Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Slow Backward … by AP Hernandez

1) The ditch-diggers. During the early years of Spanish occupation in Bicol, then known as “Kabikolan”, the government based in Nueva Caceres, Camarines Sur, ordered a gold expedition to the northern-western side of the Bicol peninsula to find gold, which they could send back to Spain. The expedition ended up at a coastal village that faced the sea, where they found many local men digging up ditches. The leader of the expedition, through an interpreter, asked the natives what they were doing. One of them replied: “nagkakale po sila…” (“Kale’ meant canal or ditch in the dialect of the place). “So that’s their job?” asked the Spaniard again. “Opo, para-kale po sila… (with stress in the syllable “ra” and “le”) meaning “they are ditch-diggers”. The word stuck in the mind of the expedition leader and recorded in his logbook that the place was to be called “Parakale”.

2). “Bulaw ang buhok”. When the Spanish government in Nueva Caceres learned about the bountiful gold found later by the expedition in Parakale, the governor had decreed that all areas far and near would be part of Paracale. This was to make all gold found attributed to Parakale, which was then a small fishing village. The expedition moved up further while they prospected for gold until they reached another village by the bay. And there was lots of gold around the place as attested to by the natives. The news reached Parakale and the locals told the Spanish official who governed the place: “Senior, mabulaw po sa lugar na ‘’yon…” (Sir, lots of gold there …) (Mabulaw came from the local dialect “bulaw” which meant yellow and referred also to the precious metal. Many of the native men from the place were deep-sea divers and fishermen and all had yellow hair owing to their long exposure to sea water that they were referred to as “bulaw ang buhok” (yellow hair.) The news of gold find in the new site prompted the Paracale Spanish official to call the place “Mabulaw”, gold-rich, as described by the natives in Paracale. The gold news went down farther to Kabikolan and the natives there had called the new gold site “Mambulawan”, which, in their native lingo, meant “lots of gold”. Paracale, which, during those days was not a part of Bicol territory, was a wide gold district that included Mabulaw. In short, Mabulaw (or Mambulao) was part of Paracale during those days. The news of bountiful gold had drawn lots of migrants from the Bicol peninsula and those from Tayabas province (now Quezon) to Parakale and Mabulao to take advantage of the gold boom. Later, when the population of Mambulaw reached a point to qualify as a new territory, the Spanish government in Bicol decreed that Mambulaw be separated from Parakale. As years went by, the name “Paracale” evolved as its official name while “Mambulao” evolved as the new name for Mabulaw until 1930, when it was changed to Jose Panganiban to honor a local hero. Noticed that Paracale and Mambulao natives spoke Tagalog due to their proximity to Tayabas (now Quezon). They also spoke Bikol dialect in its bastardized version, later known as “Bikol-Daet” among the native speakers of Bicol dialect.

3. The big fire. In the early 50s, a third of the Mambulao poblacion where the municipal building and the church stood was razed by a massive early evening fire. The glow of the blaze as witnessed from the beach of Parang had stayed till the early morning hours. Among those that went up in smoke were two movie houses that were usually full pack during weekends and the bus terminal. The landscape of the town in that area had changed forever.

4. Lovers’ lane. The long stretch of breakwater right behind the present town hall was built during the 50s to block destructive waves during typhoons. Over time, a pond emerged between the breakwater and the row of stilt houses that lined the edge of the poblacion from where the municipal building stood, up to the marketplace area. Likewise, the base of the breakwater facing the bay had accumulated fine, white sand that could be seen at low tide. This sandy side of the breakwater, which is hidden from view of anyone standing on the town side became a “lovers’ lane”. On some evenings when the sky was clear and the stars were active, couples sitting some distance apart and leaning on the angled concrete stone wall, did their thing as if they were alone in the world.

The breakwater nowadays .. ex-lovers' lane
4. Red light street … During the late 60s, the poblacion of Mambulao became a virtual copy of Olongapo City. A row of mini-beer houses had mushroomed from the junction of the Mambulao-Larap road up to the vicinity of the church yard. Young waitresses recruited from the barrios became the attraction. The frequency of evening street brawls became common place and tardiness at work had become a big problem at the mines in Larap. The town parish priest was publicly opposed to the beerhouse operation and in his Sunday sermon, he would slam the local officials, who branded him “a priest-activist” and criticized him for wearing a shoulder-length hair. To intensify his campaign against the beerhouses, Father Ben, then in his late 20s, recruited to allies – an English teacher at the JPHS and a business student at UE-Manila, who was home for the school break. Together, the trio frequented the beerhouses most of the nights, talking to the waitresses and urging them to sign a formal complaint that they were under-paid and under-age. They were also urged to quit their jobs before they could get impregnated by one of their customers, who, later would invite them on a date in Daet. One night, one of the operators had managed to corner the UE student, who was talking to one of his girls in a corner table. The owner slammed the fellow onto the wall and poke a .45 pistol to his chest, telling him: “Putang-’na mo … ’wag na wag ka nang magpakita dito … dudurugin ko ang dibdib mo …,” as the girl watched in horror. Scared, the student left in haste and met up with Fr Ben and the English teacher, who were at the other beerhouse, and reported the incident. In his sermon the following Sunday mass, the priest discussed the incident and lambasted the operator by name. Many housewives seemed to have awoken from this nightmare after they noticed that their husbands would come home late, drunk and the “kinsenas” wages gone. Eventually, they supported Fr Ben’s crusade until the beerhouses disappeared one by one. But the animosity between the priest and the town officials lingered till the priest moved to a new assignment a year later. The English teacher, who was famous and loved by his students, later quit his job to work at the Bureau of Customs in Manila as import appraiser. Years later, the English teacher and the student, who was now a working journalist with a daily newspaper covering the Customs beat, happened to meet by chance. The two had a few beers and recalled the good old days at the beerhouses.

The breakwater in 2005.
6) The pedophile. The terms pedophile and pedophilia were unheard of in Mambulao during the early 60s, but the “crime” did happen. One weekend night while a basketball tournament was going on in front of the then municipal building, a group of young high school boys – sons of Mambulao’s prominent families -- converged at the breakwater, which was accessible at low tide, for the usual boy chats. One of them happened to mention an incident that had been happening to him, at least once a week. He told of a man -- a “bakla -- who would invite him to come with him to a secluded place. Then, he would hug him, kiss him on the lips and the neck as he masturbated himself, whispering to the boy: “Sandali lang ito …” Once relieved, the “bakla” would slow down and then they would come out of that place. The young boy, then in first year, said he did not understand what was going on. The incident would be repeated a few days later, he said. Hearing this, the eldest of the group, himself from a prominent-known family, said he also had the same experience with that “bakla”. It turned out later that all of them shared the same fate in the hand of this fellow. Even the young nephew of the then high school principal was not spared. So, when the culprit attempted to entice her nephew for another “session”, the would-be-victim ran away. The next day after that incident, the school principal fired the fellow from his job as catechist teacher at the school. Those days, he was taking priesthood in Naga City and moonlighted as religion teacher. Hmmm … from Vatican to Mambulao, walang pinag-iba ...

(Contributions to this section are encouraged. Pictures to accompany your item are welcome. Send in your stuff with your name and location to ahernandez@thenational.com.pg or alfredophernandez@y7mail.com.)

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