May 26, 2020

Life skills children can learn this year

This photo of a rice pounder in Bandung, Indonesia (1908) is reminiscent of the rice pounding tradition of the Moro people, particularly the Maguindanaon, because of the affinity of our cultures. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
A few months into second grade at the JASMS - Philippine Women's College in Davao, a circumstance forced me and my siblings to stop going to school that year and returned to our hometown in Pagalungan, Maguindanao. I was six years old then. I am remembering this now after reading about parents planning to let their children skip school for a year because of apprehensions caused by the pandemic. Little did I know, as I was writing this post last night, President Rodrigo Duterte had a television address saying that he was opposed to the opening of classes without a vaccine.

Although there was no emergency of any kind back then, with the situation that school children and their parents face right now, being out of school does not necessarily mean time wasted. They can put their tablets and PSPs away. In the meantime this is a time for kids to learn life skills - from the basics of cooking or something more complex like baking, how to start a fire when you run out of LPG, or how to quarter or chop a chicken which is a skill I haven't mastered after three decades. Sure, they can search Youtube for these seemingly mundane tasks but one is never too prepared when the practical need arises. It will also be soul nurturing for children to look back to this learning experience, finding meaning in the particular memory, that can be life enriching. 

While we were in Pagalungan, and later in my father's hometown of Paidu Pulangi, in neighboring Pikit, we learned some life skills that I'm thankful for until today. Here are a few memorable learning experience.

Planting corn. In front of our house in Pagalungan is a patch of land that we cultivated by planting corn. We were taught the dibbling method in which holes in the ground were made with a makeshift dibbler, in our case, a pole that was sharpened in one end. We threw three to five corn seeds in the hole and covered them with soil. Months later, the corn grew much taller than us. We were able to harvest a full sack of corn. 

Removing kernel from the cob. Once the corn was mature and dry, we were taught how to manually remove kernels from the cob. It was quite painful for our tender hands but we managed with a few cobs until our thumbs became sore. Another technique was using a bolo or machete to chop the kernel from the cob. While this method was easier, we were discouraged because of the danger of using a bladed weapon and the damage this method does to the kernel. The corn kernel would no longer germinate because an important part of the seed is removed by this method.

Twenty years later, my mother told us that she was quite happy we learned the hard way hoping that we do not end up as arrogant landlords or hacienderos.

How to fish. At the back of our house is a pond an acre or two in size. Our father taught us to catch fish using a bamboo fishing rod, nylon thread and hook with worm as bait. Aside from fishing, the experience taught me how to keep very still. The slightest movement scared the fish away.

How to make coconut oil. What made this chore attractive was the smell of coconut permeating the air. Of course, we eagerly waited for the sweet, solid byproduct of coconut oil making called lintad, or latik in northern tribes. I was also curious because the oil was called lana tidtu which translates to 'true oil' or 'pure oil'. I theorize that this term cements the importance of coconut in Maguindanaon culture. It is the most natural source of oil. 

How to make rice flour the traditional way. This was taught to us by our maternal grandmother. The process began with soaking the rice in water. The water was drained after an hour. The next step was the pounding. There was a specific rhythm to the pounding by two or three people, otherwise my grandmother would say that the resulting flour would be inferior. When she got frustrated with her servants' impertinence, she would throw the rice on the ground for chicken and ducks to feast on. The flour was then sifted using a fine mesh or ayakan. Any rice particles that would not pass through the mesh were pounded again. The flour was placed on mats and dried under the sun. After which, the rice flour was stored in big containers and were used mainly to make the Maguindanaon delicacy tinadtag.

Setting a trap for wild birds and small mammals. In Paidu Pulangi, our uncles taught us how to set traps using what looked like an easy noose. The noose would tighten on an animal's foot while feeding on bait. 

I remembered discovering a wild duck (tanepol) that my uncle Diding caught in the marsh. He intended to make roasted duck for dinner, but when I told my paternal grandmother I wanted the duck as a pet, my uncle obliged. A year later, that duck became the source of my grandmothers's grief. When a clan feud or rido escalated in Paidu Pulangi that time, the residents evacuated the village as gunfighting ensued. My grandmother wanted to bring the duck to the city but in the haste, she had to leave my duck behind.

Identifying wild birds. During the weekend visits of my father (he was in working in the city some two hours away), he would bring us to lake and grassland of Paidu Pulangi for some bird watching. He would then tell us the names of birds and their distinguishing features. 

How to weave a mat. The Maguindanaon people have a rich weaving tradition involving textiles and mats. For the latter, the main component, pandanus leaves, were harvested and dried. They were made into strips and then rolled. Some of the leaves were dyed in bright yellow, magenta and green. It involved grana, a type of dye, that was purchased in Dulawan which was more accessible by boat from Paidu Pulangi compared to a jeepney ride to the poblacion in Pikit. With the colored leaves and the ones without a dye, the weaving of the mats commenced with intricate patterns. As beginners, we were taught how to make rice containers or leban which took us two days to make.

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