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Increasing Returns:
BPL Technology: Romblon's Pride

By Martin F. Lasaga III

Provincial Amnesia: Language as a Cure
By Nicon F. Fameronag

Sibale: A Misannexed Municipality
By Atty. Eufronio M. Fallarme


Provincial Amnesia: Language as a Cure

Nicon F. Fameronag


In the discussions at the third RDL-CLEAR’s writers’ workshop held recently at the Cantingas River Resort in Brgy. Taclobo, San Fernando in the island of Sibuyan, the fellows came to an understanding that only by engaging the powers of the imagination in the native language the writer was born into could culture—the traditional and not the one imposed by modernity—survive, flourish, and develop.


On the first night, for example, Ismael Fabicon, who is the leading light of the workshop, engaged a group of the fellows on the ‘forgotten customs’ of San Fernando. Such an engagement required Manong Ish and this writer to ask a lot of probing questions and to dig deeper into the writers’ memory of their community’s way of life.


This exercise was productive. The young aspiring writers, who most likely grew up watching Korean tele-novelas and sending text messages through their mobile phones instead of reading Francisco Sionil Jose, Ophelia Dimalanta, or our very own Manuel F. Martinez, had a grand time mining the recesses of their experiences to remember that Romblon has a rich language and cultural heritage.


I said that the Spaniards, through the power of the musket and the cross, might have subjugated the Romblomanon but not entirely. The Americans might have introduced us to the theory and practice of modern education and medicine but there remains in our present way of life old customs and traditions that are undisturbed by the corrosive effects of globalization. It is these customs and traditions, spoken in the local languages, that the writer fellows have the responsibility to write about.


In healing the sick, for example, there are still some people of San Fernando who cling to the pre-Spanish animist ritual of bi-aw, the practice of paying ransom, usually food or wine, in exchange for the return of the health of a sick person. Bi-aw arises from the belief that some natural spirits cause a person to get sick, either because he or she courted the spirits’ disfavor or he or she failed to ask permission before setting foot as a new arrival in a new place.


Now, this tradition resonates in importance because in the Asi culture, bi-aw has a counterpart, which is bawi. At first glance, the alliteration of the four-letter world could be intriguing if not for the fact that bawi in Sibale, Banton and Odiongan involves the same essence as the bi-aw of San Fernando, that is, paying ransom to the natural world’s spirits, whoever they are, in return for the good health of a sick person. It is true still in many places in Romblon for the elders to warn children or visitors not to offend the spirits whenever they go to or pass by a new place, or scatter salt in an unfamiliar territory.


In the Asi culture, nagahoy or naatupiling is not a phenomenon but an unexplainable truth. In Sibale, for example, it is widely believed that some real persons could unintentionally make one’s head throb (naglipong ka uyo), or one’s stomach sick (naghapros ka suyok-suyok), particularly if the person with gahoy is perspiring and meets the victim and looked him directly in the eyes. The cure is not only some whispered ‘oracion’ but an unhealthy dose of yaway (literally saliva) wiped on the pusor (navel) or the yupa (temple). This is the case when the ailment is only atupiling. If the victim was nagahoy, the cure is buga, a mixture of Manong Ish’s mam-on consisting of bunga (betel nut), budo (buyo leaf), and apog (lime). One may ask: Does the sick gets well? There is no doubt as to their efficacy that even the lowly barangay health worker and the schooled municipal doctor recommend these traditional cures.


Today, there are, to be sure, many other similar customs and traditions that have not been ‘recovered’. This is the operative word, for these customs and traditions were there in the first place. They were not lost but have been only forgotten due to non-use and non-practice. The culprit is the culture foreign to the Romblomanon, the borrowed language of Tagalog and English that have brought with them practices alien to the Romblomanon soul, imposed by the brute force of government policy and the pervasive influence of the commercial mass media, two of the controlling domains of language. It is no wonder that many Romblomanons today roam the streets spouting a language and culture not their own. They have without identity, and with an outlook vastly detached from the yearnings and longings, the visions and dreams, of their ancestors. It is no wonder the Romblomanon soul is lost, like a headless chicken unable to figure out the four corners of the land.


This is not to say that Romblomanon writers should forsake or abhor using Tagalog or English. Tagalog is a necessity and English is the global language of commerce. In Luzon where Tagalog is widely used, it would be awkward, if not downright foolish, for a Romblomanon to go to the grocery and say: Mabakay it kinurkor. We write and speak English in the halls of the United Nations and in reading Francis Fukuyama, Shakespeare, or Emily Dickinson. But between an alien language and a language where one first sucked the milk of a mother’s breast, the latter must occupy a primacy in living one’s limited earth life.


What is the cure for the provincial amnesia, the intolerable forgetting that has plagued many Romblomanons today with regard their rich cultural legacy? For the fellows who attended RDL-CLEAR’s writers’ workshop, the prescription is language. And it is not English or Tagalog, which do not capture the essence of the Romblomanon soul. It is Asi, Onhan, and Ini, the languages of our ancestors that have enabled them to live under the stars unhindered by the baggage of modern wants and necessity. These are the tools that have afforded them the luxury of enjoying nature’s bounty without greed and in rendering their animated life in full local color. These are the tongues that have enabled them to express their feelings with the precision of their emotions and longings. The Asi, Onhan, and Ini are the languages they used to relate their stories, which we have forgotten but which we must now recover and remember if we are to repossess our dreams.

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