in not exploring alternative source of fuel to mitigate the wide-ranging impact of high oil prices in the lives of the people.

Luckily, a Filipino scientist has come up with a novel discovery that yumot—the ubiquitous green algae that grows anywhere where there is stagnant water, has the potential of an alternative oil source. There is oil in yumot, the scientist whose name escapes the mind at the moment, said, and we must study and explore how to exploit this possibility and put the results to good use.

Yumot is ignored in Romblon and everywhere else as a nuisance. If a fishing boat is yumuton, chances are its owner is tamhoyan and not using the boat as often as he should.

Yumuton ka igot is an Asi metaphor for someone who is lazy or sampidaton, the Asi term for a slow-to-move, slow-to-react guy. If the sea is yumuton, it’s polluted most likely, and marine life is scarce. The coastline of the Manila Bay is so full of yumot that it is unsightly—kadupit--or even unhealthy to swim in its waters.

Now that the scientist’s discovery had been made public, we ought to reconsider our attitude toward theI yumot. Sa yumot yaki ay de yaman if this discovery proves to be true.

So if this article inspires you, roll up your sleeves. Baghutan nang katamhuyan, tanom ag punpunon nang likot agor indi ig yumuton ka igot.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Asi tribe’s children speak to Sibale’s past

Merwin Mosquera, 44, and a childhood friend, has an obsession: to produce a dictionary of the Asi language.

In an island with just a little over 5,000 residents, majority of whom have not gone past high school, this may not be a commercially-viable undertaking, given the national current—nudged on by economic necessity—toward learning English, the lingua franca of globalization.

This is also a tall order because Merwin has been working and living in Saudi Arabia for how long? Twenty years? I am afraid—judging from his constant attempt to converse in our local tongue—that he finds it even difficult to speak straight Asi now. Long isolation from the mainstream Asi speakers has its toll and Merwin and other Sibalenhon expatriates must have been feeling its ill effects.

But Merwin, like Vincent Fabiala who is also a Saudi resident, is an Asi child. He can’t forget. He remembers. And he is obsessed.

He had read a previous article of mine, “To Marlowe: Write in Asi”, which received notice from a few Sibalenhon readers and this, I suppose, fired up his desire to compile between two covers the language of his ancestors. He has been asking Sibalenhons to contribute Asi words online to develop his dictionary.

Merwin may not know it, but there is already a lexicon of the Asi language. It was painstakingly put up by Lyndon Fadri and Abner Faminiano, two Banton intellectuals whose moorings in every aspect of Asi culture, like those of Ismael Fabicon, a Banton expat who is leading Herculean efforts to preserve Banton culture, have been the saving grace of Asi civilization.

Fadri’s and Faminiano’s Asi dictionary is aptly titled "Tuk-anan". Tuk-anan is the Asi noun-place for “seeing” or “knowing”. It’s verb form—tuk-i is an exhortation to peep through, to get a glimpse at, or to take a close look, and its common usage is in the context of an Asi fisherman on his boat, his muscular body bent to the waist and, with his hand-made googles on, scanning the sea around him for fish.

This postcard-perfect picture of an Asi fisherman “nak ging tutuk-an ka kalalawran habang nag-aawoy” captures in the magical lens of memory the life in the Maghali Islands of Banton, Simara, and Sibale—cradle of Asi—that every time I hear the word “tuk-anan”, it transports back my senses to my childhood days in Sibale and brings me in touch once again to the Asi past that illustrates how close to nature our culture is. In fact, the Asi culture is a culture reared by nature, that is why it is so unique.

Merwin now wants this language culture preserved in written form. His efforts may take some time to bear fruit considering, firstly, that his expertise lies not in languages. Secondly, he might be dismayed to know that even Sibalenhons who live within the orbit of Sibale no longer speak pure Asi. I know this by personal experience. Frequent social interaction with non-Asi speakers have led to the dilution, if not erosion, of our language.

Many alien words have slowly but surely seeped in into Asi, overtaking—if not rendering obsolete—many original phrases particularly those which has no equivalent in the other languages. To overcome communication barriers, people tend to borrow and improvise, and Asi speakers are no exception to this social instinct.

Thus, the Asi, like many other languages, is evolving as it is influenced by other tongues. Much of this evolution, this “influencing”, is wrought upon by the Asi speaker himself. If he liberally welcomes the intrusion by non-usage, or if he raises no defense of the language (sheer laziness to speak Asi, for example) amid the onslaught of, say, Tagalog or Bicolano, then Asi is finished.

Over time, I fear, Asi will be gone, forgotten, lost or unidentifiable in the Babel of our times.

This fear is not totally without basis. Again, it arises from personal experience. In Lipa City, for example, where many Sibalenhons work and live, pure Asi is taking a beating from the Batangan, the language of the Batanguenos. I find it frustrating that when talking to Sibalenhons, very few corresponds with me on pure Asi, such that when I ask, “Riin ka gi sayanaw?”, or “It kag uno ka pa gi butho?”, the most common response I get is only an impish smile. “Sayanaw”, of course, is simply the Asi methapor for “flight” and “butho” is the native language for “emerge”. I wince when I come across a Sibalenhon and he or she talks to me in Tagalog even if I try to steer the conversation back to Asi.

This is a pity because Asi is expansive and complete. Its singsong, melodious tone possess a soul and, as a language, it serves our purpose of getting the full range of the Sibalenhon's human emotion understood.

Actually, the crisis of the Asi that Merwin recognized is universal. Languages all over the world are struggling to be preserved and revived. Many experts estimate that one language dies every two weeks. At this rate, they say, nearly half the world's 7,000 languages would disappear in the next century as local dialects are replaced by the dominant languages of globalization, such as English or Chinese.

And language and culture are so intertwined that along with the language, linguists fear losing each culture's history and traditions. If Asi disappears, then the local Asi culture—our traditions, such as the panuba, pasukat, pataktak it subok, katipon, ayadon, langkapi, bawi, pangupong, pamughat, parugo, yubos, and many others which distinguish us culturally from the rest of the people of the world—will vanish. We would no longer be Asi. We would be pasi. Ask a Sibalenhon what pasi is.

I support Merwin in his effort. But there is more that can be done apart from asking Sibalenhons to contribute a word or two of Asi to complete a dictionary. One logical way to start is to raise money for this endeavor. A final push to revive and preserve the language needs financial resources. The volunteer spirit can produce miracles but in the end the practical reality is that an undertaking as important as an Asi dictionary needs financial wherewithal that neither Merwin nor any one sympathetic or culture-conscious Sibalenhon seem prepared to spare at this time.

The local government, led by Mayor Limeul Cipriano, may lend a hand. That, of course, depends upon the priorities of the mayor. Or Merwin can raise money from grants and donations from individuals and private cultural institutions. I believe there are enough Samaritans who would recognize that Asi is worth their charity.

If he can do this, he can finally say, “Salamat sa pagdangat”.